It’s amazing what another set of eyes—or two or three or five—can do for a piece of writing! No matter how carefully I craft a poem or story, no matter how carefully I edit or proofread a piece of work, it always benefits from having someone else read it. Other readers bring a fresh perspective that I simply can’t.

One way I get this fresh perspective by participating in writers’ groups. My current group, comprised of children’s writers and illustrators, meets monthly to critique one another’s work and share encouragement. The nine members who attend on a regular basis range from picture book authors and illustrators to young adult novelists. Among us, we have published nearly 20 books and have more than 50 years of membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Editors (SCBWI).

In fact, the group formed after a regional SCBWI event held in Frederick, Maryland, last spring. We recently celebrated our one-year anniversary with a cake decorated with artwork by group member Kenneth Shepherd. To learn more and see photos, read this article from As the Eraser Burns, the SCBWI regional blog.

All of us have works in progress, ranging from my picture book of beach-related poems to two young adult novels featuring female protagonists. It’s a tribute to the skill of the authors, Carol Larese Millward and Loretta Carlson, that I am mesmerized by the monthly installments of these tales from a genre that I seldom read.

Typically, about a week prior to our monthly meeting we receive a selection of four or five picture book manuscripts or chapters from novels from group members. We review the manuscripts and come to the meeting ready with both praise and constructive criticism. I’ve received valuable feedback that has led me to tweak both my poetry book and a picture book manuscript I’ve been working on for several years.

Not only do I get feedback from these meetings, but also inspiration. Both in my previous job at the International Reading Association and my current consulting work, I often get so caught up in day-to-day writing and editing assignments that there’s no time or energy for my children’s book writing. Spending time with these talented people who share my love of children’s and YA literature gets my creative juices flowing again.

Congratulations to our group on celebrating our first anniversary. May we celebrate many more, and may we celebrate the publication of many more books as well!

Random Writing Thought: I did a school visit inPennsylvania last month that culminated with a PTA parent program. There I did a poetry writing workshop with entire families. I had never done that before, and I was delighted to watch families eagerly participate in the collaborative writing process. I even got a nice e-mail from one of the families a day or two later saying how much they had enjoyed it.

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