Surgeon In An Electrolux

Readers of this blog know a lot about Maine because we share our secret places, favorite restaurants, scenic drives, etc. Later this week, you’ll read our collective take on “why Maine?” While our state isn’t perfect (what state is), there are plenty of reasons to visit or live here. The flip side of that are the challenges. Issues like lack of public transportation, areas still lacking high speed internet, spotty health care access, areas with no affordable housing (although there’s a place advertised in today’s Rolling Thunder newspaper for $15,000), are well documented and need not be rehashed here. Writers have their own challenges.

Now, if I can only find reverse.

The craft of writing is by definition a solitary one. 90% of my writing output gets done when I have the house to myself. That’s one of the best parts of having Monday as a day off. One of the disadvantages is that writing without feedback at some point is like operating in a vacuum (hence the title of this post). Maine lacks writing groups and getting one started seems to be a fairly big challenge. When we first moved to Hartland, I was going to one that met in fast food restaurants in the Lewiston/Auburn area. While I welcomed the opportunity to read and get feedback, there were a number of problems. The venues were sometimes crowded and noisy, the turnover in the group was disconcerting and, after we moved to Hartland, the driving was a deal breaker.

I tried another group in the Waterville area. There were three of us, but one dropped out pretty quickly, leaving two of us. We gave it our best shot, but two really isn’t a good number for a writers group. Not long after that, I discovered my current group at the UU Church in Dexter. We met twice a month for several years, dropping back to monthly when heating costs became an issue for the church..

I don't need to write, just look cool and avoid coyotes.

While some writers came and went over the years, our core group has been pretty consistent and we’ve learned to understand each others writing styles. That’s very important. When you have significant diversity in genre, style or both, you need to have continuity and a trust level or things don’t work. Even with us being the only group in our corner of the woods, keeping it going hasn’t been easy. What follows is something I posted last week on the Hartland Library blog, because we’ve had to move the group and change the day and frequency.

Pati Harris, who along with Susan Estes, maintained the Dexter group and kept it running for close to 20 years, experienced serious health issues earlier this summer. She has since moved out of state. As a result, Susan and I have decided to move the group to the Hartland Public Library and change the meeting day and how often we meet. The group will meet on the first and third Tuesday of each month (full schedule below). We’ve had the same core group for the past several years: Susan, who is writing Christian westerns, Jeris who is penning her life history, Pati who wrote animal themed essays, poetry and Sunday school plays, Gloria who writes devotionals with a bible verse for each day of the year with accompanying questions and yours truly who writes short mystery stories, YA fantasy fiction and teen novellas. As you can see, we’re a pretty diverse group.
We’re looking for new blood. It’s not always easy to get useful criticism and feedback when the same people hear your stuff at every meeting. As far as we’re concerned, the only requirement for membership is a desire to write and get better at it. If you fit that description and are (or think you might be) comfortable reading in front of a small group of people, then we’d love to have you join us. If you have any questions, feel free to call the library at 938-4702 or email me at berek at

I realize the chances anyone reading this will be able to join us is slim, but I wanted to highlight the dilemmas faced by writers in rural areas. Granted, I belong to the short mystery and fantasy writing listservs at, but I find that reading aloud so other writers can hear something in progress does several things posting a piece for critique cant do. First, you can’t see facial expressions online and they’re sometimes far more helpful than words. I also find that I’m an auditory editor, catching uneven and flawed passages with my ears as I read them. Can’t do that online either.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing groups, especially any interesting personal experiences.

Give me a writing group with minimal bull, please.

SCHEDULE for 2013-14: (we start at 7 PM) 16 Mill St., Hartland ME 04943

9/3, 9/17, 10/1, 10/15, 11/5, 11/19, 12/3, 12/17, 01/7, 01/21, 02/4, 02/18, 03/4, 03/18, 04/1, 04/15,
05/6, 05/20, 06/3, , 06/17.

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4 Responses to Surgeon In An Electrolux

  1. Lea Wait says:

    Best of luck, John! When I first moved to Maine I was in your situation. I was caring for my mother full-time, and I didn’t know any writers, but very much wanted – needed – a critique group that would evaluate my work fairly. I found one critique partner sitting next to me in a Maine Writers and Publishers Association class, and we then advertised for a 3rd or 4th member at MWPA. It ended up being three of us, and we met every two weeks for six or seven years, until, for different reasons, individual responsibilities broke up the group. Each time we met we’d bring 10 pages for the others to read, and then read them out loud and discuss them. It worked very well for us, although, as in your group, we were writing in different genres. I’m still friends with those two people, but I miss our group. It was one of the major reasons I was first published. Best of luck!

  2. Chris Colter says:

    Living in rural Aroostook County, I face the same problem. I write fiction and memoir pieces as well as do a lot of blogging, and the only local writers I know personally write poetry. Thank goodness for the connections I’ve made on the Internet!

  3. Barb Ross says:

    Best of luck with this, John. My writers group is one of the joys of my life. Though we’ve had turnover (people moving, deciding not to focus on writing, and one member dying), we’ve had the same core group since we were in a writing class with B.A. Shapiro (author of The Art Forger) in 1996. While we all started off focused on mystery novels, we’ve read each other.s literary fiction, short stories, screen plays, gothics, etc.

    We submit and read ahead–ie 2 people are up at a time, pages go out Saturday, you come with your notes and critique on Thursday. Everyone is very flexible, which is great, depending on where you are in the writing cycle, how many pages you need read and to what purpose.

    Of course, all this is easier in an urban area where I live most of the year. I did notice MWPA has a guide to writers groups. I was thinking of reaching out to them for Level Best submissions.

  4. I’ve been a part of a two critique groups. One with 3. One with two. We mostly wrote in a similar genre. We live quite a distance from each other. We handed out 20 pages or less, but no more on one meeting. We took those home and read them. (Sometimes outloud, because that really does tell you stuff on the paper in your head just doesn’t.) We returned the next week with the pages marked up and went over them with the writer. I always found it interesting what different things two people would see in whomever’s pages were being critiqued. We did everyone’s pages each time. It was very time-consuming. As a “newby” writer, at the time, this process offered a great learning opportunity for me. The other two sold and our needs changed.
    Then I met with one person and we used basically the same process. I’ve done a couple of just on-line CPs. If you find the write match this would be fine. I”m still friends with all these people. I’m now published also and think it’s greatly due to working with my critique partners. Good luck working out your system.

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