Putting your soul under somebody else’s microscope isn’t easy. But that’s what writers do when they join a writing group, a gang of fellow authors who hear or read the first draft as it comes in bits and pieces fresh from the fingertips of the author. First audience, cheerleader, critic and deadline monitor, writers show up for each other every week to perform all these functions.

A writing group on its best behavior balances a delight in the first draft with an ability to help tease out its flaws, helping the writer get to his or her polished final draft.

I got lucky in the realm of writing groups. The generous and talented author Liz Engstrom took me under her wing many years ago. We’ve been in and out of writing groups together for a long time.

But the last couple of years our little group — five then four then three as covid and other changes peeled folks away — became something special. Thoughtful, kind, funny, and, yes, critical but only in the service of the story.

This month we get to celebrate our fellow writing group member, author Paul Neville, whose most excellent novel “The Garbage Brothers” is now published, with positive reviews coming in and bookstore events planned.

I loved this story as it came to us, chapter by chapter. I loved getting to experience it in small bites. And I loved witnessing its transition from fine idea to powerful narrative.

I highly recommend writers groups because I’ve seen the benefit. Liz has a great guide on setting up a writers group, a format that we used for a long time, and still, mostly, adhere to. If you’re lucky you’ll find fellow authors as knowledgeable as Liz and as intuitive as Paul.

Oh, and do read Paul’s book. I highly recommend it, too.

Congratulations Mr. Neville. I loved watching this book be born.