That's a combo of Critique and picnic - which I just attended last weekend thanks to the SCBWI, which is the international Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Dozens of writers and illustrators met at Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills to hang out in big patches of shade, dodging balls thrown by families, watching handsome, sweaty young men on the basketball court -- and to critique and encourage each other in our writing.
And... there were cupcakes!
They divided us up according to type of book we are writing, set each group up with a moderator who had been published, and then off we went, reading and commenting on each other's work. A fellow redhead named Meena and I bonded a bit over working in film and TV, and we launched with Meena's piece, which was hilarious and delightfully written. Then came my piece. It's amazing what you can learn about your writing by having someone else (not just yourself) read it out loud. Places that trip them up as they read are an indication of hotspots to consider revising. It takes you outside the version you have in your head and makes it REAL. All good.
Lots of helpful and encouraging comments followed. As writers, we slave away alone for days and weeks, so it's great to see other people laugh and respond to your work. Everyone wanted to know what happened after my first five pages, which is a good sign. When nearly everyone else agreed that I need to add more of something, I realized they were right.
(As someone who's written tv and movie scripts, I find I tend to write other things a bit too sparingly. In script writing, you keep the prose to a minimum and try to convey as much as you can through action and dialogue, relying on your director and actors to fill in subtext and emotion. Novels are a whole other thingummy. You want to respect your reader and not spell out everything, but you've got to be clear, for crying out loud. And sometimes what's in you head doesn't quite make it to the page.)
It was great to hear other people's work as well as get comments on my own. You can learn a lot from the questions that form over their pages.
Joining the SCBWI has so far been well worth the small dues. In August comes the big ol' conference - four days of networking, seminars, and support. In the meantime, I've started up a second class to get me going on a full outline of my book, fashion query letters, set up a writing routine, and so on. In the midst of it I'll be going to Hawaii to see my parents (hurray!) so I may even have to bring my laptop with me.
Just like a real writer. That's what I am. Finally really starting to believe it!