I remember my first bit of serious writing when I was 8, the story of how my cat killed and ate a rabbit. My mother made me show my teacher. I got a special paper from the principal for extra credit.
I’ve written a lot since then, paid work the last 30 years, for news writing, short stories, a book. It hasn’t come easily. A uni major in English improved my high school basics. I read about writing from people I consider experts, like Stephen King and Anne Lamott. Writers’ groups and conferences give me a fine opportunity to polish work and learn new skills. I’m still no expert. I don’t sell everything I write. But I keep trying.
Over the years, I’ve noticed periods of time when the writing flows well, six months, a year or more, and then other times when life just gets in the way. During one of the struggling periods several years ago, I found a new writers’ group in my area, and I was thrilled, hoping the stimulation of interaction with other writers would help jump-start my stalled work. I spoke with the leader of the group, a woman like myself who’d been writing for many years, and came to the first meeting with great anticipation.
I left under a dark, dark cloud.
As we passed around pieces we’d brought for critique, she calmly shredded each offering, with all good intention. She was a master of rules. There was only one way to write anything. Those who did not write her way were wrong. She could cite an author or handout that demonstrated each of her mandates, so there was no point in explaining. Our humble offerings dripping in red ink, we were silenced.
I’d just about given up writing altogether when a friend suggested a different group that met in a nearby city. My first meeting, I shared my dejection and tentatively offered a short story, prepared for the worst.
They loved it.
No one insisted on the grammar or rules, though they made gentle suggestions. They listened to the essence of the story and appreciated it for its individual voice. They encouraged all those who shared a piece that day to grow their own voice. It was restorative. I could have faith in my work again. I could write.
Since then, I’ve published dozens of pieces and have written three novel-length manuscripts. I’ve stuck with the writers’ groups that feed me and discarded those that don’t. The lesson, of course, is that you don’t have to write by anyone’s rules. You should never give someone else the power to take your work from you.
And if someone asks your opinion of their creation, don’t take their work from them, either. Ask what they’d like in terms of your level of commentary, and be honest and encouraging with your words. Let them write differently. The diversity of the written word has fascinated the literate world for centuries. Be diverse. Be perverse. Write in verse! But never let someone make you stop.