Critique groups have a bad rap in some writing circles. Ours works well, so we’ll be sharing our experience in a series of articles. This one focuses on our origin story: how we came together to create a long-lasting, successful writers’s support group.
We’re four women who’ve never met and possibly never will. (Secretly we hope this will change.) Two live in Canada, one in the USA, and one in Morocco. We share three husbands, four ex-husbands, seven children, two grandchildren, and five dogs.
Yet we have nothing in common.
Brenda writes Canadiana literary fiction and speculative short stories. Liz writes speculative fiction and fantasy rooted in hope and community. Soleah writes contemporary fantasy full of legends and folklore. Janet writes short stories and social justice romance novels.
Discovering our Writing Identities
Brenda’s origin story:
I wanted to be a veterinarian. First year calculus changed that dream in short order. A counselor suggested I switch to Canadian Literature. I asked what career this would get me and was told I could be a teacher (HARD PASS). I was not informed about other options: advertising, journalism, or writing.
I quit the university.
I became a licensed optician, got married, had children, and adopted many, many pets. My husband and I are partners in a successful consulting business. While my children were little, I took a snail-mail writing course. It was cumbersome and slow; I never finished. I started writing pet obituaries and sent them to friends and family.
Unknowingly, I had created my first blog. I wrote my second blog to keep folks informed when we moved our house. This was so well received, I signed up and completed a self-directed writing course, then did a mentored course with the same group. I learned a lot but found this writing community too “Zen.” I wanted a more vibrant and fun writing community.
Liz’s origin story:
I’ve always loved stories, whether words on a page or pictures on a screen. My grandparents hugely impacted my tastes, from folktales and mythologies to watching hours of Perry Mason and Murder She Wrote.
I blame my love of science fiction and androids on my dad, a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars. My interest in writing began when I saw Where the Red Fern Grows in first grade. It was so sad that I rewrote it and added a girl like me. Next, Edgar Allan Poe caught my young heart. Poetry became my next adventure well into college.
Then all my words dried up. I dove into painting, theater, black-and-white photography, and even stained glass. My double degree in International Communication and Spanish led me to Spain, then back to California. In a twist of fate, I used both degrees as an intern at E! Entertainment Television. I worked in the industry for five years, writing and producing for television.
This reignited my love of writing. In my spare time while having a family, I’d find myself writing bits and pieces of stories. After years of starts and stops, I finally finished my first novel.
Soleah’s origin story:
When I was eight, I started dabbling in poetry. I thought in rhymes and wrote in French. My father, my number one fan, was so proud that he got one of my poems, “Coquillage,” published in a Moroccan national newspaper. At eleven, I wrote fairy tales, long gone now, except for two. At thirteen, I started a romance novel. I loved Kathleen E. Woodiwiss; I read all her books. The only way to get more was to write one. A family friend was even ready to publish it.
Unfortunately, my manuscript didn’t go further than two chapters. It still lies in a drawer—the only regret of my life. I replaced fiction with academic articles…until a low point in life forced me to pour my broken heart onto paper.
My first (therapeutic) four-hundred-page novel was born. I found it brilliant. It was a mess. An editor loved the premise but hated the writing. Although the publishing company passed on my manuscript, it did have potential. This time, I didn’t give up.
Janet’s origin story:
In 2nd grade I had to write a poem and was blown away that the stuff in books could come from me. My 5th grade teacher mimeographed my mysteries for the class. I was torn between being a writer or a lawyer like Nancy Drew’s father. In 6th grade, I wrote the first of three mystery “novels.” In 9th grade, my mother gave me a Smith Corona typewriter with instructions to practice for an office job.
I used it to start a gothic novel.
Then I quit writing to chase boys. In early college, I wrote poetry when I was sad, but I’d long lost any self-identification as writer. I dropped out of school and worked as a receptionist. I met the most magical invention, a Selectric typewriter, on which I had to type 50 copies of the same letter every week (truthfully, 150, my typing sucked). Otherwise, I could do what I wanted. I’d just discovered Plath and Sexton and used the Selectric to write reams of terrible poetry. I still have it. It stinks, but it gifted me a writer identity again.
Becoming A Discovery of Writers
Four independent writers surfed the internet and discovered Gabriella Pereira’s fabulous community, DIY MFA. We variously participated in 101, P2P, The HUB, and WordNerdsUnite.
Small Group Coaching came next.
The first iteration of SGC put Liz, Safiya, and Janet in one cohort and Brenda in another, all coached by the talented Jeanette Smith. When our three months were up, Janet, Safiya, and Liz remained tight, meeting weekly. Janet, Safiya, and Brenda reenlisted for another session, becoming a second trio that kept meeting weekly when the program ended.
Two weekly critique meetings for Janet and Safiya were cumbersome. Remembering who read what when, was next to impossible. We decided to amalgamate and never looked back. We meet almost weekly, or suffer withdrawal issues. The meetings vary, some short-ish, some hours long. Sometimes we critique; sometimes we brainstorm. Sometimes we scrap everything and just talk.
Finding Trust and Confidence
We each brought our own insecurities and imposter syndrome to the critique sessions. Were we really writers if we’d only published one story? Or a poem? What if we’d never published anything? How could we stop comparing ourselves to others?
We found trust in each other, then in ourselves. As our ideas and writing were validated, we began to have faith in letting our voices live on the page. We became confident in our ability to tell a story. We finished first drafts, entered short story competitions, began our next novels.
With confidence came the courage to push past our comfort zones and self-imposed barriers, to take up the banner of writer and pronounce it to the world—even on days we still weren’t sure we deserved the title.
We write different genres. Our backgrounds vary widely. We’re even based in different countries. But our love of writing and perhaps our differences make us stronger as a team.
That’s what we are. A team.
Becoming good friends makes it that much better. We’re cheerleaders for each other and our critique group. The input we share makes us all better writers, better storytellers. The path of a writer is never-ending, but it’s a lot more pleasant when you have good company on that journey.
What’s your origin story? When did you identify as a writer? Who helps strengthen that identity?
A Discovery of Writers is made up of four DIY MFA Small-Group Book Coaching graduates who were partnered in the program in 2020, stayed together after our terms ended, and have turned into a tight, very effective writing support group. We love how we work together and would like to explore/share our experience with the Word Nerd community. For more about us individually you can find us here.