I just attended the Lorain County Library’s (awesome!) writer’s conference led by Chuck Sambuchino. The most interesting moment of the conference was when Chuck read manuscripts and murdered them in front of us. Until that moment, I’d never actually experienced group tension in the flesh. It was like an invisible spider web stretched across the room and we all vibrated in sympathetic agony when one of our own was being devoured. I have several friends whose work I recognized, and my heart went out to them. It got so bad I started passing notes like a manic teenager.
I took preemptive action, telling myself things like: what does he know? and maybe he won’t get to mine. And if he didn’t… hallelujah. Amen.
He did get to mine, and I had a wonderful moment of peace as the librarian read my manuscript aloud. To hear a stranger read, with the inflection I meant it to have was a gift. Then she stopped reading. I braced myself. Stopped breathing. My face flushed.
“Pretty good,” were his first words. “I actually wrote ‘good’ in three places on this.” Then he went on to say that the language carried him through the first page, but I better have something happen on page two, by god. I wrote in the top margin: SURVIVED.
My friends were more optimistic. They clapped me on the back as if I’d had a victory. One called me “Miss Good Good Good,” which is almost as gratifying as “Oh captain, my captain” or “the queen,” but that’s taken (Kathleen!).
Our writer’s group would describe themselves as pulling no punches, maybe even cutthroat. But I think they give the medicine with a spoon full of sugar, as Mary Poppins would say. They’re gentle when they cut you.
Not so, Chuck-the-ripper.
Yet we are thankful. We all know, we collectively agree even if we singularly squirm in humiliation and shame: your medicine is good for us, and we’ll come out the other side better writers. I’m humbled and awed by the spirit of grit and determination I see in my friends. I get a front row seat on seriously amazing journeys, watching flesh and blood people take their licks at our meeting, apply the lessons and grow. I look at them and I say, if they can grow, so can I. We look at each other and say, if she can gracefully take the hit and come back swinging, so can we.