Writers Who Need Writers

Thankful this morning for Michigan Sisters in Crime critique group. We met on Saturday at noon and by the time we left my battered confidence was in much more hopeful shape. It’s no secret the WIP, started about year ago, has been giving me fits. Finally, in the company of other writers, everything bugging me about my plot resolved itself. I see the full picture now. My confidence is high.

Writers need confidence to even start a story. It’s a pretty big deal to believe you can write a novel. I don’t mean those people who say “I’d like to write a novel, I have it all in my head, it’s a great story, I just don’t have time to do it.” That’s a false confidence that every writer who is actually producing finished manuscripts sees through immediately. Because writers find the time to write. Jobs, kids, cooking, cleaning…they do all that and write, too. Because they can’t NOT write. They must write.

At first, they scribble in secret. Thrilled but worried too. Is it any good? We are too close to our own words to really know the answer. In my 20s I started sending out my poems and short stories to little magazines. There were editors who liked and published them, other who didn’t bother replying, just stuffed my stamped self-addressed envelope (this was in the 1970s, so, no internet) and sent it back. I remember dreading the mail. Or, less often, smiling wide enough to break my face.

Soon enough, I found my first critique group. They were poets. Nobody had anything much good to say about my poems, but we had fun drinking at the bar afterward. And since they didn’t ignore my work or ruthlessly rip it to shreds, I kept going back. I liked the company of other writers, other people who did the thing I did. I’ve been in many groups since then, and published a bunch of novels (and a tiny chapbook of poems).

I have a publisher now and an excellent editor. But I still need my critique groups. Yes, groups. I have three: one in Florida and two in Michigan. The newest group is great because we all write mystery. Right away, we know the basic structure. There’s a murder early in, someone tries to solve the crime, the bad guy gets caught at the end.

Michigan Sisters in Crime is the best resource I’ve found since moving from poems and stories to romance novels and women’s fiction and now finally, landing in the world of mystery writers. Not only do MI-SinC have a critique group, they continually have events geared to mystery writers. Check out the workshop “Under the Trenchcoat: A Peek Into Private Investigation” on July 27. You don’t have to be a member to attend this event. But unless you’re a member, you might not hear about it.

As for the critique group, who I thank for my remarkable breakthrough over the weekend, it’s fabulous and free to all Mi-SinC members. We meet once a month and you don’t need to attend every session. If you’re a mystery writer living in Michigan, or want to become one, consider joining MiSinC. Our free critique group takes all levels of talent, from beginner to published. You’ll feel energized and motivated, case closed!

Double Trouble

My second critique of the week came yesterday. These things always start the same for me. I work endlessly on the pages to be presented for comment. I think I have them perfect. I go into the meeting saying stuff to myself like “They won’t find much to critique here; it really is as good as it can be.”

Ha! They always have plenty to say about what is wrong with my pages, and some of what they suggest is so obvious I can’t believe I didn’t see it myself.  Other stuff I would never have found, but now that it’s been pointed out makes perfect sense. I came away from that meeting knowing the first scene needs more work. Which is fine. It’s okay. This is what critique groups are for, after all.

The only thing is…we decided to meet again in three weeks and for the next three weeks my top priority is not Blue Heaven but The Paris Notebook. For the first time in a long time, I have a deadline.

I’ve never worked on revising two novels at the same time. The only saving grace I can find here is that The Paris Notebook really does only needs minor tweaks. Thanks to first readers Becky and Martha I have a list of page numbers and small things to clean up. It should not be too difficult or time consuming.

Maybe it will only take a week or two. Then I can focus on what happens next in Blue Heaven, because that book is still largely unknown to me. I sort have ideas for the second chapter, but I need to make them look good on paper. Which is way easier said than done.