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Hanging out with the varsity

When I started my writing journey I was told to do a couple of things. Among them was join a critique group. A critique group is a group of writers who support each other by reading each other’s works and making suggestions about composition, grammar and plot.

About two weeks ago I read my work to my group. Now, I wasn’t expecting applause, or anything like it; what I expected was a mix of positive and negative comments. What I got was mostly negative and it filled me with frustration and a little anger.

Driving home, I spoke with an old friend, who is also writing a book. I whined and complained for twenty minutes about how my critique group was wrong. At the end of the conversation, I asked my friend to read the same section of my book that they had read. He said he would be happy to read it and I thanked him. When we talked a couple of days later I was not prepared for the conversation.

He agreed with my critique group.

To be fair neither the group nor my friend were unkind or personal in their criticisms. They pointed out things that needed work. They were asked for honest opinions and they gave them. But it hurt, a lot.

For the next two hours we had a heated conversation about my writing. I was defensive, confused and, as I wrote above, hurt. I wanted to prove them wrong. I crawled into an emotional ball and felt sorry for myself. I got depressed. I acted like a coward.

It took me a long time to acknowledge the truth of their criticisms; my friend and the critique group were right.

I was never really taught grammar throughout my California public education. I hated English composition classes in junior high and high school, so I just coasted. I enjoyed reading some literature, but writing papers were a mess. What I did learn about grammar, I picked up along the way.

I honestly believed that the hardest part of writing a book was simply finishing. I had tried to write books as far back as 1980, when I was nine years old. Actually finishing one seemed quite a triumph. Hell, it is a triumph. Many people say they want to write a book and never start. Some people start, but never finish. I started and finished, so yeah me!

I thought that the rest of the journey was marketing, networking and selling my book to a publisher. I thought that edits, maybe a minor re-write, might come into the picture. But, a line by line edit and re-write? The thought of it throws me into depression.

So to have my book criticized because of its grammar brought me back to 7th grade English. In 7th grade English, I felt like I was the stupid kid among all of the Gifted & Talented. I felt like I stuck out in some way; that everyone was looking at me. I felt like I didn’t belong in this new tribe I had joined; a tribe of writers.

Hell, sometimes I still feel like I don’t belong. When I’m around writers like Aaron Michael Ritchey and Betsy Dornbusch, I feel like a water boy for the championship football team; yeah, I’m technically part of the team, but I’m here at their pleasure. If I don’t behave I will be exposed for the fraud that I am.

So I don’t tell too many jokes; I don’t brag. I try not to be garrulous, or else the guys on the real team will remind everyone that I’m a fraud; my lettermen’s jacket doesn’t count because my letter has a manager’s patch.

We all have obstacles in life. Things we have to do, but don’t want to do. Events and actions that make us question how we perceive ourselves and our world. Things that fill us with fear; fear of rejection, condemnation and pain. In order to get where we want to go, we need to confront those fears and work past them.

I am not writing anything you, the reader, doesn’t already know. I was just reminded of it in a painful way.

I know one thing though, I know I will get to the mountaintop. I was just surprised at the length of the journey.

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