21 Years and counting
By Gale Deitch
In 1989, Holly was a high school senior who, like her author father, wanted to pursue writing. Marilyn, in her 60’s, was a tutor at a psychiatric hospital and writing stories about her disabled brother. And I, a 40-something wife and mother of two teens working as an administrative assistant for a manufacturer’s rep firm, was planting the seeds of my first novel. All of us at the time had signed up for an adult education creative writing class. The class itself was mediocre at best, but from that class grew an offshoot, a writer’s critique group: White Oak Writers (WOW).
Today, 21 years later, the three of us are still together as members of WOW, Holly a mother of three and creator of novels, short stories and poems, Marilyn who is compiling her stories into a book about her teaching experiences at the psychiatric hospital, and me with that first novel completed and another in the works. Over the years, WOW members have come and gone. We’ve seen marriages, births, illnesses and deaths. Our members have included retirees and students, teachers and librarians, journalists, professional editors, a minister, a lawyer, a boxing promoter and an ex-Marine who does voice-overs for Discovery Channel. Were these people I ever would have befriended otherwise? Probably not. And yet they are all individuals who I have considered friends. In fact, often we know more about our writer friends, who bare their souls through their writing, than do their own family members.
Sometimes I stop to wonder what has led to the longevity of our critique group. One factor, I believe, is our emphasis on giving positive, constructive feedback as we review our members’ work, always with the intention of strengthening the writing. Pieces are sent to the group electronically the week before the meeting to be printed, reviewed and marked with comments and typo corrections. As we review each piece at the meeting, members first give positive remarks about the things that worked well and then constructive suggestions for what could work better. The writer does not speak, defend or explain their piece until everyone has given their comments.
The soul of WOW lies in our founder and first facilitator, Susan Scott. A talented writer and actor with a kind and gentle soul, Susan set the tone for White Oak Writers, which has continued for all of these years, even after she moved overseas, became ill, and passed away. In her own written words as she parted ways with the group in 1997, “How do I love WOW? Let me count the ways… Actually the ways are without number. Mostly though I love the way WOW has said to me, without using words, Susan Scott, you are a writer.”