I had a wonderful time at my writers group today. I have a wonderful time whenever we meet. There are three of us at present: Wendy, Susan, and me. We’re all Hamliners. We’re all fiction writers. We’re all dead serious about writing. We call our little troupe Pants on Fire, or PoF for short.

When we aren’t critiquing each other’s manuscripts, we’re discussing the art and craft of writing or the writing life, and it’s essential to my work. It’s shoptalk, and unless you live with another writer, you need to get out of the house and commune.

Don’t get me wrong, Scott and I do talk art. We support each other and we share our work, but let’s face it, when he wants to geek out about photography, I’m just a head with ears. Check out this caption from one of his pictures on Flickr: “From a newly acquired Minolta XD11 with 50MM f/1.4 MD lens. Tri-X shot at EI200 and processed in HC-110 dilution H for 10 minutes.” My caption would read: “Alida in our backyard.” It’s a similar deal when I want to go deep into point of view or character development or kill a horse.

See, Scott would just as soon let the horse live. Sometimes, however, you have to kill the horse. In fact, every time he turns around, I’m researching a gun to kill a horse—according to him. Clearly, we both need to get out of the house to go deep into our own territories.

Besides sharing a knowledge of and passion for the craft of writing, Susan, Wendy, and I know each other’s work, each other’s voices. Today, we were discussing the kind of stories we notice getting published, the homogeneity of writing that comes out of MFA programs, and the issue of gender in publishing. I mentioned that my voice tends toward the formal. When I recently rewrote a story, moving it from a distant 3rd to a close 3rd point of view, I had to insert contractions throughout the story. I just do not use many contractions when I write, unless it’s dialogue. Susan and Wendy nodded with knowing smiles. Even when I write a letter, the contractions disappear. I cannot help it; it is my voice.

I like my narrative voice. I’m not actually interested in changing it. Sometimes, however, I wonder if people who don’t know me will think it’s an affectation. My first writing professor at Hamline asked me if I speak the way I write. I told her that a friend once laughed at me for asking if something was in tact. She told me anyone else would ask if it was broken. So I guess it’s not only when I write….

Scott knows me and my voice, but he doesn’t know the greater landscape of literature or the intricacies of craft. I rewrote that story in a close 3rd because Wendy and Susan gave my story generous consideration and helped me realize how much better it could be. Maybe I would have rewritten it in a close 3rd without their helpful insights, but I’m so glad I don’t have to wait and see how long it would take me to get there on my own!

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