Honorary Pea J. G. Walker has the floor.
Welcome him beloved imaginary readers... open thy arms with Pea Love!
Being part of a writing group can be a harrowing experience. No matter how seasoned a writer you are, it’s already difficult to put your work out there, whether it’s with people you know or complete strangers, and knowing that you’re likely going to hear things you won’t like doesn’t make it any easier.
Sometimes, people can be downright brutal with others’ work. I’m not talking firm, constructive criticism here; you can get used to that, and frankly, as a writer, you need to. No, this is blood and guts, take no prisoners behavior. These folks say nasty, mean things. Whether it’s because they shouldn’t be awake past six p.m., they received one too many rejection slips from The New Yorker, or that they subsist on the tears of distraught critique victims, it’s hard to say. But it hurts.
In creative writing programs they call this phenomenon the “shark tank,” and it can make you want to hide your head in a bucket. It’s not quite as bad when it happens in “real world” writing groups, since you can leap from your chair and run for the hills, but it’s still tough.
However, despite everything I’ve just written, I will add that taking part in a writing group can also be the best experience of your writing life. It can help you gain new perspective on your work, see it through someone else’s eyes, and give you that most valuable gift of all: honest feedback from people who speak a similar language. Even a bad group can help you, but when you find people you can really relate to, who seem to know your writing as well as you do, then you have it made.
|Alexis, Gary, Jeannie and Michelle's cup of coffee|
We’d all been through writing programs, so that helped, but it also didn’t hurt that we shared eclectic reading and writing interests. Bring up a book or author and chances were good someone else—if not everyone—had read it. Capital L literature, science fiction, mysteries, fantasy, young adult…you get the idea.
Then I did something selfish and uncalled for by moving to Colorado. Sure, we still keep up through social media and e-mail, but it’s not the same. I don’t get to hang out with the Peas at Panera, laugh at the jokes, listen to writing conference stories, compare books, and overdose on Dr. Pepper. Well, I suppose I could still do that last one, but what would be the point? People would stare.
I predict that one day I’ll be the Pete Best of the Ninja Peas. Sure, they didn’t kick me out like the Beatles did Best. No, I left of my own accord. But I’ve no doubt I’ll one day pick up a newspaper and find out that those three have done something really awesome, like getting a sweet HBO miniseries deal for the novel they co-wrote.
Why did I leave? I’ll ask myself.
And I’ll tell people that I used to be a Ninja Pea.
But you know they won’t believe me.
Your own writing group experience can go any of a thousand directions, but there’s no way to find out other than jumping in. Sure, you can sit on the sidelines, watch other people get the critique, but until you actually ante up and put your baby on the table, you’ll never know.
And here’s the thing: if you don’t try, there’s no telling what you’ll miss.
From a practical standpoint, it will help your writing, which in turn improves your chances of publication. But if you’re one who writes first of all for the sheer joy of creating something new, and you run across a group of people who share that sentiment—or even just one person, for that matter—you can’t afford to let it go.
Next week, all three Peas will be In The Pages with their first book club book review. You've been warned!