I imitated one of my fictional stories and joined a writers’ group at the nearby library last November. The group is fluid, consisting of about five older regulars and a revolving number of newcomers (to me). They meet the second and fourth Monday on the month to read our stuff and have it critiqued.
My attendance had been interrupted by first by the holidays, then visitors and finally an unshakable writing paralysis. I’d submitted an old ghost story for the group to review and happily survived the process. Nobody skewered me; they’d enjoyed the story (although it needed a few tweaks) and looked forward to seeing more of my work.
But my muse was missing in action. How could I critique others’ work when I had nothing really to offer up? Many in the group were working on novels and bringing in chapters. I hadn’t written anything for quite some time and felt like a fraud. Walking past the library to the local cantina, I remembered that it was again the fourth Monday of the month. I mulled over a rather delicious strawberry margarita. Should I go? Sure, said the margarita. There will be other muses there. Maybe you’ll catch one! Making a mental note not to order a big drink next time, I rushed to the meeting, hoping to catch a muse that was non-alcoholic.
The regulars greeted me as if I’d never been away but no muse jumped me at the door. The usual suspects pulled out their book chapters. Wait, I blurted out. Does anybody have writer’s block? One man raised his hand. We exchanged battle weary sighs. You just have to write, said the novelists. You just have to sit down and do it. Don’t wait for a muse. Try to write a sentence differently. Write nonsense. But you just have to write and the rest will come. The facilitator asked who would submit a story for next time? Well, I had a short story. It’s old, I added as if an apology. We wouldn’t have known that until you told us, they said. It doesn’t matter. Then they bowed their heads and began critiquing.
I looked around the room at the writers laboring over their literary children. Some were inspired, some weren’t. Then I recalled that the man with his writer’s block had yet to submit a completed story while I was there, but he never missed a meeting. That’s tenacity.
Even though I already intellectually knew their advice, there’s nothing like a group of writers poring over their work, saying it aloud that puts things in perspective.