Should I Stay or Should I go?
I’ve gone in and out of several writing groups over the years. For the most part, I’ve gotten at least something out of each one — encouragement, sympathy, advice . . . and oh yeah, homegrown vegetables – writers have all kinds of interesting hobbies! For many of us, however, there comes a time when a critique group fails to serve its purpose. Here are FOUR situations that indicate it might be time for you to move on.
IT’S NOT A MATCH: If you write steampunk sci-fi and everyone else writes romance, chances are it’s not a good match. We once had a talented young man join our group. He showed up two or three times and shared his WIP. While well-written, it was pretty much X-rated. Definitely not a match. And his story rendered most of our members speechless. Critique groups come in all shapes and sizes and focuses. Try a few and figure out what works for you.
Bottom Line: If you don’t fit in, move on.
THE FEEDBACK IS LACKING: Not everyone is good at giving criticism. Some people don’t know what to say, so they fall back on obvious comments such as “show don’t tell.” Other people just want to correct your grammar (often incorrectly!) or word choice. And some make points that leave you shaking your head and asking, “Really? That’s all you got?” As writers, we need our critique partners to point out problems that put readers off: What’s missing or confusing or distracting? Where does the plot veer off track? Why is a character not believable or sympathetic or useful?
Bottom Line: Not all criticism will be worthwhile, but if none of it is, move on.
YOUR FELLOW WRITERS DON’T LISTEN: Hey, there’s nothing easy about sharing one’s work. It’s revealing, scary, risky. When you present at a critique group, you’re saying: “Here’s what I’ve written, now have at it!” We’re all supposed to be there to be critiqued, to be told what’s not working and why. Writers who just want to defend what they’ve written or come back every week repeating the same mistakes are wasting your time and theirs. Chances are those writers will not work to improve their craft – too much ego – and they certainly will do nothing to help you improve yours.
Bottom Line: If you feel the urge to slam your head against the table in frustration week after week, move on.
LACK OF RESPECT: For writers, time is a precious resource. Critique groups need structure, format, guidelines. Participants have to show up on time, bring what is expected, and honor their commitments. I won’t waste your time, and I expect you not to waste mine. Hell, if I’m killing time, I’d rather be home doing laundry or bathing the dogs or taking a nap!
Bottom Line: If the members of your group do not respect each other, move on.
THE ONE REASON TO STAY: With all those negatives, you might be running for the door. But none of those problems matter – not the mismatch, the lousy feedback, the egos, or the disrespect – if the process of attending the meeting pushes you to KEEP WRITING. For a long time I continued going to a writing group that suffered from at least two of the above situations, because just the act of going helped me stay on track. Having the meeting built into my schedule provided structure and motivation.
Bottom Line: If attending the meeting encourages you to write, keep going. At least until you find a different group!
Have you ever had to exit a group? Why, and how’d you do it gracefully (or not so gracefully)? Tell us your story!