Fellow Sojourners

Sometimes I think writing is akin to devoting one’s life to the sound of one hand clapping. Yes, our characters talk to us; and yes, our imaginations continuously strobe ideas and seeds for fiction and nonfiction our way.

But we also need the camaraderie of fellow writers, compatriots who understand rejection. We need kindred spirits who’ve experienced the writing life’s highs and lows. Who understand the superstitions — applying for grants and residencies and staying silent; applying in threes and then willing ourselves to forget; agonizing over how long to wait before contacting an editor or agent who’s sat on our work for six months. We are loath to offend these faceless arbiters lest we get our work tossed because we are too noodgy.

This is why writing groups are so precious. Writers at any stage can benefit from that cadre of trusted souls who offer criticism honestly but kindly and know how to sandwich necessary comments between praise and encouragement. Anyone involved in the creative life needs a few companions who can commiserate, who can rail with you when the rejections come in and can celebrate you without envy.

This is what the women in my writing group offer one another. We’ve been meeting for nearly four years. Sometimes sporadically as we bend to the demands of raising children, our jobs, ailing spouses and chemo treatments. We are poets, Jane Austen experts, novelists, futurists, essayists, memoirists, travel writers. We are attorneys, farmers, former chefs and journalists. Sharing our visions through our words, we expand one another’s worlds. We hone one another’s prose. Gently, we hope.

It took me a while to find a group that fit. As an inexperienced writer, I wasn’t sure whose criticism to “believe.” I would come home from weekly sessions in a tizzy, wondering whose advice to follow. It took a while to realize I didn’t have to listen to anyone; that I had the right to sift through my fellow writers’ comments and take what I wanted, even if sometimes that meant taking nothing. We keep one another disciplined, loathe to show up empty handed. Yet sometimes we do and that’s OK.

Writing is a tough business. My group softens the path.

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12 thoughts on “Fellow Sojourners

  1. Judi Arthur

    Not being a “writer” I’ve never thought of the need for a “support group” but find it neat that there is such a thing. I don’t know as I could stand the rejection that comes with the territory without someone that’s also experienced it, to talk to, lean on, and commiserate and celebrate with. So glad that you, and each member of your group, have each other. Makes me smile. 🙂

  2. Debra

    The rejection comes with the territory. Some of them sting more than others. Either you learn not to take it personally or you take a break for a while. Sometimes both. Thank you, Judi for checking in. DBD

  3. The Southern Belle

    Dear Debra,
    I found your first writing in Good Housekeeping several months ago. I usually just skim the magazine, tear out a few recipes, and then pitch it. But your printed blog captured my attention enough to write you, which I did. And, then, here you are again this month, published in Good Housekeeping another time. I feel like I am your “new best friend” because I delight in seeing you in print, just as a friend or relative would. I am trying to find my own way in this year, with career changes, my father’s death–life. I have started a blog, am working with a friend on a book about tablescaping–venturing out into a totally unknown world with skills I have not ever tapped, really. So, your blog entry grabbed my attention tonight, made me realize that I am blessed to be part of something much greater than myself. I can’t articulate exactly what that “something” is, but I find comfort in your journey–and in following you as best I can. Blessings to you, Debra. You are a gifted writer who has something to say. And I am reading!

  4. Debra

    Writers need all kinds of support groups. A special thank you to my good friend Ira for catching the loathe/loath error. Made a mental note to change it when I was rewriting and the note vanished in the wilds of my alleged mind. Thank you, sweetie. Loathe — verb; loath — adjective.

  5. Debra

    Dear “Southern Belle,”

    Thank you so much for writing. Sympathies and strength to you at this pivotal time in your life. Dig deep and use those wonderful skills. Your tablescapes at southernbelle.biz are amazing. Congrats on launching the blog and thank you for joining my written world.

  6. Verne

    You call yourself “inexperienced?” Those words and messsages that stream from your writings come from experience and a talent for interpreting and looking at that experience. And we readers and friends are the lucky beneficiaries of that experience.

  7. Debra

    Verne, Thank you for your comment. What I meant was a writer inexperienced with critique groups. I wasn’t secure enough in my own strength not to be swayed by others’ opinions. And then there was a group of beginning writers who didn’t have the tools to offer meaningful critiques and grew testy when I offered suggestions for their work. (Those, too, are acquired skills.)
    So. Thank you as always for your friendship, your loyalty and your homemade gefilte fish for which my mouth is already watering! See you next week!

  8. Diana U. Dinverno

    It’s a privilege to be in the group. After spending days, weeks, months and in my case, a couple of years on a project, the encouragement is like manna from heaven—as are the suggestions for improvement. The group is the second line of defense for ensuring a cohesive story, the accuracy
    of detail and/or motivation. Even when the comments aren’t glowing, they’re helpful because they require me to revisit what I’ve written and decide for myself if I’m headed in the right direction. Sometimes I know in my gut that something isn’t working and I simply need confirmation.“Yep, you’ve got a problem. Fix it.” It’s pure gold. Thanks for your insight, cheering me on and for the always gentle nudging.

  9. Debra

    I’ve learned that the comments that aren’t glowing, often shed light where it’s needed most. I know you guys won’t let me get away with anything weak. As you said, “Confimation.” Of the hits and misses.

  10. Libbie

    Hey there. I found you through the Good Houskeeping issue. Congrats on that! I am going to be in the July issue & I just bought one to check it out! It was really fun to read about THE BOOK…I wish I had had one! The roomies & I were so close that we would have had SUCH a good time with that! I am going to give a journal to a gril I know in college & print off your article. She is VERY creative & I know she will enjoy it very much …so thank you!

    I did love reading your post today too about your circle of friends in the writing world…I have a many close & a few closer than close friends but it would be fun to have a little group of friends who came together seperately & formed friendships over time together. I am sure you girls have a ton of fun together & I hope you get a little work done 🙂

    Nice to meet you!

  11. Debra

    Congrats to you, too, Libbie. I look forward to your GH piece in July. I was thrilled to read you’re going to give your young friend in college a “Book” with my article. It’s is a treasure to revisit over the years.

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