Positive Reinforcement

My writing group meets about once a month. D is busy with teaching and family. L is busy schedule with children, jobs, and other gigs. I have my family and the writing I'm doing. The three of us make time for our writing group for one simple reason: it is good.

We meet at D's empty church at eight on Saturday mornings. Public spaces with any people in them aren't good because I'm too easily distracted. We gab for the first few minutes catching up on our adventures, then one of us reads.

We each come with a piece to share. L is working on historical fiction. D is deep into a literary memoir. I bring an essay or story. Today D told us his concerns about his piece and read it. We talked back about what we liked. He read a second piece I told him would be perfect for The Sun Magazine. L and I loved both pieces.

Then L shared a piece about visiting the New York Public Library. I told her all I could think was how much I wanted to be in the space she described. She had made it real for me. Her pieces are all journeys, kinds of travelogues, and they take us places.

I read a rough draft in which I'm combining five things into one essay. They talked back to me about what they heard and told me things they loved.

There are a lot of ways writing groups can work. Some write together. Others exchange and read drafts before the meeting. We meet and read aloud then talk about what's good, what we liked, what worked. We almost never say what's wrong or how we would change it. We might suggest some idea to pull the piece further along, but we don't tell anyone how to write their piece.

This may like everyone gets a participation trophy, but it's more interesting than that.

We come together as a writing group because we want to learn the craft. None of us learn well by hearing what we do wrong. We aren't trying to avoid mistakes. We are learning by creating and sharing. And though we stick to the positives, there is real pressure.

D's work is exquisitely crafted and lyrical, poetic really. L's is passionate and meticulously researched. Mine has a clipped style that might be better read aloud than on the page. There's pressure to impress one another that comes from so respecting the work each of us brings to the table. I'm not alone in wanting to give them their money's worth.

I don't need them to tell me what's wrong. They tell me what's right and then I know what's wrong. We are positive and supportive, but it isn't a free ride in which anything goes. L and D are too smart, thoughtful, and talented for me to read any old tripe. It's not that they would ever say my stuff sucked, but I can't stand to even imagine bringing less than my best.

I brought a draft about which I was unsure. It worked in my head but it has to work for others. L and D told me what they liked, what they loved, and what they remembered. I heard gaps that confirmed my suspicions about some holes in the piece. I'll work on them tomorrow as I move into another draft.

Note that last bit: "I'll work on them tomorrow as I move into another draft." L and D encouraged me. That's enough for me to know it is good enough to continue. They gave me positive reactions and now I'm ready to write and already a better writer.

Find your group. You don't have to meet often. Once a month will do as long as you have the right people. Make sure they are kind and want to build you up. But don't come asking for L or D. They're mind, damn it. Get your own people and get writing.