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Group Offers Aid, Encouragement for Struggling Writers

November 08, 1990|MARK STENCEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The group gathered in an Escondido living room on a Monday evening, set their chairs in a circle and talked earnestly about their habit for several hours.

This is not a group for smokers, alcoholics, nonstop eaters or gamblers. This is the North County Writers Workshop, a 6-month-old group of about 15 compulsive scribes and would-be authors who, despite folders full of rejection letters, polish and rewrite their work in pursuit of an elusive, literary nirvana: publication.

"It's a very lonely occupation. . . . I get very involved in it," said Dan Regan, a 40-year-old travel agent from San Marcos who writes short stories and mystery novels.

Meeting with other writers to talk about what they do helps keep him going, Regan said. "People are there for that little push over to the next time."

The workshop group, which grew out of a National University writing seminar last May, meets every two weeks in a different member's living room to critique each other's stories, novels, poems and articles.

Most find the other member's suggestions helpful, group leader Rita Favreau says.

"You can't take everybody's suggestions and incorporate them into your work, (but) they help each other refine their writing to make it publishable," she said.

Favreau says the members also provide the encouragement writers need to stick with what can be a lonely and frustrating pursuit.

"If you end up getting 20 rejection notices, you need a little pat on the back to keep you going," she said. "What I leave with is a sort of excitement to write. . . . You get ideas."

Favreau also belongs to a San Diego writers workshop and says she established the North County group because she was tired of having to commute for criticism. But she also says she finds the critique sessions so helpful that she still goes to both groups' meetings.

The North County group is fairly new and therefore open to anyone who is serious about writing, Favreau says.

"We're all from varied walks of life. . . . I'm real pleased with the dynamics of the group," she said.

The members, a majority of whom are women, come from all over North County and pay $15 a year, which covers the cost of photocopying and mailing information.

Mystery writer Regan, who has been with the group since it was formed, says the feedback he gets on his work at the meetings helps him find strengths and weaknesses in his writing that he might not see if he was editing himself.

In fact, Regan says, he is a glutton for honesty. His only concern is that some members are afraid their fellow writers will take the comments and suggestions personally.

"Most of them tend to not be critical enough . . . but the group is coming to that point," Regan said. "There needs to be both sides of it."

Regan says he also learns from hearing what works and what doesn't work in the other members' writing.

"If you're reading best-sellers all the time, you're only hearing the good stuff. You're not hearing the mistakes," he said.

The members of the group are all very different. Some write fiction, others write nonfiction. Some write poems, others write prose.

But Teresa Dearholt, 32, of Oceanside says she thinks the diversity is good, even when she isn't interested in the type of writing her fellow members are producing.

"There are a lot of books in the bookstores that I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, that I wouldn't pay for or read," she said. "But every story has something good about it. Sometimes you have to look for it."

Dearholt, who is buying a used bookstore in Vista, is now working on a romance novel. She also writes short stories, children's stories and poems.

"We all want to be published. It's a goal for all of us," she said.

And being in the group has given her the confidence to send her writing to publishers, she says. "It's made me work harder. It's made me want to write more."

Regan, who tries to spend two hours a day writing, says having to sign up to read for the group on certain days is a helpful motivator.

"It makes you write. It gives you deadlines, and, if you're writing on your own, you don't have those," he said.

But Regan says it is surprisingly easy to get hooked, "especially if you're having fun with it."

WHAT: The North County Writers Workshop.

WHEN: The first and third Monday of every month at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Different members' homes; call for location.

CALLS: 743-8050, Rita Favreau.

COST: $15 a year.

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