Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The best and the worst Rebecca Scarberry ever did—as a writer

Rebecca Scarberry is a writer, blogger and book reviewer. She has great taste in short stories (she liked “Dark Clouds”). And she’s a prodigious writer. I don’t know how she finds time for all the writing that she does!

Her story, “Rag Doll,” is a great introduction to a novel she’ll have to get around to writing one day. And “Messages from Henry,” a novella that she had the guts to develop very publicly on her blog, scarberryFieldsForever, uses a unique plot technique.
I asked Rebecca to continue the series “the best and the worst I have done—as a writer.” I have also written a guest post on her blog. Check it out after you read Rebecca’s candid words below.

The best and the worst I have done

I would have to say the best thing I have done as a writer is write my short Christmas story for author Bob Brook’s blog. That story gave my followers on Twitter some insight as to my kindness and struggles. It revealed the fact that at one time I was very poor. It also raised a lot of questions such as, why would I spent three months in a garage, cooking on a campfire and live without a place to bathe. Well, the answer is going to remain a secret. It was a very rough stage of my life, but I have to say it was all worth it. My husband and I both went back to Oregon much happier than when we left.

I have had so many people tell me that the story brought tears to their eyes and it is the true meaning of Christmas. I will never forget those little girls. I cried so hard when my husband told me about their sweet little faces, looking up at him and telling him Merry Christmas. I can never tell anybody that story without crying and when I wrote it for Bob’s blog, I cried when I got to the end.

I have many true heartbreaking stories such as my Christmas story and I put most of them in my first novel. This is one reason I have shelved that novel. It was hard enough writing it, let alone finishing it with an edit.

The biggest mistake I made as a writer is not joining a writers’ critique group once I finished my first novel. I had the first two chapters of that novel edited by a professional, and he was very honest. It would have been kinder of him to tell me to immediately join a writers’ critique group than to do what he did. He didn’t like anything about my first two chapters. I read the email from him aloud to my husband, Rick. When I finished reading what the editor had to say, I couldn’t stop laughing. I’m not sure if I laughed for fear of crying, or if it was the look on Rick’s face that made me laugh. Rick’s response was, “Well, at least he didn’t charge you to edit those chapters.” Of course, this made me laugh even harder.

Once I made the corrections the editor suggested, I thought long and hard about joining a writers’ critique group. There is one only 30 minutes from my mountain home. I decided against it because I am very shy and have a strong fear of reading aloud in front of groups of strangers.

The reason for this fear might seem funny to you, but it’s not to me. My fear of speaking in front of five or more people began when I was in the seventh grade. I was going to have to read one of my book reports aloud in front of my English class, so I asked my mom if I could wear nylons to school the next day. I hate to admit it, but this was before pantyhose were sold. My mom searched and searched for the smallest pair of nylons she owned. She gave me elastic garters to hold them up. I was very tiny and they didn’t seem tight enough, but I was determined to look nice.

When I started reading my book report in front of my class, I got nervous and began to fidget. The nylons slowly slipped down to my knees and one of the boys sitting in the front row started laughing. Before I knew it, everybody was laughing at me. I ran out of the classroom, went home and cried.
I know in my heart that I would benefit from a critique group at this point in my writing career. I would have to have one of the others in the group read aloud for me, but I have heard this is not out of the ordinary. I’m interested in knowing what all of you think of critique groups.
Very candid, Rebecca! Thanks very much. Readers, let us know about your experience with critique groups, writing circles and beta readers in the Comments section.
Now, check out scarberryFieldsForever!


  1. Rebecca - I read Rag Doll and although I thought it needed some work, it showed that you have talent to be developed. Really, you do. It may take a while, but you can get there. I really recommend that you try the critique group, but go in knowing that there will likely be brutally honest people in that group. They aren't always right.

    If you stay and get to know them, you'll know who you can trust to give you their honest opinion and still encourage you.

    Don't let anything stop you, Rebecca. Keep working at it and keeping your chin up.

    Best wishes on this.

    1. Yes, Kathy I know Rag Doll needs to be finished. The Beta readers were very helpful. They had questions about the story making me realize how much improvement it needed. I thought I was tough, but when 7 people had the same questions; I started to wonder if I had any talent whatsoever. I have learned from that experience and applying what I've learned to my novella. Well, I'm trying to. Once the novella is complete, I'll go back and improve Rag Doll.

  2. Anonymous7:57 PM

    Scott and Rebecca, I really enjoyed this moving post. Rebecca, I wish you much success.

    I am not part of a critique group, and here is the reason why. I took a writing class a couple of years ago where each participant had to read a piece during class. What I found was that most folks don't want honesty in critiques. They want you to tell them how wonderful their work is. I know this is a sad reason for not participating, but what's the point if you have to lie to people to keep them from getting angry. (Am I ranting?)

    I've found the same thing with beta reading for others--too many folks who want praise rather than constructive feedback.

    Thanks for letting me rant. :)

    Oh yeah, Rebecca, I used to be so shy as a kid that I would run and hide whenever we had company. And the summer I turned twelve, I think I only left the house once. I got over my shyness by becoming a cheerleader in 8th grade. :)

    1. Linda: Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. When I sent Rag Doll to the Beta readers, I wanted the truth. I didn't expect to be so far off base. Regarding shyness, I cover mine up by getting people to talk about themselves instead of talking about myself. I wouldn't be able to do this in a critque group. I doubt I'll ever join one because of this. Like I said, I will rely soley on Scott Bury's coaching for the remainder of Messages From Henry.

  3. There are some excellent reasons to join a critique group, but just as many not to. I was on the fence for several months before deciding.

    Instead of joining a formal group, I found half a dozen people that agreed to beta read the first short story I worked on.

    Rule #1 for me was to seek out honesty. Family members were allowed to read the story and make comments on it, but each of them would carry no weight.

    The beta readers that I found are all authors/writers/editors and people that I know I can trust to give the story an honest critique.

    The most important thing I've learned as a writer is that I have a lot to learn (or relearn). Your writing doesn't have to be perfect (that's what editors are for), but you need to be able to tell a good story. And that my friend, you shouldn't have any trouble with at all. Write on sister.

    1. Rush: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to comment. I agree with all you've said here. If you read my reply to Linda, you'll see that I won't be joining a critique group. I wish you the best with your writing. I look forward to reading all you write.

  4. This is a very moving post, Rebecca and it's made me feel quite humble.
    Like you I'm quite shy (despite having been a teacher for years - I never had any problems addressing students or parents!) - but sharing your work - your babies and exposing them to critique does take considerable courage.
    I don't belong to a critique group either, but I do have a number of online friends whose opinions I really trust and treasure. (It seems to help that I've never met them).
    From reading your post, it's very clear that you have stories to tell which the world needs to hear.
    I wish you courage and the very best of luck.

  5. Hi Rebecca, I think critique groups are as different as the people in them. I've heard some stories of them being nasty and not very constructive but then I've also heard from people who found one that was a good fit and helped them progress with their work. I just joined one recently and we don't actually read our work aloud, so there again, groups vary. If you're still toying with the idea of joining a group, one idea is to approach it as a 'trial basis' and if you don't like it, don't go back. There are definitely other ways to get the feedback we all need, as some of the other folks have commented here, e.g. creative ways of engaging beta readers. Thank you for sharing your story, too.

    1. One of the biggest breakthroughs I've made in my writing was to let go of my writing and think and treat it like it is not mine (this is hard to do and I’m still working on it). This has given me the ability to cut when I need to cut and to edit what needs to be edited and to separate my personage from my work, so that criticism doesn't hurt as much.

      Writer's groups and critique groups are very important and would not be called critique groups if criticism didn't happen. But note that there might be some value in shopping around to find the one that fits your personality and needs.

      Being in a group in person is useful, but you may also want to consider finding or creating an online critique group. My group functions both ways. We have a blog were we challenge and critique each other and we meet once a month.

  6. Hello, Rebecca. I joined a writer's group about four years ago, and I'm slowly weaning myself of it now. I think it was helpful, having other writers listen and offer the occasional suggestion.Course, I finally came to the realization that I would never be a good writer, because I came from a loving family, wasn't an alcoholic or a drug addict, and was basically just a boring WASP. But regardless, I've had fun with my writing, and plan to continue. I don't plan to be a regular at my group though. For what it's worth. Keep up the good work.

  7. Hi, Rebecca. I joined an online critique group two months ago. The group has its ups and downs. Like when I received my first critique from five persons, only one was 'really' kind enough to do a good analysis of my work. Her critique was very good.

    Being in a critique group has also helped honed my skill as a writer.

    As for beta reader. I've had just one. A friend actually. The feedback I got from him was "Your book should be made into a movie"

    I think a good beta reader would be someone you haven't met in person just like Lyn said.

    Wish you the best.