Renee Mihulka – Children's Book Reviews & Writer

Finding my posse of writing nerds

cabin-1082063_1280Finding my writing group was like finding the Xavier Institute, you know, the X-men school for mutants. Finally, a group of people where I could relax into my writing personality, laugh about how long it took to find ‘that’ word, and share ‘only a writer would know’ experiences. It’s also a place where I can hand over my writing and know that it’s in good hands. Hands that will treat it gently, but also critically.

There are four of us in our group. It all started when, out of the blue, I messaged Amy on Facebook. I had been following her for a while and enjoyed her posts and insights. And she seemed to know what she was doing, so I asked if she was a member of a writing group or did she know of a good one in Melbourne. Amy instantly messaged back that she wasn’t a member of a writing group but hey, why don’t we start one of our own? I then suggested another person that might be interested, she did too and the Melbourne Writer’s group was born.

Our first meeting was a bit nerve-wracking. What would these people think of me? What would they think of my writing? What if we didn’t get along? Or worse – what if their writing wasn’t any good and I would be stuck reading stultifying prose or tortured poems every month? Turns out, my fears were all unjustified. All three are amazing writers and genuinely lovely people.

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Amy is writing an adult book about justice – or the lack of it. She has been inspired by the podcasts Serial and Undisclosed which follow the case of Adnan Syed who it seems has spent over 17 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Imagine it, being in jail since you were 17 for something that you didn’t do? Makes the hairs on the back of your neck quiver, doesn’t it? Amy is the only one of us who has an agent, which initially had me staring at her with wide-eyed awe. An agent? You did it. You actually found a unicorn! At the moment, her agent is shopping around her first book. Amy writes characters so vividly, that when you’re reading her work you almost have an out of body experience because you feel you are that person. They vibrate within your soul, even when they are doing something mundane like schlepping drinks at a diner.

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Alisdair seems to be able to bang out brilliant writing at a breakneck speed. Amazing, ‘god I wish I had written that’, brilliant writing. He’s also written some of the most interesting blog posts about writing that I have read. Alisdair is working on a YA book at the moment and if the first chapter of his book is anything to go by, it’s going to be amazing. I always love it when Alisdair gives me feedback on my work because he is unflinchingly honest, gives practical tips and picks up things that I have just completely overlooked. He’s really good at looking past the prose to the plot development and purpose. Sort of like, ‘yeah this is good, but where’s it all going?’ He definitely curbs any self-indulgent tendencies I might have. Alistair also recently wrote a short story for a competition that I literally thought about for days afterward – the sign of powerful writing.

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Karen is my fellow MG writer, so immediately there is an affinity between us. We also recently had another bonding experience at a workshop – Revise, Revise, Revise by Elise Jones from Allen and Unwin with special guest, author Kim Kane. Karen is remarkable. When you first meet her you instantly think, ‘this woman is so lovely’. She just radiates kindness. And then you get the notes back on your work and you realise how thoughtful and challenging and helpful she is. Karen has been working on a four book series for kids. Each book features a different character but they all become connected as the series goes on. Her writing is very much like she is, quiet and thoughtful with a hidden strength running through it. She is generous with her limited time, helpful, but most of all totally committed to making her work the best it can be which I find totally motivating.

I feel so blessed that these three individuals have become my writing posse. I bombard Alisdair with tech questions, lament with Amy about the state of the US justice system and scheme and hold myself accountable with Karen. Already my manuscript has changed for the better. I’ve killed some darlings and completely rewritten a scene that was good, but just didn’t move the story along at all. Having three extra pairs of eyes all seeing possible improvements in your manuscript is priceless, but what I really love is reading their work. I adore pouring over their pages and seeing their personalities radiate from them and revel in thinking about where they could make improvements. But what I love most is learning from the way they sculpt a sentence, craft their story or paint a vivid character, and as the least experienced writer in the group, I’m learning from them all the time.

If you are a writer, a painter, or even a stamp collector, get a group of like-minded people together. You won’t regret it.

4 Responses to Finding my posse of writing nerds

  1. Karen says:

    Renee! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry – your words made me feel humble and very lucky to be in our group. I read your post aloud to my husband and he laughed in all the funny places and felt you had described me as if you had known me for twenty years. Thank you, my friend.

  2. Ahh, I’m so envious of this group! What a great bunch of people. I was part of a writing group a number of years ago, focused on features and non-fiction writing, and it was such a wonderful thing. I haven’t been able to find another one since. The quest continues.

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Book Reviews and Writer