Made some hard decisions lately.
But they are based in a real desire to succeed in writing, and are therefore necessary.
Interviewed bestselling author John Hart for Pikes Peak NewsMagazine this past week, and it was two hours of unbridled joy. John (as he asked me to call him) possesses a brilliant mind and the deep eloquence that often comes from those living in the American South. One of the questions that I posed was whether he believed that critique groups were effective, and why or why not? The basis for this question was purely selfish and has its foundation in my own upbringing. A bit of backstory…
I was raised in a family that didn’t believe in excellence, or in standing out among peers. Mother believed – perhaps from her own upbringing – that the nail sticking up is the one that gets pounded down the hardest. In that regard, she kept her children from desiring success…and from what I can tell of those siblings I still get word of on occasion, Mother was quite effective in her efforts. Except for me. It’s for this reason that I believe that I never “fit in” with my family, was always the one who the others attempted to pound down on a regular basis. But I could not be dissuaded from what I knew was to be a life of great meaning – meaning that only I could create. Because of always having to defend my right to be ME, I grew up believing that no one would ever understand the way I think.
Maybe one of those times Mother smacked me around knocked something askew in my head, but I’ve never been known as a person who “thinks inside the box.” The very idea of a box is anathema. I think differently, divergently. That’s how I came to be a coach, working with other creatives.
Over the past several months, I’ve been rethinking my participation in the critique group I began back in 1998, and which still operates today. That’s 12 years. And it’s been an incredible learning experience. Lately, I’ve realized that maybe I’m holding my own creativity back by continuing my participation in that group. It has always been a “safe” zone. Writers could feel good about being a part of it, because they knew they would always get professional feedback and input on their work. And it’s been a helluva journey. But like many journeys, it must come to an end. I needed to be able to write without wondering how “the group” would take it, whose sensibilities would be offended if I wrote Chapter Six in a certain way. To me, that’s not creativity, but trying to stuff a bit of creativity into a box.
And you already know how I feel about boxes.
So I was especially interested in John’s answer to my question. He said, “I’m a grope-and-hope guy. I recognize the value of critique groups for some, but I’m so insular and protective of what I’m doing. My wife reads my work as it comes off the printer.” He stated that critique groups had never worked for him, that he didn’t believe in giving someone else that much power over his story, his writing.
It clearly reflected what I’d been feeling and the direction I knew I was headed. Validation, if you will.
So at our critique group meeting this past Sunday, I told them it was to be my last meeting with them for several months. Originally, I had intended to bow out completely, hand the reins over to a friend and fellow writer who’s shown unequivocally that she’s more than ready to take over. She suggested that I call it a hiatus instead, and see how I feel at the end of three months. “You might decide you want to come back.”
There was a bit of brilliance in that so that’s what I did.
It was like taking manacles off my creativity. Since the announcement, I’ve felt creatively freer than I have in years, and my writing reflects that. I know the stories that I want to tell, and how I want to tell them. Having others working from their own limited viewpoints on writing was keeping me from exploring the width and breadth of my own creative expression. I’ve put together ten solid pages of fresh writing in the past 48 hours, which is excellent progress. That I’m happy with it says a lot, because I’m not trying to second-guess someone in the critique group. It’s like I kept the real writer locked up inside for twelve years, and have now set him free.