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At the start of quarantine, I checked in with my writer friends. All of them reported they simply couldn’t write or open a book. They berated themselves, something painfully easy for writers. The anguish of loss and uncertainty during this global pandemic was taking a toll on their creativity. Feeling no different, I was terrified of even glancing at my half-baked manuscript. I feared it would go unfinished.

I didn’t want that to happen, so I took a leap.

A year earlier, I bonded with three other writers who were about to become my safety net. I am referring to my SCBWI critique circle of four. Trusted, kind, intuitive muses who were all trying to accomplish a shared goal: write, edit, publish, and everything in between. We found each other via SCBWI resources: our local LitMingle, a Writer’s Day event, and Blue Board. 

We struck up conversations that led to forming our circle—the first risky leap into uncharted territory. On the outside, it perhaps looked like those stock photos of carefree souls holding hands as they jumped into an inviting pool. On the inside, it felt more like that cringe before you hit the icy water: the introvert sparring with the extrovert. Would we four gel? Could we find a time that worked for all of us? Could we trust enough to expose the budding hearts and minds of our beloved fictional offspring? 

Our circle started meeting monthly, first at cafes, and later in our homes. Together, breaking bread, we advised, vented, inspired, revealed, and grew. Refusing to allow the quarantine to stop us, we moved ahead with video conferencing and followed up with emails and calls. 

Where it all began—with Jean Grabow (right) at a past Writer’s Day.

Our meetings typically engaged us in discussions regarding our queries, newly discovered resources, readings, and updates on our current projects. 

It was during one of our video meetings that a major breakthrough occurred for me.

After the others had taken their turn speaking to their current projects, I was up. I felt unusually nervous and revealed that I felt scared to death at the thought of opening my manuscript. My story was deeply rooted in the grieving process. I had been avoiding dealing with grief—in the fictional world of my project as well as in my reality.

One of the Muses said, “So, open your manuscript, here with us.”

Music to my ears. Still, my anxiety rose. I asked, “Now?”

The Second Muse offered, “Sure. If you like.”

The three waited patiently as I fumbled, unable to locate the document. My palms began to sweat like one of my angsty teen characters.

I confessed my level of discomfort to the group. The Third Muse responded, “How about reading us something from your book?”

I thought, Oh, clever girl, piquing the interest of the storyteller within me to tell my story. To be heard. Yes, yes, this is good.

Managing my nerves, I read a scene, a major narrative point that I had always liked. I read a bit too fast and stumbled on my words at first. No matter, the group listened attentively and reacted where I hoped they would. I concluded and exhaled deeply. 

I felt the warmth of accomplishment and support surround me. I thought to myself, “You tell those goddesses what this meant to you. In plain, unadulterated words. No puns, analogies, or metaphors. Just say it like it is.”  

I asked, “Did you just hold my hand?” 

They laughed because they knew the answer. They often did. But more importantly, they knew how to ask the right questions.

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Monica Sagaser, who also writes under the name Monica Z. Sage, is currently querying her first YA novel. She is well into a second manuscript, and can often be heard singing the Beatles’, With a Little Help From My Friends.

Images provided by Monica Sagaser.