1. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I Quit My Critique Group

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Catrin Lewis, May 28, 2017.

    Last night. Though I've been thinking about it for weeks.

    Going in, I cherished the idea that in a local group relationships would be formed and ideas exchanged warmly and freely. I thought we would go deeper than we can in the Workshop here, and I could get an immediate response to my questions about my work. But that's not how it was, and perhaps could not be.

    Anyway, I quit. It wasn't just the time commitment factor (which is all I mentioned in my email to the group), though that was big.

    Or that I never really fit in socially with the others in the group, or that the others all write YA and I don't.

    It wasn't just my discomfort with how the moderator was running the sessions, or the fact that she and I were on different wavelengths as to the format she was using--- each critiquer taking turns or all piling in for a free-wheeling discussion? (That misunderstanding got awkward, the last meeting I went to.)

    It wasn't even my frustration at having the others try to remold my storyline and my characters to fit what they thought they should be. Though that weighed in hugely, too.

    It was mostly that I was turning into That Writer, and I didn't like myself. You know, the author whose lizard brain goes wild when her writing is attacked and who finds it impossible to say "thank you" for critique that seems to have no relation to what she's trying to get down on paper. I like to think I held back from actually defending my work, that all I ever said in response was to explain what I was going for in the story and ask them to help me apply their comments to that. But even that I could never do gracefully or well. My mind would go blank, the adrenaline would surge, and while I might manage a terse "I see," what I was seeing was anybody's guess.

    So I removed myself. Maybe someday, when I'm getting more than two hours of sleep a night . . . but for now, the Workshop on this forum and remote beta readers may be the best ways for me to get feedback for my writing. Dealing with criticism on paper or on a computer screen keeps me objective. Not so much, face to face.

    So how have you known it was time to bail?
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2017
  2. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Senior Member

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    It wouldn't work for me. For starters, I'm a slow thinker. Second, I express myself better in writing. Both things combined, I do my best critique work (given and received) when I'm alone and taking my own sweet time.
    Face to face simply wouldn't work.
     
  3. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    I've never been part of a face-to-face critique group, but they really do seem like a strange invention, to me. I guess I'm on the same track as @Rosacrvx, but I'm more arrogantly applying my limitations to writers in general!

    But, really, in so far as face-to-face communication about a piece is ever necessary (and I've rarely if ever gotten any and still manage to produce publishable work), doing it in a group seems impractical. One-on-one conversation? Sure, that could be quicker than typing and maybe result in a freer flow of ideas. But doing it in a group means that most people will be sitting and listening (or thinking about something else) for most of the meeting. And while I think there are aspects of critique that should be given careful consideration and a period of quiet reflection may be valuable, it seems to me that this would be done at least as well and almost certainly better if everyone just wrote their ideas down. No in-person time needed.

    Critique groups, to me, feel like clubs, or social events. Which isn't bad, if that's what you're looking for, but I definitely don't think they're necessary for successful writing.
     
  4. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Digging out my Balzac Contributor

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    Good for you! I hate critique groups or writing groups or any sort of social writing thingie. I much prefer the funny little people living inside my computer. It's a touchscreen so I can poke ya'll whenever I feel like it.

    Agree with @Rosacrvx too about being a slow thinker. I have to think about what I want to say and then on how to say so diplomatically. Especially with critiquing, else I'm likely to blurt out something like, "this is stupid" or "are you high?" I'm also prone to incredulous facial expressions in real time too. Kind of like my soul-avatar Nelson over there.
     
  5. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm sorry your group didn't work out for you. Take a break, by all means. However, don't let it sour you completely. What you might want to do is look for other writers in your area, and perhaps strike up a friendship with them. Nothing better than a couple of writers close by who ARE on the same wavelength as you.

    I know, because I'm now a member of a 3-person group (used to be four, but one of them stopped writing due to family concerns.) We get on like a house on fire. We're all writing novels (one of us is self-published and selling well) and although our subject matter couldn't be more different, we all enjoy listening to each other read our stuff, and offer comments. Because we're friends and nobody is out to be top dog, it's great fun and very helpful—and we all know what it takes to write a novel and are extremely supportive of each other. Furthermore, we get together outside our once-a-month meeting and go places just for fun as well on day trips. We're very informal, which works really well for us.

    I think three or four is a great number, actually. Everybody gets a shot at getting their work looked at during each meeting.

    I don't know what kind of a community you live in, but if it's relatively urban, you could attend book festivals and/or writing workshops and you'll meet lots of fellow starter-writers there. (It's probably a good idea to concentrate on novelists, if you write novels.) Or you could just put an ad in a paper or online, and see what happens. Companionship and support are great. You just weren't getting it from that particular group of individuals. Just keep trying till you find good companions. And good luck!
     
  6. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Me, too. (Bolding is mine.) Some of what they were saying about my chapters has turned out to be useful, after I'd reflected on it awhile. But when I was sitting there astonished at comments like "You don't need this chapter. Cut it out," my slow-moving mind couldn't come up with the questions to tease out why they felt that way. I couldn't get the good out of it, whatever the good might turn out to be.
     
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  7. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    These meetings definitely were not social events, at least not for me. As soon as the last member has her worked critiqued, everybody was gone. I imagine the other three chatted and caught up in their car pool, but I wasn't in on that.

    Sorry, that sounds bitter. Some people you hit it off with, some you don't.

    That said, we were required to write our comments down on copies of the text. But prepping for the meetings got to feel so much like swotting away on a school assignment that once each session was over, I didn't want to think about crit group till the next round of chapters appeared in the shared Google Docs folder.

    My fault. But another symptom that it wasn't working for me.
     
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  8. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think I could handle a critique group either. I find it hard enough to "verbalize" my thoughts on paper when I try to critique someone else's writing, but I'm able to be more honest. When face-to-face, I'd be so worried of offending other writers, I don't think my feedback would be particularly useful in the end. I feel I can take feedback pretty well, but whenever I've had to give it IRL, I always shave off the sharpest edges, or more like, it becomes completely edge-free, nice and cushiony, and does not facilitate learning. :(

    But as @jannert said, it's clearly possible to find a wonderful IRL critique group. I guess if it was a "safe space" like that, I'd feel comfortable there. In the meantime, I'm sure online critiquing will prove to be just as helpful. :) If you need betas, it might be a good idea to post to our Collaboration sub-forum. ;)
     
  9. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Yeah, that, too. I never went as far as "This is stupid," but I pretty well lost it a time or two. Like when, several sessions and more chapters in, one member still was giving me no clue as to what the story question in her novel was and what were the stakes for the MC. "I can't reveal that till the end. That would be giving the plot away." Aaaaaaagggggghhhhhhhh!!!!

    I calmed down enough to suggest she should at least throw in some foreshadowing to indicate that the MC was wondering about those things, too. I have no idea if the author did that or not.

    But yeah. Short-circuiting the heart and the brain and blurting out from the gut was another issue I was not adequately dealing with. Not pretty.
     
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  10. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    My local Libary has a writer's meeting once a month. I have been called a 'Mean, grumpy old man.' despite being only 29, and my favorite 'A yeti.' I didn't really pick up the connection to harsh critique and a Yeti, but I am sure there might be one?
     
  11. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    We're kind of exurban/rural out here, with a lot of little towns strung out along the rivers. At the conference last week I got acquainted with a fellow author who lives just up the hill from me. If she were interested in a truly local crit group, I'd have to see if I hit it off with her before I committed myself.

    Right now I need to get my first novel shoved out into the big world. I'll deal with workshopping novels 2 and 3 later.
     
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  12. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You stomp on their work like a Yeti would... with its big feet... if their writing was left on a snowy hillside just when a Yeti spots a tasty mountain goat and in its hurry to catch it doesn't notice said writing and stomps all over it?
     
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  13. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Digging out my Balzac Contributor

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    Why a Yeti? Are you a big lumbering hairy dude? If so, awesome!
     
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  14. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    We'll go with this.
     
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  15. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I've never been tempted by a face-to-face group - they sound awful to my thinking. I second what others said about preferring to give my thoughts in writing. I've only received face-to-face feedback from one person, but I found it uncomfortable: the feedback was positive but I found the whole thing so awkward.

    Then there's the fact you have to read your work aloud in most of them. I hate reading more than a few lines of anything aloud, and I REALLY hate listening to people read something aloud unless I'm doing something else at the time - I listen to audiobooks but only when I'm driving or playing games. I could never sit with my hands not busy and listen to someone read.

    I did think about trying my local group, despite all that... but I don't think I'd fit in. Half of them seem to write poetry, and if listening to novels is my idea of hell then listening to poetry is my idea of sitting in hell with a pitchfork up my arse. And from the photos they all seem to be over 70, so might not appreciate a potty-mouthed whippersnapper turning up and giving my opinion on their magnum opuses.

    Nah. Online workshops and critique partners for me, thanks.
     
  16. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    It's okay if you're the best writer there. Normally, well on the OU it was retired people and a couple of issue-types. I just, you know, waltzed in with my hair and read to the old girls. We got on tremendously though I've lost their numbers.
     
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  17. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    That would be reason enough for me. That and the chemistry of the group wasn't proper for you--or maybe for anyone not in the 'clique' so to speak.

    Sounds like a wise decision to move on...draining of time, and energy, and on your writing, with little benefit to be had.
     
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  18. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I'm late to the party, but am jumping in to say that an in person critique group sounds like a special kind of hell to me too. I'm honestly not even up for online random critique much - I prefer to get feedback from my handful of betas, who have experience with and enjoy reading books in the genre I write. Similarly, other than SPaG I can't see that I'd have much to offer members of a group looking for feedback on fantasy, YA, sci-fi or any of the many genres I don't write or read.
     
  19. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with going to a cafe/someone's house and reading your rubbish to each other, to raise a smile, or an emotional response among human beings.
     
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  20. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    That actually sounds a lot like the first critique group I visited. They were all a lot older than me (at the time) and were either writing poetry or personal memoirs or vignettes. They were very nice, and I just sat in on the first (and only) meeting, but I realised they weren't a good fit for me. I think it's important to get together with people whose work is compatible with your own. A poet and a novelist just aren't quite on the same writer wavelength, even if they might appreciate each other's work.

    I wanted a group not so much for critique (which I get via beta readers) but for companionship with people who are doing the same thing I am. Writing novels. Fortunately I consider the two I'm with to be excellent writers, even though they are a lot different from me. But we spend more time talking about being writers, and solving writer's problems, than actually critiquing each other's work. That's what I wanted from my group, really. Friends, whose opinions and insight I trust, and who are also writers and understand the territory.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2017
  21. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    OMG. That sounds EXACTLY like what I did in the first draft of my novel. And I remember reacting exactly like that to my first beta who pointed out where I was going wrong. I kept saying: 'have patience, it will all come clear at the end.' EVENTUALLY the penny dropped, and I realised what he was getting at. Nobody is going to keep reading a story that seems to have no real point to it, on the off chance that everything will make sense at the end. When that light dawned in my brain, I completely revamped the start of my story, and cut away a lot of the unnecessary mystery I'd carefully created.

    With any luck, what you said to that person will click in eventually. The defensive reaction is almost knee-jerk in many people. It is only later on, when they grr and growl to themselves, attempting to justify how STUPID and ANNOYING and SHORT-SIGHTED your comment was that the moment of truth may dawn. Been there, done that.
     
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  22. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Senior Member

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    I don't know if that was amusing or disturbing. :supergrin:
     
  23. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    I love my face-to-face group but it definitely gets hard sometimes. There's always people that show up of the street and either get really defensive or suddenly think they can take down everyone's works. That and even if you have good friends, it's definitely possible to get worn down. It took me a long time when I first started to figure out that I had to tune out a few knowledgable writers who just REALLY disagreed with parts of my premise and were going to vocally repeat it every time as if it were fact, and I've been working on not getting too beaten down that one person (who I consider a good friend) makes sure I get my weekly lecture about how my white male privilege influences my viewpoint and that I need to consider whether it's ethically okay for me to write protagonists from outside my culture (short answer, I put an immense amount of effort into doing that sensitively, and I suck at coming up compelling characters who are while males. So, just keep writing.)

    So, yeah, I feel your pain. And as long as you're getting solid critique, do what works (also, every face-to-face group is different, and it takes a lot of effort to keep them running properly for long periods of time). If the group is draining more than it gives you, get out.
     
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  24. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    Yeah, as far as face-to-face goes, I don't care for critique. But I do think they can be useful for encouragement, and maybe even a bit of fun. I know people tend to hate straying from whatever they're working on, but I think a once-a-month group free-writing session can be fun and useful for clearing out mental and emotional cobwebs. Also, I think back on a lot of the golden age sci-fi shared universe stuff, and yearn for days long past.
     
  25. Hwaigon

    Hwaigon Member Reviewer

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    Second to the right, and straight on till morning.

    Screw it, no slow mind. A nice mind.
    Sometimes it takes guts to admit it to yourself and say well, this is shit. Good for you if it helps you grow. As it probably will as I could almost hear the ramshackles of constraint thud onto the literary bottom.
     
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