I have had so many thoughts on my solo travel on the road up to NECON. I started from DC, and drove up through all of the millions of tolls (okay–there were maybe 5 that totaled $30 or so but still—) the thoughts just kept coming. Man. MY tribe. This group. This gathering. These people are really my tribe. In ways I can’t explain to anyone.

I mean, I can’t necessarily ask any of these people for a kidney. But I could ask them for something far more important. I could ask for a bead on my story. A critique. A real impression of how a story left them, and the feedback to go with. Yep. THAT, I could ask, and to get an honest answer on a question like that is worth far more than any weight in gold.

And the great thing is that I can do the same for them. It’s a trade-off. I read, critique, provide feedback or do an edit for someone and often it’s easy to find someone willing to swap stories–and edit or crit for an edit or a crit. It works well that way. It’s no easy thing to have someone read your work with the knowledge that you’re going to get a real critique on it. An honest reader working with you is going to tell you what works, what doesn’t work and let you know if the story is interesting or not.

Does the middle of the story sag? Are your characters likable or believable? And if you’re a writer who truly wants to get better, you’ll listen and seriously consider the comments you get. If you’re not happy with the critique, you can always try one more reader, but if you get two readers who say the same thing about your piece then that means it’s time for you to make a change. Kick the ego, suck up the determination to do better and DO BETTER.

And that’s what I like about this crowd in particular. Most of the people will tell you flat out that a certain story is missing something, or they’ll ask you if you’re willing to do a reading for them or swap stories. It’s a family atmosphere in many ways and no matter where we meet it always seems to be a place to call home.