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A funny thing happened at Critique Group

One of the steps all inspiring writers should take is join a critique group. You bring your current Work In Progress, (known as a W.I.P.,), other people bring theirs. All are read and critiqued.  

My critique group meets on Wednesday night, at a Panera’s Restaurant.

It’s a good experience for a couple of reasons, which I will get into later. Sometimes, though, it can get ugly. Wednesday night, it got ugly for me.

See, I was ambushed by . . . grammar Nazis.

I won’t go into too much detail about my grammar deficiencies, except to say that it was two major things and a couple of smaller issues. I really didn’t have a problem with any of the critiques. They were all correct and I actually learned something. So it was a positive night. However, both readers got surprisingly upset about the whole thing.  

Now in my defense, I was never taught grammar as a distinct course. I just picked up rules as I went along. A lot of the grammar rules I’m breaking have to do with fiction and not essay writing. Since I never took creative writing classes I was never been exposed to these rules.

Look, I get it. You need rules. Especially when you want to be a professional writer. I also admit that I need to learn those rules, and I did learn something new! I guess the thing that amused me the most was their passion for grammar and how important it was to them.

One reader put his hand on my shoulder, looked down on me from his glasses and gave me a reassuring smile, like he was announcing I had cancer or something. He kept apologizing, reassuring me. I guess he thought I would start crying or something?

The woman who critiqued me was a professional editor and was close to being apoplectic. A couple of things she said almost felt like an ultimatum – or threat.

Is it that serious?

I write all this because I am baffled about grammar Nazis, not because of the critique. I should know grammar rules, and I am learning.  

But what drives a person to be so passionate about something that abstract? Is it a form of Gnosticism? Is it a form of elitism? I don’t know.

I don’t care, either.

I should know grammar rules. I am learning them. But it’s about the story. It’s about revealing something about the human spirit, the human character. Grammar is important, but it’s a tool to better storytelling, not a goal unto itself.  

If you’re trying to write a short story, a novella or a full-fledged book, I encourage you to write the best damn story you can. That will include learning grammar, if you don’t already know it. I also encourage you to seek out the grammar Nazis and learn as much as you can.

What you shouldn’t do is be intimidated or scared or be diminished by them. Grammar Nazis are one of the curiosities you will find in the world of writing. They will be next to the traditional publishing snobs, the tinkering amateur who never finishes, the Indy pub zealot, and the Pharisees of Literary Fiction. Talk to them, learn as much as you can. When you see the glint of fevered madness in their eyes, smile and walk away. Whatever you do, finish your book.

In the meantime, please join a critique group! It really is a wonderful experience. A couple of things happen once you join. First of all, you get to be with your tribe. People who love literature and story as much as you do. People who will celebrate your first published story, or commiserate with your rejection letters. You also get to read some amazing stories from every day people. They will read your stories, too. Reading and being read will sharpen your ability to critique your own work, see its flaws and lack of clarity. Finally, you’ll get a thick skin about your writing – which is oh, so vital, in the writing game. I cannot tell you enough how important a good critique group is. It will improve your craft. As author Jeff Goins has said, “Art deserves an audience.”

  

Now excuse me while I go clean up my grammar. This might take a while.

Going to the store with the Fetching Mrs. Evans

This morning I went to the grocery store with the Fetching Mrs. Evans to pick up a few things. If you know me you know I’m a big guy, so walking around a grocery store is not one of my favorite things to do. It hurts my knees and my back after a while, so I get a little cranky.

Anyways my wife and I were discussing a purchase to make and she mentioned getting something and walked away from.

This pissed me off – BIG TIME. So I confronted her about it. But, I need to explain something else before I continue.

I have had a couple of conversations with two friends over the last six months. They have tried to tell me I suffer from depression. I disagree. I tell them the world sucks that my attitude is merely a reflection of that. This has gone on for a while.

One day I was goofing off online when I noticed a writer’s blog about writing characters with depression. Fictional characters twenty years ago with depression acted like they were really sad, or were melancholy. Today, we have clinical research readily available and a whole list of symptoms for writers to use on their characters to make their depression more realistic. The blog went on to list a couple of symptoms. One of them was irritability. Another was hopelessness. A third was excessive eating/no eating, and a forth was fatigue.

Back to the grocery story.

That’s when it hit me. When my wife had walked away, trying to be courteous to a complete stranger, talking with her back turned to me, I realized I am probably depressed. This depression isn’t new, either. I’ve probably had for about 20+ years.

I claimed up – which is a defensive strategy I learned from childhood. We bought our stuff, then bought breakfast at Taco Bell. We got home, my wife put the groceries up, we ate breakfast. She told me I looked tired and should go back to bed. She left, I goofed around for a couple of hours, than took a nap.

I got nothing done today, except ruminate on whether I have depression. I looked at the symptoms, according to the WebMD site:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

 

Let me see, Difficulty concentrating. I have always been a little bit of a scatter brain.

Fatigue? Decreased energy? I always blamed that on my weight. Nothing I love to do more than sit in my chair and watch TV.

Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness? I thought that was part of being Catholic?

Hopelessness? Pessimism? Hey, ALL of US are going to DIE. That’s not pessimism, that’s reality!

Insomnia? Early-Morning Wakefulness, excessive sleeping? No insomnia, but I do like to get up early – even as a kid. Excessive sleeping? Will leave that one open.

Irritabillity? Restlessness? Yes. Definitely yes.

Loss of interests in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex? Does completing graduate school count?

Overeating/appetite loss? Cheeseburger has always been my friend. Never judges, never leaves me for that guy Eric . . .

Persistent aches of pains? I used to get frightful migraines, does that count?

Persistent sad, anxious, or “Empty” Feelings? As large as I am, there are times I feel as hollow as a cavern. Just empty.

Thoughts of suicide? Yeah, pretty much. Nothing I would ever commit too, but yeah.

 

I guess I wrote this for two reasons. 1.) Publicly admitting it brings the pain out in the open. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

2.) To help other people. If any of you reading this is suffering from depression, please know you are not alone. There are others fighting this, too.

So, what do I do next? I don’t have the foggiest idea. I just know that I am sick and tired of feeling this way. I do know I will fight this. I will try to be positive, I will try not to self- medicate with food, or alcohol, or pornography.  I will carry on.