Writing constitutes a mostly solitary endeavor. Armed only with a pencil, pen or computer, a writer faces alone some fearsome challenges. Empty pages and blank computer screens. Gaping holes in plots. Worst of all, the doubt that comes on little cat feet and sits looking over disappointment and frustration on silent haunches.
Fortunately, writing also involves group activities. Writers gather over coffee or beer or Zoom meetings. They commiserate, for sure. But they also compare processes. What motivates them and what doesn’t. Best of all, writers in critique groups offer their appraisals of works in progress. Sometimes scathing. Sometimes flattering. Always honest.
I’ve experienced writing both on my own and in the company of others. There’s joy in singular achievement, in crafting a well-turned phrase or compelling scene. But there’s also shared enjoyment in collective efforts. For a journalist, there’s nothing like the camaraderie of a newsroom and joining in the hurly-burly of deadlines. For a novelist, there’s nothing like the camaraderie of a critique group and joining in the inspiring exchange of ideas.
I’ve been especially fortunate over the past year to gather with a group of writers in weekly Zoom meetings hosted by Kevin Wolf, a novelist who’s received praise — and awards — for his published works.
Participants in the group are an eclectic bunch, as creative as they are diverse in what they write. Meetings feature readings from compelling memoirs, chilling horror stories, intriguing fantasies and thrilling westerns replete with gunslingers. Private detectives hunt down killers, intrepid women journey across the American West and children frolic in neighborhood adventures. An accomplished poet shares compositions at once clever, funny and thought-provoking. The author of a series of guidebooks for national parks offers excerpts both educational and entertaining.
I’m envious of the flagrant talent. When I read from my mystery, I’m reminded what it must have been like for the guest who followed the Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”
Writers in the group offer criticism, but always in constructive fashion. Would that really happen? Have you considered having your character do this instead? What sounds and smells could you add to further immerse your readers in the scene? There’s a point to it all: Here’s how I believe your work might read even better.
That’s what makes group activities so rewarding for writers. There’s the admission we all struggle, but also the assurance we’re struggling together. The encouragement becomes addictive.
To that end, here’s a shout-out to three participants in my writers group who’ve recently completed projects: Axel Gearman for his memoir “Two Ways Out of Stockton,” James Kaiser for his guidebook to Rocky Mountain National Park and Jason Van Tatenhove for his horror novel “Colorado’s Chance: The Firewalker.” Those books are available on Amazon, by the way. I highly recommend them.
James’ remarkable guidebooks also are available at bookshop.org. For more information, visit his website at https://jameskaiser.com.
It’s comforting to know as I continue my journey to write and publish mysteries, I’m not alone. At least not all the time. I’m grateful for the company.