I’m jumping this post off of my least favorite thing about writer’s groups.
As a disclaimer: I, personally, do believe, and attend writer’s groups. I have about two or three I frequent, participate in, submit to, etc.
I believe in them! They are great! They serve me!
Everyone who wants to write fiction seriously needs to be a part of a writer’s group, or regular workshop, in my opinion. Join one!
Now, back to the complaining:
My biggest problem with writer’s groups are (revelation!) other writers.
I know, I know. People: they are just the worse.
Now, to be completely serious, it is more complicated than just having a problem with other people. My issue isn’t just writers, it is the defensive writer.
What do I mean by the defensive writer? What I’m referring to is the guy in your writer’s group that always argues, or interrupts the people reviewing his piece. Basically, every time some one suggests that his piece might have A or B problems, instead of really absorbing it, or being thoughtful, he speak in defense of his choices. (Why do I keep saying he/his? Well, because I’ve only had this issue with spazztastic men, almost never women. Your mileage may vary.)
The thing is, this is a waste of my time. If I take time to sit and read your damn story, give thoughtful consideration to how I can serve you and help get your story where you want it to be, and you belittle, ignore, or talk over me…well, you can go throw yourself off a cliff. No offense. But, you are wasting my time, your time–everyone’s time.
First off, you should not put your work out there in a group critique setting unless you are there to be critiqued. I mean, groups don’t simply suggest that they will be giving you advice on your work if you present it. No. Writer’s groups are pretty explicit on the fact that that is their goal. It is not implied, no more than to say that going swimming implies that you’ll get wet! So, if you aren’t there to get peer review and feedback, you are in the wrong place. Give your story to your mom–she’ll tell you how brilliant you are, with zero critique. I won’t.
In the end, I don’t give a damn if you become a better writer, write a story that sells, or develop your craft–does not chamge my life what so ever! It only has influence on you. I’m not going to hold your hand, and drag you through the critique kicking and screaming. Either you are a willing participant in the critique process, or step off. You are wasting my time. You are wasting my energy. I’ll gladly go spend my energy elsewhere, with a better quality person, with better social skills.
With all that said, here’s what I think should be happening in a writer’s group, and here is what I tend to do when I put up something for review:
1- I bring a pen and paper.
2- I shut up!
3- I listen.
4- I write down what is said to me, regardless of how I feel about it initially.
5- I shut up some more!
6- I keep a tabs at how many people are saying the same thing.
7- I shut up, again!
8- I make eye contact, and go out of my way so others can see that I am listening to them/engaging them.
9- I answer any questions, or make any clarifications asked of me. (Otherwise, I shut up!)
10- I thank everyone. Then, I decide what I agree or disagree with, inside my own head, after taking a day or two to digest the comments.
Notice, at no point do I talk about defending the story. All I do is sit, with my little clipboard, and take note of reader reaction.
This is so important. I can not stress how important!
The thing is, the purpose of the writer’s group is to get naked eyes on your work–some one who doesn’t know what is inside your head–to review it. The group’s response will be a reader’s response, initially upon their first read. You need this virgin read, without your input cocking it up!
–Oh, but they don’t understand how clever this one part actually is!
You’re right, they don’t. You cocked it up.
–But, if I explain to them how it is actually clever, they will see how smart I actually am, and agree with my choices!
No. They won’t. You cocked it up.
–You see, if they just had more information, then, then… they would see how it isn’t actually wrong…then…
Well, if they needed more information, then maybe you should have included that in your story. But you didn’t. You cocked it up.
–But, You see, they just aren’t smart enough, or well read enough to understand what I’m doing here! I must explain it to them!
No. You don’t. You cocked it up, and now you are about to cock up your social standing.
Do you see what I’m getting at here?
There is never (NEVER) a reason to interrupt, interject, or argue with your writer’s group. Even if you think some one is entirely off base, why argue? Just swallow it, and ignore them when you edit. Arguing with people tends to make them argumentative! (Funny how that works.) Creating a contentious spirit in the group will only lower the overall quality of your feedback, not improve it. And, it makes people think your are an ass. (I will have a blog later about how one of the main purposes of writer’s groups is networking, so please keep this point in mind.)
What you are really looking for in a writer’s group is authentic feedback. You can’t get authentic feedback if you are opposing your own mind, and will, on other people. Stop making it about you. You want the reader’s real reaction in order to improve your story in its next draft. You can’t beat people into the mold of how they were suppose to react. Accept how they do react…it is telling. You are a ghost, silently watching, to how people authentically react to your work. If they aren’t getting it, or aren’t having the reaction you intended, that is valuable feedback. You need to roll with it, use it! Their time and attention is precious gold! Treat it as such. They don’t need to help you! You are not entitled to anyone’s time or help. Accept the process for what it is: a favor.
Stop bitching. Start listening.
Any other reaction tells me you aren’t at the group for the same reason I am. You aren’t in the head space to receive peer review, thus you aren’t ready to be a professional. Come back when you are ready to stop mashing peas at the kid’s table.