“I don’t agree.”
“Critiques are not about right or wrong, Marjorie. They’re just an opinion for you to consider or disregard.”
Marjorie is one of the members of a creative writing circle I facilitate at a seniors’ residence. She’s brought the group her next weekly post for her blog, Marjorie Remembers. Like all her writing, it’s very good. But like all writing, it isn’t perfect.
Marjorie writes about growing up on the prairies; dust storms, blizzards, snaring gophers, one room school houses, and the bonds of rural communities. The stories are filled with high drama, history, and caring.
Marjorie wants to write better and seriously considers all comments, but she is also a staunch defender of her work.
Next up is David. He reads a short story about a mercy killing in which a husband confesses to smothering his terminally ill wife. It’s a poignant story that asks more questions than it answers and all within about five hundred words. David is a retired United Church Minister.
The group has some questions about clarification and structure of his story. David listens, nods, and makes notes.
Kay reads us her Christmas poem. It’s a thoughtful witty piece about retirees celebrating the season around the pool in Florida. It’s four stanzas, of four lines – flawless meter and not a trace of forced rhyme.
Nothing but praise for Kay who smiles graciously.
Elizabeth reads the last submission. It’s a memoir of her move from Trinidad, where she and she and her husband served as a missionaries, to rural New Brunswick where he had his first parish. It’s a remarkable tale of change, adversary and the resilience of the human spirit. It’s also an accounting of the ordeals of a mother and homemaker in rural Canada fifty years ago.
Elizabeth has a gift for writing humour and her entertaining stories always have the group chuckling.
“I’d cut the first six paragraphs,” says David. “All back story that the reader doesn’t need to know.”
Elizabeth frowns. “I see your point, David.”
I’m pleased because this is an issue that we frequently address. It would be easier to help them improve if they all weren’t such accomplished writers. As it is, their stories are very good as they’re presented and the changes will only make subtle improvements. However, we all recognize that a critique that doesn’t contain criticism is an oxymoron.
I had no idea what to expect when I began facilitating the Creative Writing Circle in the library of the residence. I worried that it might be and hour and a half of listening to bad writing, insincere, vague and unproductive comments, and assuaging hurt feelings. Did I really want to do this? Would teaching really be ‘learning twice’?
What I’ve learned about writing has been overshadowed by what I’ve learned about life. My hard core group are four sophisticated, educated and successful individuals who are also accomplished writers. There stories have stimulated, entertained and educated me and I have added no more than a tweak here and a suggestion there in improving them.
They have inspired me with their continuing thirst for knowledge, the way they still embrace a world that is evolving faster everyday, their generosity of spirit and their firm grasp of what is really important in this world. They live every day with passion and intensity tempered with a pragmatic realism.
Two months ago Kay died. Sweet, petite Kay was found in her bed surrounded by her papers and books. She was determined to write something unique and significant about the evils of war. She’d seen enough of them. She was ninety-five when she died.
That brought the average age of the members (facilitator not included) down to ninety years old.
I use to think there was not one good thing about growing old. My group has taught me that physical aging is a fact, but being old is an attitude. Learning need never end and the beauty of nature can continue to inspire and with every new person we meet we can experience the miracle of unique relationship that enriches or life and our spirit.