Writing is an individual sport, but the writer is not always alone, certainly not this one. I started taking writing classes in 1995. After every quarter, the students usually spun off into critique groups to continue our momentum at the craft. A good part of the classes was critiquing other students’ work, not just for the feedback received, but to put each writer to work analyzing other work.
Every group evaporated after about a year, if one started at all. In 1998, I enrolled in a mystery writing class through the UW Extension taught by Northwest mystery writers G.M. “Gerry” Ford and Jo Dereske. (I don’t think the mystery classes are offered any longer). I signed up for the mystery series because I had a background in law enforcement. It was natural that I give that genre a try. Jerry and Jo are excellent teachers and I learned a great deal. One product of Wednesday evenings for three quarters was an early draft of my mystery novel Tiny Details. The other was a reliable and long-lasting group of colleagues.
We started with about ten, lost a few writers over the years and picked up one. We are now seven. Everyone has completed one mystery novel and Bob has finished three or four. I finished one mystery and one historical novel, then started a sequel to the first mystery, a new mystery, and a sequel to the historical piece.
Bob’s protagonist is a private eye. Brad’s is a cashiered research biologist roped into murder over a timber theft scheme. Janet has a freelance writer investigating murder and fraud in the diet industry. Kathy takes us to the world of international wildlife trafficking. Rick’s main character is a young, obscenely wealthy retired software entrepreneur investigating a suspicious death and environmental terrorism in the Cascades. Maurice has finished a couple of police procedurals set in the fictional Seattle suburb of Lakeview. Ted’s story started with a sumo wrestler stung to death by bees in a porta potty at a local golf course, but Ted is on hiatus with us.
We rotate meeting locations and take turns submitting. The host makes a pot of decaf and serves sweets (Janet’s fudge brownies appear in her mystery). We circulate the submissions by email so that we show up with marked up copies and written critiques. Our December meetings are something of a holiday celebration at a local restaurant, combined with critiques.
The process has been immensely helpful in my work and they helped head me off from potentially disastrous turns of plot. And knowing you have to periodically perform keeps us all writing. The comments are all carefully drawn and we have come to trust one another’s sense of style. I am still “pre-published”, but I am a much better writer because of them.