No Critique for me, thanks.

My local library recently started a writers’ workshop that meets once a month. When I first heard of it, I was excited, and I attended the first two meetings.

I’m not going back, and the reason is that I don’t like critique groups, and that’s where this group is headed.

Don’t get me wrong, having someone critique a piece of your writing can be valuable. In my earlier writing years, I may have asked others to read my work. An important point to consider here is that I searched out those who were established, qualified writers or editors in the same genre or area of interest as I; people who could be objective and honest, even if I wouldn’t want to hear what they said. I trusted them.

It’s easy to tell someone how good something is if that is what you honestly believe. It’s not so easy to tell someone their subject is boring: their spelling is atrocious; you don’t like their style; or that they should just go back to English 101 and start over.

I have critiqued the work of others, but I don’t like doing it because each individual has his or her own special style of writing, and it’s not like mine. The only way to find out if a piece of writing is good enough for publication is to refine it as best you can and send it to the people who matter — editors and agents who can champion your work.

Not everyone likes what I write, or the way I write. I don’t like every writer I’ve read, and that applies to some well-known authors that others rave about. Sometimes I’ll start a book by a best-selling author only to find out that I really don’t like the way he/she puts words together, or I don’t like the subject or the way its handled. Would I critique it and say it’s not worth reading? Of course not, because I’m only one reader, and what do I know?

To those who want to be in a writers’ group, don’t make it only about reading each other’s work and commenting on it. Real value in these groups comes from sharing tips on writing that others can use; learning how to write query letters; understanding how to move a story along; learning how to research the market and find the right publisher; sharing relevant information on publishing; bringing in guest speakers who have some expertise with writing; generally supporting and encouraging fellow writers; and above all, learning to use the research resources of your library.

Special note: never ask your best friend, loving spouse, or anyone who is really close to you, “What do you think of my story?” Trust me on this one.

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Career Day: inspiring the young

I have been invited to be a part of a career day at a local elementary school.

I’ve done this before. Students at the junior and senior high school level generally have a good idea of what they want to do with their lives, and I’ve met many who are interested in learning what it takes to be a writer.

But in this instance, those that I will be talking to at this career day are in the third, fourth and fifth grades. I’m not sure how many of these little folks are thinking about what they want to do when they hit eighteen and are headed for college. At that age their biggest thrill is that they are excused from regular classes for an afternoon to talk about careers.

I have spoken with eighth grade students, taught classes in freelance writing to beginning writers, and organized seminars for freelance writers, but I don’t think I’ve ever had an audience this young. Calling it an audience is a misnomer because I’ll get 10 students at a time for 10 minutes. These groups will cycle through the gymnasium and stop at each presenters’ table to learn about a possible career path, so I will be repeating the same information over and over for three hours.

At first, I wondered what I could possible say to them that would inspire them to want to pursue writing as a career. There may not be one child in that school who will become a paid, published writer. So, I have been trying to determine what I can actually say to them that will be of benefit to all of them, and I think I’ve come up with a plan. (Although it could change drastically over the next few weeks.)

I plan to give each group a quick overview of the different types of writing jobs that are available, but most of all, I believe this is an opportunity to encourage each student to become a better writer in general terms. The best thing they can do is to learn to write coherently, precisely, and correctly; to learn about grammar and increase their vocabulary knowledge.

They should know to never stop learning, and that means going beyond what the teachers are teaching in the classrooms. They need to go to the library and check out books on as many subjects as they like, and learn as much as they can. That is what will influence their choices in the future.

If I can encourage them to read more as well as to write better, it will stand them in good stead in whatever career path they choose when they are older.

If one of them should become a famous reporter or fiction writer with a best seller, I can only hope that they may remember something I have said to them and they will remember me in their memoirs. If we as writers can inspire someone else and watch them become successful, that is a great honor.

Plus, they’re going to like me more because I’m going to give each one of them a little gift to take away from the table; a pencil or notebook or big eraser. I know about promotions. I’ll be their favorite.