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Topic: The Critique/Review (for writers) (05/06/10)
TITLE: The Critique (ii)
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I had been in the writing group over a year. My writing improved over the course of the year as well as my ability to critique five written pages. Five pages were all we were allowed to submit at a time. After turning in five double-line spaced pages to the other writers, one was sure to get an earful from their mistakes whether imagined or not. The writing group shook a group of pages as a pack of hungry wolves tearing apart a poor rabbit. More than once I didn’t submit a weekly offering of my writing because I knew it would be tossed around with searing criticism making me feel more foolish than I already felt.
I wasn’t afraid of this peer group of novice writers, only wary – extremely wary. We were all “wanna be writers”. No one had a flurry of projects that had been published. Most of us were trying to get our first or second book published. As we worked on our own manuscripts we learned new techniques for writing and eagerly shared our new found skills with others by criticizing our colleagues work with these newly discovered skills. The quality of our work became apparent to each other over the weeks.
One writer, Margaret, had a style of writing beautiful descriptions. She could write fantastic beach scenes, mountain settings, or show the sprawl of an urban ghetto. Sam, who was writing an autobiography, was so engaging that I eagerly waited each week wanting to find out what he had done next in his life. Betty, a divorced mother of three, was writing a story of a horse traveling in a circus. There were four other writers, all talented except for one - Andy.
Andy, a bubbling retired military man full of enthusiasm for writing, helped round out the writing group with his jovial personality. Mr. Andrew Spicer, 75 years young, appeared as someone worthy of respect and dignity, but humorously. His personality gave a stern image but with a beguiling smile. Mr. Spicer, although very intelligent, was not quite a genius. Mr. Spicer did not aspire to be a writer early in life. He didn’t start writing until age 65 and his writing showed it.
His characters were stiff, usually only-one sided. Sometimes they took different sides, such as caring, inquisitive, as well as a fighter, but only after prodding from the writers group. When Andy, as we affectionately called him, joined the writer’s group we were merciful to him. Everyone gave lavish praises first and then later a minor rebuke for grammar errors or an incoherent paragraph. After awhile we all ganged up against him and belittled his writing to the point where I could barely keep from laughing at him.
Andy didn’t take the criticism lightly. In the ensuing weeks he began to mumble as he read. He seemed to lose interest in the other writers. He became almost laconic at the meetings. One night when Andy wasn’t around, I suggested that the writing group change its criticism of Andy’s writing and only embellish Andy with latitudes of praise. What harm could we do to the old man by giving him praises?
Slowly, spasmodically, Andy’s writing came to life. He began to work hard on his writing. While thanking everyone for their criticisms, he tirelessly drove himself to find the exact historical details for his battles during World War I. Andy read the journals of over 50 American men who had written journals while fighting in the trenches in Europe. Andy took new writing courses online and pursued writing five hours a day. And then, after four months, it came – a shock to all of us.
Mr. Andrew Spicer announced that one of his articles had been accepted by the American Heritage Foundation and he would no longer be a member of the group. He was now part of a historical writer’s group that met downtown on the same evening that we all met and he thought he would be better off with the historical society than with us.
In the ensuing weeks, we didn’t say much about Mr. Spicer, we were all too occupied with our own problems and getting our own work published. Then Mike brought in a copy of Mr. Spicer’s book, “Trench Warfare During WWI”. I was happy for Mr. Spicer, but didn’t say anything.
Betty said it, “Criticism, it all depends on how you take it.”
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