First off: What Deb Said.
Today I had a woman, a writer, come into the store where I work to talk to me. We have had previous conversations and I took a writing sample of hers to be considered for one of the groups. Now, I also told her about another critique group that she might be interested in. Lo and behold, she tried it out. And lo and behold she comes in today and she looks rather shaky.
Me(immediately upon seeing her): I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you.
(I’ve been reading through her sample slowly because I’m swamped with other things)
Her: It’s okay, I know I suck.
Me: No you don’t. (She doesn’t)
Her: I went to that one group and they lambasted me. So I know I suck.
This pissed me off. Not at her, no, no. But at the writer’s group. Here was a writer–and not a bad one at all–who had put her neck out there for a bunch of people who proceeded to gleefully hack at it.
This is not what good writer’s groups do. If you feel like crying after a meeting instead of writing, then the group is not for you. There’s a couple things you need to think about before proceeding/continuing with a group:
1. Was anything complimentary said about the writing? Good critiques should include what you get right. That’s really where you figure out what to focus on. If they don’t point out what you’re doing correctly, then there’s something else at work, like jealousy or, more likely, a ‘I’m holier than thou’ kind of attitude. I’ve read many, many, many rough drafts of many, many, many people’s work and there is always something positive to say. But be careful because it’s really easy to get bogged down in the ‘Well, this didn’t work, and that didn’t work.’ Listen carefully and if there’s really nothing good being said about your work (or anyone else’s work for that matter) walk away and don’t apologize for ditching them. They’re buttheads.
2. Did they direct comments towards you as an author? Comments should always be about the work. ‘You’ are not in it. The work is it. The words. The story. Not “you.” There should be no personal attacking, intentional or otherwise. Nothing like ‘You suck’ should even hover in the air.
I won’t lie. The writer’s groups that I am a part of are tough. They read closely. If there’s an issue with character, story, description, etc. they will find it and they will tell you about it. However, there’s a certain assumption of professionalism. We take this seriously. No name calling. We generally stick to our task–which is to help writers write better. We don’t bicker or get catty and if anyone tried to join who is, then they are put in their place but fast. We also do teamwork kind of exercises–round stories, researching submission guidelines for one another.
I gave the writer the time and place for the Underground Writing Project. Now it’s up to her.
Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.