Personal Journey

Writing Conference Memoirette

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.



9 thoughts on “Writing Conference Memoirette”

  1. Your writing is poetic beauty, Kelly. Seriously. You deserved his praise.

    Mine wasn’t my best work. I hadn’t had anyone read and edit, nor had I spent the time refining my submission. I expected the criticism. Haha. I spent an hour reworking it last night. What I crammed into a page was originally 2 1/2 pages. Now it’s three, but it allowed me to develop the beginning better. I took his advice on some points. We can only grow!

    1. You have an awesome attitude, Cyndi. And also the thick skin he mentioned. Maybe not walrus-thick, but thick enough. I’m working on mine, and imagine it’ll come when I begin sending out query letters… if not sooner.

  2. I experienced a similar group session at my Chicago conference. “Group tension in the flesh” describes it perfectly. Painful for sure, but it hurts good, right? My session was from 8-10 pm. I didn’t sleep that night. I was so mad, frustrated after. But now I see everything differently! 🙂

  3. Group tension in the flesh–exactly! I kept reminding myself to breathe and he wasn’t even reading mine! I kept thinking, “You are supposed to say one criticism to three nice things!” I get what he was doing, I just didn’t expect it to be so harsh.

  4. That was really encouraging. I always think my writing is terrible and that allows me to take the punches when it proves true. It’s the compliments that throw me off and I end up shrugging and thanking people while looking for the nearest exit.

    And you have a wonderful writing style, it’s great. I can read your stories all day! Keep it up Kelly!

    1. I’m always hard on my writing too. Whatever I write, if it gets negative feedback, I decide it must be junk. I can tell you, yours is awesome. Hopefully this trait of self-flagellation will make us the best writers we can be. I read that Stephen King originally threw Carrie in the trash because he didn’t feel he’d captured the teen girl mindset. It was Tabitha who rescued it from the garbage and encouraged him to try to publish it. You probably knew that though!

      1. Haha I did know that, but it’s quite interesting to see how even the greats had moments of doubt. Thank you though, you help encourage my writing too.
        We’re on our way Kelly. We can do it!

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