November Theme: Gratitude to My Critique Group by John Claude Bemis

I didn’t get the writing bug until I had been teaching elementary school for several years. Being around my students and seeing the excitement that great stories had for them reignited a passion for those stories of my youth. Young readers get so absorbed and obsessed with those imaginary worlds that arise from mere words. So I began trying to create stories of my own, stories that hopefully would have that same effect on readers.

I had been a musician and songwriter so I knew how much getting together with other musicians helped hone my craft. I hadn’t found that yet in writing and longed for a community to support and stretch what I was doing. My wife signed me up for a children’s book workshop.

The class, I’m sad to say, was a bit of a disappointment, but I noticed some other writers who were creating amazing stories. We began joking around at breaks, grumbling quietly about the workshop, and talking about children’s books we loved.

After the workshop was over, we decided to get together, to start our own critique group. That was in 2005. Today, the four of us continue to meet several times a month. Three of us are published. Stephen Messer has two extraordinary fantasy novels out from Random House: Windblowne and The Death of Yorik Mortwell. J.J. Johnson is a YA author whose debut This Girl Is Different came out last spring from Peachtree and is selling rapidly in foreign markets. Jennifer Harrod has the talent to be published and has had interest from agents but is still tweaking her Middle-Grade novel. Soon enough, Jennifer!

When others hear about the success of our critique group, they often ask how to get one of their own going. I feel a little at a loss for how to tell them how to do it. How do you make a friend? How do you find a spouse? There’s not a secret formula unfortunately. You just meet people and hit it off. You become friends. You’re nice to each other. You appreciate and support what the others are doing. And when need be, you help them get better by making suggestions and be honest about what (in your opinion) is not working in their stories.

I feel very fortunate to have found my writing community, my li’l writing family. If it hadn’t been for that workshop, we might never have met.


  1. Great post, John! Three cheers for helpful, supportive critique groups everywhere.

  2. So true--there are so many fantastic writers out there, all in the same boat, all needing honest feedback. Love the story of how you all met at that workshop!

  3. And this post is one example of supporting each other - with you putting the spotlight on them and their work.

    Glad this is working for you!

  4. I totally get this and definitely agree. I'm all on board the critique group love train myself.


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