This is a follow up to my first blog post on writing groups. I had a powerful experience recently, testimony that the growth process continues; if I start to think I’m seasoned and have nothing new to learn about writing groups, I’ll be wrong.
After a dozen years of dedicated writing group participation, I started a new group that would be a second writing group for me, fully fantasy / fantasy sci fi. We spoke ahead of time and established four members. Side note: One of the members was a lawyer. She made a point that she attends “writing groups” of a sort all the time with her fellow lawyers so she’s very used to the practice.
When I got my Word document back from her with tracked changes, before our first meeting, every line—I mean every line—had a remark. Every facet was objected to. None of the comments were regarding style or sentence structure. There were vehement objections to some aspects. Entirely different plot ideas were suggested in place of my story.
When we met, two members (mother and daughter) started brainstorming elements that would make a better story. The daughter, who works in animation in Southern California, offered that, if I have trouble with ideas, she has an unlimited supply.
After this, I felt great reluctance to offer up my writing to them again. In fact, I felt gut-punched and stymied. My ongoing writing group (seven years now) loved the story in general. I was 80 pages into the book with them.
What’s the answer? Well, I have a lot of faith in writing groups. Over the years, they have been a fabulous part of my process. I went back to my list and formed another group with two very discerning women. I did a complete overhaul of my book’s first chapters, cognizant of the issues raised by the first group. The new group is handling my work with a combination of compliments and suggestions on all levels.
You cannot come at a writer like a stampede. In the end, there was value to a couple of the first groups’ points. Some of their objections had been troubling me. But the critique was done wrong. For one thing, I don’t think any writer wants someone else to think of their story for them. Maybe I’m wrong.
Would I have made the major changes without the harsh catalyst? Hard to say. I’ve successfully engineered a revision of the underpinnings of the story that will reverberate through all the following pages.
Of course, I’ve encountered other discouraging personalities along the way. If the input is stopping my process, something has to change. I’ll leave a group and establish a new one. Nothing can stop my writing, but I can change the influences.
If it’s constructive and balanced, you’ll still be fired to work, and remain energized. If you’re thinking of trying out writing groups, don’t hesitate to email me, for advice, sympathy, or a pep talk. Send questions! I’m happy to answer them, in a blog post or directly.
4 thoughts on “Writing Groups Post #2”
Marie, if I had gone to a group and the same experience I might never share my writing again! And no, no writer I know wants others telling them what their story should be. Good for you leaving for another group.
Thank you, Cristina! I’d hate to see anyone discouraged from writing groups due to something like this. Most people do a great job, in my experience.
Absolutely agree. Giving feedback in a writer’s critique group is an art. You should be allowed to explore your story in whatever way you envision, with thoughtful guidance, not outright attack. It’s much easier to give constructive feedback if your own ego is in check and you’re really offering up line notes that help strengthen the person’s writing. Telling someone a specific plot point doesn’t work for you is very different than trashing a story and telling them what they should do instead. I’m very blessed to be in a writer’s group that has found a perfect balance.
True, J.L.! This person was new to writing groups, used to lawyer groups, which I suspect might be very different from what we strive for in writing groups. I’ve been blessed with wonderful writing groups for years, but thought it might be helpful for people to read a specific example of one that didn’t go well. Maybe there’s a group that would fit her style! I do want to emphasize that I incorporated some of her feedback in my rewrite, but couldn’t return to that dynamic, or write anticipating it. Who knows – maybe with the rewritten beginning, all would have shifted. But I didn’t take that chance. We had a fundamental disjuncture in the area of magic: she did not believe there could be magicks more powerful than future technologies.