I recently attended my first North York Writers (NYW) meeting. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, as I am quite wary of writer groups. I arrived early and met one of the members, a retired professor of dentistry. He warmly welcomed me and two other newcomers to the group, explaining the history of the group and its general rules. This was a positive for me. Usually, I find writer groups difficult to navigate. Join too late and they can feel like a closed club, where you’re an outsider.
I met the other members (I was one of three newbies) in a small meeting room at the North York Central Library. I wasn’t certain about the level of professionalism and sophistication I would encounter, so it was my intention to stay quiet and simply observe. To be sure, there were other reasons I didn’t want to read my work. For one, I didn’t have enough copies, and two, as a “closeted” author, I feared allowing other people to read my work. I am somewhat neurotic about my writing and am constantly trying to polish, rearrange and modify it. It’s never good enough.
However the meeting was long enough that everyone was given an opportunity to read their work. Fortunately, I got to read my piece last. This gave me the chance to get a general sense of what kind of criticism to expect and to gauge the professionalism of the group. After listening, I stopped fearing the audience (about eight of us—a nice non-intimidating number). The feedback I got was mostly intelligent, to-the-point and constructive. This was important for me. Too often, constructive criticism can be a guise for pettiness. From experience, there are people who get carried away with passing judgment on other people’s work, and often resort to dismissiveness rather than actual constructive criticism.
Going into the writers group, I wanted feedback regarding faults in my work that still represent a blind spot for me (It’s hard to find blind spots in my work, even when I am aware of my weaknesses). For example: I tend to be repetitive; that is, I often find ways to say the same thing in different ways. (See what I did there?) There’s a term for that, I think. While listening to the criticism of my own work and also the criticism of the other writers’ works, I got the sense that the NYW members knew exactly what they were talking about. It’s a highly intelligent group.
Overall, NYW incorporated all that I desired in a writers group. There was constructive criticism, positive attitudes from members and a legitimate desire coupled with a critical intelligence that is helpful for developing a writer’s work. The atmosphere was not intimidating or unwelcoming in any way. It was casual and professional at the same time. Everyone offered helpful opinions about the critiqued work, picking out different aspects for improvement. The critiques were quite useful for my work. I would recommend this workshop to writers who want legitimate and useful criticism for their work.
Mellisha MckKenzie is an author. She has published three ebooks—two contemporary, coming-of-age novels and one SF&F short story collection (The Exploration and Other Tales of Wonder). You can contact her at @mellmckenzie or mellmckenzie.com.