After a month-long break, I’m back! For those of you who didn’t notice, I get it. For those of you who did (and missed me), I love you completely!

I’m happy to report that I did make the cut for The Ubergroup, the private online literature critique group for which I’ve been trying out. And it was intense. We had lengthy weekly homework assignments, we were assessed on the critiques we gave each other (there were seven of us in the trial group), and we were expected to participate heavily and poignantly in a discussion forum about everything from synopses to competitive titles to outlines.

My favorite member of the group was Frances Rara, a brilliant woman based in Belgium who is a researcher by day and writes middle-grade fiction by night. She is thoughtful and generous, both in her critiques and in the forum, and, halfway through the six-week tryouts cycle, she secured an agent for her novel.

Isn’t that amazing?

There was also Nathan, a beautiful, wise short story writer who is somehow only 24; and Kat, who is writing a peppy book about a woman who builds an empire renting jewelry; and Jordan, who blew my mind every week with his cyberpunk world building. Delaney was writing historical fiction about the role of Girl Guides during WWII, and Glenn was writing about Shogun-era stuff involving magical jewels and, yep, goblins.

Isn’t it amazing what the human mind can come up with?

Still, despite the loveliness of these writers, I was incredibly convinced I wasn’t going to make The Ubergroup cut, with is linked to the online writer’s community Scribophile. So, on a near nightly basis, my conversation with my husband went like this:

Me: “I’m just going to prepare you: I’m not going to get in.”

Wm: “How do you know that?”

Me: “Because I’m the weakest in the group.”

Wm: “Why do you say that?”

Me: “Because I only know how to write — kind of — I don’t know how to talk intelligently about the theory of writing.”

Wm: “Well, then, maybe you’re not ready for this group right now. It’s not the only critique group in the world. You will find others.”

Pause, pause, pause.

Me: “So you don’t think I’m going to get in either?”

At that point, he would take a sip of wine and resume eating his dinner. For a few blissful minutes, I would tell myself that I should just absorb all that I could and consider the experience, regardless of its outcome, a win.

Then I would try to go to sleep and think about my impending failure.

I was telling my friend Julie all this while we were driving up to Lexington for dinner. At that point, nearly all of us in the trial group were emailing each other asking if we’d heard anything about acceptance or, as they call it, graduation into The Ubergroup.

“Ugh, sorry. I need to check my email again,” I told Julie as we passed the first Berea exit.

That’s when I saw there was a message from the head honcho moderator Jerry, who somehow managed to teach me what a “try/fail cycle” is in a novel using Covid surges as a metaphor.

I stared at his name in my inbox. It was one of those times in your life where you don’t dare breathe in case a breath might magically change the contents of an email for ill.

“You’ve got this,” Julie said.

I opened it up and saw, “I’m pleased to say …”

I exhaled. And whooped. And I looked at Julie. She was the one who bought me my first subscription to The New Yorker, with a note telling me she could already imagine one of my short stories inside it. She was the one who I was with when I got word that my first short story was being published (not in The New Yorker, granted). And now she was here with me again.

“I told you,” she said. “Didn’t I tell you?”

Yep, dear readers, that’s what a best friend sounds like.

I whooped again and then promptly slugged down two margaritas at Corto y Lima.

Long story short, dear readers, I’m back. I’m part of a critique group filled with published authors. And my little novel is getting attacked and scrutinized and praised and, along the way, it’s getting better.

It’s only taken me 44 years to get here.

So. If you are an aspiring writer and have always wished for a writing community, check out Scribophile. Anyone can join, it’s free and it isn’t scary there. And if you need someone to tell you that you can put yourself out there and do this, don’t ever hesitate to contact me at tara@swayessay.com

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