Ten Ways to Leave your (Writers’) Group

Ten Signs You Should Leave Your Writers’ Group

I’ll be honest: it’s been close on twelve years since I had a writers’ group, but I didn’t leave so much as the group fell apart due to various reasons beyond our control, mostly relating to jobs, free time and where we each were at the time. Two attempts to restart a group never got off the ground, one due to my own time issues at the time, the other to the fact I realized no one in the group was actually going to give me a critique, so there was no point.

I have friends who read my stuff — different friends for different books – and a group of dedicated fans who beta for me, and who are completely unafraid to tell me when I dropped the ball.

However, recently, a meme on facebook with a writers’ group critique of an Emily Dickenson poem reminded me of all the friends, mentees and acquaintances who’ve been permanently maimed by writers’ groups.

Does this mean I advise you to stay away from writers’ groups?  I don’t know.

The ten years I was in a writers’ group were my years of highest productivity.  That alone caused some advancement.  Did the critiques also help? – most of the time I either ignored them or “interpreted” them in my head.

A writers’ group is essential for one thing.  If I may paraphrase a very ancient writing, it is not good that writer should be alone.  We tend to get lost in our own head, and become fascinated by our own concerns and tics.  Left to my own devices, I would probably never have finished anything, because around the time we started a group I’d managed to convince myself every short story needed 3 months of polishing.

What I was doing to them, in fact, was turning them into recital pieces, stiff and lifeless.  But that wasn’t obvious until this year.

Meeting with other writers, even once a month, finding out where they are, what they’ve discovered, and what they are working on, and what they’ve promised to write, having someone check your productivity, and simply hanging out with someone who knows that you’re not completely insane just because you have voices in your head.  (Your workaday acquaintances tend not to get it at all when you say things like “But the character didn’t want to do that.)

There is a balm to the heart and soul – and the stomach if the group runs to cookies – in knowing others are going through the same struggles.

But on the other hand…

I used to advise that everyone get a writers’ group, even though it was difficult to find one that didn’t do more harm than good, because you simply couldn’t be informed about every editor, read every magazine, and have contacts in every con.  Having the connection of a writers’ group helped, both shape your writing so that it fit better with what the publishers were looking for, and with what the market (which meant selling first to publishers) expected.

Nowadays?  I still advise you to have beta readers.  This is important because you can do the strangest things and not notice, since it’s your story and you lived with it so long.  For instance, in Noah’s Boy I cloned a car.  It stayed in the parking lot, went to the forest, then must have vanished soap-bubble like because no one fetched it back.  (Sigh.)

So you need second and third eyes – and I recommend establishing a group of ten trained betas (if you are good at it, they’ll arf for fish 😉  I’ve yet to get one to balance a ball on his/her nose yet, though.)  Preferably betas who don’t know each other though you’ll inevitably end up with a committed (married or otherwise) couple or two in there.  That way if three people hit on the same thing “Jonny needs to be a guy.  She’s not working as a girl” or “I don’t like this fight scene” you can be sure they mean it, and they’re not just saying it because someone just before them gave that critique and they thought “oh, yeah, that’s kind of true.”

Because that’s the problem with critiques in a group: because humans are social creatures and try to atone to the group they’re in.  (Whether virtual or in person.)  So people agree with the most forceful personality, not necessarily the best critique.

I know two writers who stopped writing for years because critique groups convinced them they do not nor ever had “what it takes” (though the one of them who’s resumed writing has more what it takes than I do.)  I’ve known a half a dozen writers who became obsessed with whatever the particular bugga boo of their group was, like “Don’t mix latinate and anglo-saxon words” to the marked detriment of their prose.  I know writers who continue writing stuff that obviously will never sell, not because it’s what they want to do, but because their group has convinced them anything else is selling out.  In fact, I’ve known more harm than good caused by writers’ groups – particularly now when you take in account that conforming to “the one way of writing that will sell to NYC” is no longer an object.

Now, I’ll put in a caveat that part of this might be personality. I was never very good at submitting to group judgment and the older I get the less I wish to.

However, these are the ten signs you should leave your writers group, even if they have really good cookies.

 

10 – You’re the only one who writes in your field in that group.  You might think good writing is good writing, but let me tell you sister (or brother) you’re wrong. It’s not just that each genre has conventions – you can get around those.  It’s that the conventions can dictate things like plot. The first few romances I read (five years ago – grin) puzzled me a lot.  There are things that are not and cannot be realistic, like, the one kiss where you know it’s forever.  Then I realized that it’s as stylized a form of storytelling as a fairytale.  I shudder at what I’d have done to a romance writer who gave me their stuff to critique before that.

 

9-You’re the one who writes the most in the group.  Now, this was more or less always true for me.  I’m prolific.  BUT it’s a big difference between the fact that most of the time I was doing a short story a week I was also doing a few chapters on a novel, but everyone else was doing a short story at least every other week, and groups I’ve seen where no one ever writes, except one lone member.  If you’re the only one writing you’re improving and learning, and leaving them all behind and their critiques will become less and less relevant.

 

8- Every critique starts with a detailed enumerating of all the commas you missed and how wrong your word choice was.  While there is a place for grammar and syntax (I assure all my copyeditors past, present and future – including Ms. Thistlewist who committed suicide rather than edit me again – that I honor grammar and syntax.  I honor them so much I tend not to use them, lest their shine wear off) it is not the be all/end all of your critique.  For that you have copyeditors.  Also, given how idiosyncratic punctuation (and even word choice) can be in English, nine times out of ten the mavens of grammar are just using it as a stick to beat you down. My group did this right.  Such things were marked on the manuscript and could be followed through on or not – but they weren’t spoken of.  (Critiquer’s Secret.  What a name for a grammar book for fiction writers.)

 

7 – Revenge critiques are the norm. You’re afraid to tell Bob what you think of his sex-with-alien-cats novel, because you know that no matter what you bring in next time, even if it’s as good as Pride and Prejudice – or better – he’ll tear it down from the first word to the last.  And you’re still getting revenge critiques from Jennie because you thought she failed to establish the scene setting in her fantasy world romancing.  You tried very hard to not do anything that was ad-hominem and you didn’t say “this is the stupidest world building I’ve ever seen.”  Instead you concentrated on how the character who made the crops grow is starving to death and that makes no sense.  Because this pretty much killed her novel, she’s been telling you that your worldbuilding is wrong, your characters are unbelievable and your grammar sucks for the last three years.

 

6- Ad hominem critiques.  Usually this come from confusing the writer with the character and sometimes from misunderstanding the story in the bargain.  The two worst ad hominem critiques I ever had, both of which I stood there with someone screaming at me were because the person failed to understand the story AND viewed it as a failing on my part what they thought the story was saying.  The first one, I got accused of not researching and being anti-gun.  The reason?  I talked about burners.  Burners, in my universe are laser weapons.  That’s what they’re called, like we say “gun.” Now this was a time travel story but – yes, I did – I established that up front, as well as that my character was using a future weapon.  The critiquer must have skimmed.  He went on and on and on about how I used “burner” to avoid doing research on guns and went on from that to make (wrong) assumptions about my beliefs.  It was highly amusing.  To his credit, after he heard the other critiques, and after the meeting he came and apologized because he realized he’d got it all wrong.  The second one I was accused of moral turpitude for a short story where there was NO open sex.  The reason?  The critiquer read the five or six characters involved in an alien association as an orgy with homosexual males.  (No, truly, you don’t want to know.  Yes, I used “he” as a pronoun because “alien” is not a pronoun.  These creatures didn’t even have sex organs as such.)  Now, my story wasn’t very clear.  It’s one of the ones I’ve never published because well… I don’t like aliens and I don’t write them well.  BUT TRUST me when I say that there was a jump in imagination involved – it would be like thinking spaceship docking is sex – and to go from that to infer ANYTHING about my moral beliefs was yet another step. If you’re getting these, at best they’re not reading you, and at worse they really don’t like you and are looking for excuses.

 

5 – They have started coordinating their taste in literature, and particularly their taste in what they critique.  Some of this can be alleviated in beginning groups, by simply requiring written critiques, which are then discussed at the meeting and making it a rule that no story will be discussed between members before the group.  The rule will be broken, of course, but at least people will try to hide that.  In older groups… well, we’re all human, right?  In our group, (not the same group referenced above) with a resident gun nut, we all learned to be very disdainful of incorrect gun scenes.  Now, this was by and large harmless, except a stranger to the group would think their whole story should be discarded because they had a safety on a Glock, when in fact we were just coordinated-over-reacting.  Most groups get in a coordinating thing on some aspect.  If it’s to the point they all sound alike, leave.  Leave now.

 

4 – They all like authors you don’t like.  This is usually determined when you go in or within a very short time, but even if these people read in your genre – if all the people they admire and cite as examples are people you threw across the room at the second sentence, you probably don’t want to stick around.  I mean, unless you’re perverse enough to use their critiques in the reverse.  (I don’t have to confess anything!  You’re not the boss of me!)

 

3- They dismiss your stuff with a couple of words and a comparison to someone you don’t know.  “Oh, well, if you want to write like Jacques Prevert, we can’t help you.”  On reading up on the man you find he’s a French absurdist and you are neither gratified nor shocked, because you have no idea how your story about alien robots can be compared to that. After all it’s not even in the same universe.  The wrong thing to do is decide you’re very ignorant and these people will improve you.  The right thing to do is to leave.  NOW.

 

2 – You’re the only one in the group who gets bad critiques time after time after time after time.  Now, this happens to all of us for a month now and then.  Not just because all of us go through valleys of suckytude now and then – disease, being busy, getting enamored of some French absurdist – but also because group mechanics develop that way.  Say there are six of you and you all turned in sucky writing (this is fairly normal before the holidays, when everyone is phoning it in.)  But Jennie’s cat just died.  Bob is worried about his son who was caught selling pot.  Mike is in the middle of the slow collapse of his relationship of ten years. Fay’s mom has just been diagnosed with cancer.  Mary was laid off last week.

None of those people are getting the critiques they deserved because you all – even you – are pulling punches.  But you just got engaged and still have a job.  Yeah, you’re gonna get it.

But if this goes on month after month, it either means they don’t like you personally or more likely that the group taste has moved away from what you write.  It’s time to leave.

 

1-And the number one reason to leave your group: You’re never critiqued.  EVER.  They will note your typos, maybe, if you’re very lucky, but even those are presented with a sort of reverential “and if you don’t mind, milady.”

This is fairly normal when you’re the most (or the only) published author in a group.  It’s not inevitable.  My betas poke holes in my stuff all the time, though few of them are published at all.  BUT group dynamics being what they are, it’s fairly normal for groups who meet in person.  Now, if it’s a critique group, you want a critique.  If you’re so far above the others they see nothing wrong even with glaring mistakes, it’s time to pack it in and move on to a system of betas or something.  Or perhaps it’s time to change your critique group into a “Writer and indie publisher support group” – something I’m considering starting myself.  There you can have the cookies (yay, cookies!); discuss what is selling of your stuff, and what isn’t; and trade names of proofreaders, ebook “typesetters” and programs that have worked for you.  It’s an idea whose time might have come.

63 comments

  1. I keep thinking a writing group would be nice to be involved in again, but then I think I don’t have time… It’s just that there are so many friends who are starting out I’d like to help, and I know I still ahve a lot to learn. Yes, if you start an indie publisher group I want in! *bats eyes* I make cookies…

      1. Well, I can’t move to Colorado to be close enough for local… But you having one in person might be better for you, to get out once in a while from the writing office. 😉

        1. I’d settle to have the rest of the house get out of my writing office… sigh. Kids. Cats… One of these days I’ll sell them all for three sesterci and throw in tonsor to make up the weight. (Asterix reference joke.)

          1. Since I evidently can’t write today (bad headache. I wrote a paragraph, re-read it and thought, that doesn’t even make sense) maybe I will read Asterix instead, thank you!

            1. It’s Asterix and the Cauldron. When they sell themselves as slaves. “Stop making noise out there, or I sell you all for three sesterci and throw in tonsor (the barber) to make up the weight.” (At least that’s my memory of the Portuguese translation. I shout it out at the kids when they’re annoying 😉

        2. Sadly, you’re a bit out of easy driving range for me to stick my husband in the car with a tupperware full of cookies and a mulberry cobbler still cooling in its toweled nest, and send him off to critique night. Fooey. The internet is a giant tease, it is, letting us know there are all these interesting people out there, but having them just too far away to borrow a cup of sugar or a sump pump.

      2. This is the point where I point out that for people writing the kind of SF Baen publishes, the Baen Bar Slush Conference is one of the finest critique groups around (recognizing that the occasional idiot pops up)

        and for people willing to work in a narrow specialization the 1632 slush conference is even better (usually, recognizing that the occasional idiot pops up)

    1. er? Oh, THAT. Well, Francis, my EDITOR didn’t see it either. It was fixed in page proofs. 😛 This is peculiar to the Shifter series. In the first one it went all the way to Toni before we realized I’d miscounted days and nights, so I had either a day of perfect darkness or two nights together. Eh.

  2. The last writers group I had, I got a critique of all yawns. (Yes, I did deserve it.) No one even bothered to make any suggestions– when asked, which *was* a problem. After that, everybody yawned even before I offered my next work, and people yawned when my name was mentioned. Seriously, it happened every time with every person (Save Husband. But he’s had my back since the beginning.). So I stopped going, and stopped writing for about a year. I did not even realize the cause and effect until later.

    As for timing errors– I want to know what happened to that car! Did he go on wild adventures in the woods? (THIS is now my mind works…) Though I have to say the last time I had a timing accident with days– I realized that those three days really were all dark as night– it just happened to work out well in the story so I decided I’d done it on purpose. 🙂

    1. Oddly, my big problem with that writers’ group was the one guy in it who’d actually sold a book to a publisher, and implicitly wanted to pull rank on the rest of us when we critiqued his newer stuff.

      (The book he’d sold was a nonfiction book about the history of the Chicago White Sox baseball club. And he sold it right as they were entering the World Series. Which they ended up winning, that year. To put it in terms he’d clearly understand, the dude was born on third base, but thought he’d hit a triple. It didn’t make him any more qualified than anyone else to judge other people’s _fiction_, nor make him immune to criticism of his then-current attempt at a mystery novel, whose narrator’s habit of always and obsessively referring to the other marquee character by her full and unabreviated name was utterly destructive to the chances of reader immersion. He clearly thought it did, though.)

  3. I want beta readers – and don’t know how to get more. I write mainstream, and it’s going to be long. I’m blaming length for losing some of the betas I’ve tried – they’re all too nice to say they just can’t stand my writing. They have wonderful excuses (life. too busy. not reading much these days. etc.)

    If I hadn’t gone to the trouble of getting a couple of professional critiques of the first few chapters, and didn’t have one faithful beta who claims I’m doing just what I’m aiming for, I’d be SURE it was me.

    I’m trying a bunch of things – serializing, free fiction, the WeSeWriMo (Web serial write month – EpiGuide.com), Tuesdayserial.com.

    I can’t try many things – such as Wattpad – because I write mainstream (WIP – I have examples of SF, mystery, mainstream on my blog) – and they have no category for ‘mainstream’ (ie, Help! I’m being discriminated against by all the genre writers!).

    Any and all ideas welcome (I already left my writer group for the same reasons – and the CFS that makes me a slow writer made it hard to keep other people’s WIPs in my head).

    I think I must be toxic: even my erstwhile writing partner is too busy (life. daughter getting married. elderly parent. too many houses. Yeah, right).

    Thanks for a topic I could dump this into – feel free to ignore.
    ABE

    1. No, seriously — getting betas is difficult and takes year. I have this issue with my friends all the time “I sent to ten betas, only one answered. It sucks.” Um… no. It’s a commitment and life gets weird. About half of my betas are also writers and we exchange critiques. And if you weren’t doing mainstream — where I’m not comfortable — I’d offer, but as is…

      1. That’s just it – fantasy is the one realm (intended) I’m not comfortable writing, though I’m fond of Tolkien and Pern. I promise I’ll tackle a short there some time, just for you.

        You have to be clear what you want: I know I can handle SOME critiquing as a form of payback, but what I want is the traditional beta who gives feedback as a reader.

        I know I also have to earn them, and it will take years.

        And no, I do not want YOU as a beta – you’re way too high powered and prolific (and I don’t dare add to your burdens – I’d get eaten by the group).
        It would be an HONOR, but no. I’d rather have your posts and your fiction.

        Part of the process of getting betas is ASKING for them. THEN you get to groom and feed them. Same as with reader for a blog. So, since it seemed to fit the topic, I asked – hope that’s okay.

        Don’t worry – all newbies (to publishing – I’ve been writing for years) are needy and whiny. I, personally, am also patient.

        I should mention I’m also in awe of your ability to put out thousands of words a day even when you’re dying.

        1. I got betas by putting up sample chapters of the WIP on my website. I’ve got three regular followers who are just useful as all get out. I’ve started putting up chapters three times a week. They all seem to think that works well. Enough time to read it to enjoy, then reread it in editor mode and comment. Ouch! The plot holes they find!

          1. Pam, I’ve been doing that since February – haven’t missed a week yet (I made sure to have a big buffer – CFS is an unpredictable mistress). I have hopes for that.

            I have one beta reader who partially came that way – and is worth her weight in gold (thank you, Rachel). Another regular follower I asked explained she has an incredibly busy life – and gave me a few bit of information – she really, really does.

            I will add a note the next time I post a scene that I am looking for beta readers particularly – a chapter 3 times a week is a goal I will probably never achieve: my admiration for your prolificness (if Sarah can create/invent/subvert/Humpty Dumpty-ize words, so can I).

            New writer trying to not annoy readers – but it can’t hurt to ask, can it?

            1. Stick an occasional note on Facebook: “I’m going to excerpt two thirds of my new book, a chapter a week on my website” and put up a link. In fact Sarah might let us use a day to fish for interest, here.

              And now everyone can jump all over me about what I’m doing to my copyright, and how I’m begging to be pirated. Heck pirating would be good advertising.

              1. I’m still learning the Facebook thingy, and so far have 1) friends (small personal group), 2) my kids.

                I also participate in a closed CFS group – I guess I could put a short note there.

                And an open group of former Mexican English-speaking Girl Guides – ditto.

                But the ‘Facebook presence’ as a writer is something I haven’t done yet – VERY limited energy, and I won’t have something to market for quite a while – it seemed premature.

                I’ll try these ideas – maybe one of the people who know me also has an interest in being a beta reader. (This is exactly why I thought I’d only publish under a pseudonym – real people might know what I write! Newbie fear. You get over it.)

    2. I like Beta Reading.

      My recurrent issues are that I often don’t have the focus that makes for my best effort, that written responses are a challenge for me at the best of times, and that my spare time management is not very good. I am not the best correspondent in general, and I am a huge flake on the internet. I’ve lost track of a critique chasing a technical rabbit down a trail*, missed the opportunity to respond to some sections due to a bad combination of RL messes, crashes, and server failures that didn’t back those bits up, and am currently sitting on some partial commentary because health and other issues have not been conducive to getting it finished faster.

      I critique for fun, when I have the opportunity, time, energy, focus and sense to do so, and not so much that I expect that I should be doing something to bring in money. This means I try not to make any sort of promises about that sort of thing, because income and RL have the first priority on those.

  4. There is definitely a learning curve within a writers group. If it goes well everyone improves not only their writing but also their critique skills. Our group really took off when we cleaned out those that only wanted to talk about writing rather than actually doing it. I have never been as productive as I was then, writing a short story a week. That was when I finally started selling.

    But you’re right, it can get to a point where the format of the critique group doesn’t work anymore and another change is needed, or in our case other things happening with several members cause the group to disband.

    I still miss the push I got to produce from the group. I work better under deadline, and the group provided that. Becky is different. She’d like nothing better than to sit and write all day. Like someone else I know. 🙂

    1. I’d like to get a monthly “Writers and self-publishers/indie-publishers party” and one of these years might have enough time/mind space for it. Um… maybe the thing would be to make a deal with a hotel and host it there once a month — so I’m not interrupted by whatever the heck we’re doing like right now having living room crammed with stuff we’re trying to sell.

      1. I like it. A support group so to speak. Perhaps a presentation or two on how to do different things. Also a source if someone needs some help like a quick read for typos or beta readers or … Let us know if it’s something you want to get going and what we can do. (And we might be able to get free meeting space at the library rather than paying a hotel.) Given everyone (particularly yours) schedules and commitments, perhaps start out quarterly, while everyone gets the feel of things and determines the meeting frequency needed.

    2. EpiGuide.com is running a WebSerialWritingMonth (WeSeWriMo) and you can sign up until Aug. 1, midnight (where the midnight happens, I have no idea).

      I’m trying it – even learned how to put an image in my sidebar as part of the process (like a Kindergartener, I’ll proudly say I did it myself). I have to be careful – no fiction comes out if other stuff dominates – but it is THIS August.

      It’s a form of push – I’m hoping that I get a bit more written (you set your own goals) with some form of support; this one seems doable.

      Have to keep rattling the ol’ brain to keep it turning over in the morning.

      1. Thanks for the heads up, Abe. I’m going to have to keep an eye on it for now, but due to some health issues I’m not able to commit to this. But I’m planning to get better (Sarah said I have to) so if it’s something I can do later, that would be cool. There’s always Nanowrimo in November if I’m up to it.

        1. My children call November the Month of No Love. I buy a large ham and cook in advance. After that, it’s all downhill for the rest of them.

          1. LOL. We do end up with a lot of GIY dinners usually around Sept/Oct between start of school and my catching up on stuff that slipped during summer. (GIY — pronounced guy — is Get It Yourself which is what I used to shout while working.)

  5. Reason #1 doesn’t even require you to be a published author. When I was starting out, I tried joining writers groups b/c everyone said you NEED one. The problem was that the groups taking new members were the groups that mostly had people who were REALLY new writers. Not like “I’ve always written, but I want to get published so I need more critiques” but “I saw this lady on Oprah and she made so much money on her first book and I’ve never put pen to paper in my life unless forced, but now I want to be a writer!!!!!!!!” Which ended with me spending 20 hours a week on critiques and getting ‘wow, this is really good’ in reply.

    Meanwhile, the awesome groups you hear about? They’re not taking new members.

    At this point, my fiction writing is mostly dead (copywriting to pay the bills), but if I ever get breathing space again, I think I’m going the beta reader route.

    1. Oh, nuts. The link doesn’t work.

      “Uncleftish Beholding” is Poul Anderson’s essay explaining atomic theory using only Germanic roots.

      1. It works. or works for me. And it is most excellent. A good thing I’ve worked in a German biotech company so as to get all the stuffs sorted out though….

  6. My regional writers’ group has one horror writer, and one person who will admit to writing sci-fi (as opposed to those who do it and won’t admit it). Since most write romance, western romance, westerns, and Christian romances and devotionals, I have not tried to join. They are all lovely people, two of whom have a ferocious level of productivity and are very well published, but I don’t think my work would fit well. Plus I probably wouldn’t be much help beyond, “why do his eyes change color twice during the story?” or “Is it typical to do X and Y in a romance? Because the real people that I know wouldn’t . . .” et cetera.

    1. I took a class (seminar thing, one class a week for eight weeks… it was a Christmas present to me) from a lady who writes YA fantasy/sf. I was the only person in the class who wrote SF while everyone else wrote some variation of contemporary/memoir/something-or-other. I don’t recall any mystery or romance writers though there may have been. (Or they weren’t admitting it.)

      What happened during critiques was that everyone would latch onto some sci-fi element in the story that was just soooo cooool that I didn’t really get any critique on my writing at all. It was still a good class, though. We had assignments and only submitted portions up to 500 words showing what technique we were supposed to practice.

      Still, when it was over and all the ladies (there was only a single male person in the class) decided to stay together and have a group, I just let it slide. They were lovely ladies but there wouldn’t have been any actual point to me being there.

      I think that a person could probably train a group on genre conventions, though, even if most of the people in it wrote in other genres. Maybe I could have said something about how, yes, the sci-fi stuff was all very awesome but it was window dressing and critiques would be better to ignore the ruffles on the curtains. It may have worked.

      1. Er. Alan Lickiss can tell you of the critiques his wife and I got from a “general” writing group. “This is not very good. It’s not a thing like star trek.” Or — to me — “If this is a parallel Earth, how come they have roses?” Head>desk. REPEAT. (They also had HUMANS.) Becky (and Alan) and I were kicked out and formed our own group. BEST thing to happen to us.
        Alan forgot to mention that before we kicked out the non-writers, the best thing we did was tell the gentleman who started every critique with “first of all, this didn’t work for me” that we were disbanding, then change our name and our meeting night and place. (Grins.)

        1. All true. I know the Star Trek and roses comments are hard to believe, but those were as close to exact quotes as I recall. Us SF/F writers that were there sat with our jaws agape. And yes, being kicked out to form our own group was the best thing that happened to us.

          Oh, and the “this didn’t work for me” guy. We ran into him at a function a couple years after we “disbanded”. At the time Sarah’s and Becky’s first novels were about to come out, I had made my first pro short story sale, and I think Dan had something too. Anyway, we’d all gotten serious and focused and had progressed. This guy was still in the same place writing wise, and he wasn’t doing much of it anymore. It confirmed we had again made the right decision and moved forward without him.

  7. The time I was most productive was when I was in a sci-fi critique group specifically for short stories and we had deadlines and brought written critiques (and food) to meetings. Several people in it eventually had stories published and it was quite focused on publishing (as opposed to therapy-writing) so we’d talk about markets a lot.

    I’ve not had an in person group since then, after moving and stuff, and have tried on-line groups for novels instead of short stories and that didn’t work well because I never had stuff to submit. I’ve thought of starting my own group – put a notice up at the library or something. Life is such that I probably couldn’t commit to a group now, either. But I sometimes wonder if it might be necessary for me to have that in-person support so that waiting until I’m productive without it is a self-defeating idea.

    There is an active writing organization here in town that has meetings twice a month and guest speakers and stuff. A person can just attend without joining (which is pricey) but I don’t seem to remember to go.

  8. Or perhaps it’s time to change your critique group into a “Writer and indie publisher support group” – something I’m considering starting myself. There you can have the cookies (yay, cookies!); discuss what is selling of your stuff, and what isn’t; and trade names of proofreaders, ebook “typesetters” and programs that have worked for you. It’s an idea whose time might have come.

    I wanna join!
    My writing is all blog, but I’m good at listening, and I bake!

    Wait… isn’t that what THIS place is? Minus cookies.

    1. *Starts wise@ss computer cookie joke, hears sound of fish launcher arming, changes mind*

    2. That too. Though I shall prevail on younger terror to go ahead and build the space-time portal he’s been promising for years. And then y’all can visit. (SQUEE). We can even roast mammoth…

          1. Excellent. I need cheaper travel. Cheaper travel means more money to spend on scotch! I mean, more, um. No, no, that’s pretty much it: scotch. And travel expenses.

  9. The closest I have to a group is my friend down the hall at the day job. She’s mystery. I’m SF. We’ve read each other’s short stories. What we do is set each other deadlines. It seems hard to ignore a deadline someone else gave you. If you gave it to yourself, you have the power to waive it. Sometimes the deadline is “edit 20 pages.” Sometimes it’s “write 438 words.” We couldn’t be more basic.

  10. I was going to ask how to get beta readers, but now I have some ideas. I do have a website and I post something every week, but mostly I get fanboi comments, Most volunteers just volunteer to be able to read something of mine first. Still, I’ll work at it.

    As for writing groups. *None* of those reasons apply to the group I was in. We had a graduate of Clarion, a guy who went on to edit a print magazine and a fellow my own age who, once he published his magnum opus, (which bombed) settled down and became a good mid-list writer with a good series. This was in the mid- to late 90’s . No one told me “This doesn’t work for me,” or sprinkled commas through my work. I was in business back then and wrote business letters by the bushel; a few contracts we well. Only later did I learn that I wasn’t punctuating dialog right — I wasn’t even consistent. I went through some of my old MS submitted to the group and the comments were nothing-burgers. I make a joke of it now, (Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds — everyone knows I’m a fathead) but my usage of italics, capitalization, and such homonyms as ‘discreet/discrete’ were random as well. And of course I used my family as editors as well and heard nary an ill-word. The first time I had a real copyeditor was a terrible shock.

    I’ve learned a lot in the intervening years, most of the writing things I’ve learned I did by doing, although I learned a lot about the business (as it used to be) at con panels and even more in the last two years from online sources about the business as it is now.

    This site is extremely valuable to me (and I suspect a myriad others). Keep up the good work!

  11. I tried online critique briefly. The, I think, seven people were all over the map, their advise was horrible, they _obviously_ didn’t understand the genre . . . Except maybe for this bit . . . and maybe I ought to consider that, and . . . Mind you it took me six months to get over being furious with this worthless nonsense . . . But when I finally did a complete rewrite with the critiques in mind, the story was incredibly improved. I am ashamed to admit that I probably learned more messing with that still probably unpublishable tripe than I would have learned getting seven “Very nices.”

    But I didn’t like it at the time.

  12. This was not a description of a Toxic Writers’ Group.

    This was a description of Me At OryCon….

  13. A bad writer’s group can be like a bad marriage, it leaves you scarred and gun-shy. I have had some very bad experiences with writer’s groups–pretty much all the things you mention, at one time or another.

    Now I have access to one that seems pretty good, predominantly serious, published authors, and I find myself making excuses not to go. I didn’t realize until right now how much of that was fear of being hurt again.

    Interesting. Thank you.

  14. Once upon a time this person lived temporarily in a fairly large Urban Area. The UA had a decent Writer’s Group eponymously referred to as the SAWG. SAWG had several genre critique groups, of which SF&F was one.

    This person enjoyed the SAWG and gained much good from it. Enough so that when a move occured to the Distant and Boonie realm of Kerrplunk, this person decided to clone the SAWG and pronounced the designation of KWA on the creation.

    For the first several years, the KWA grew and developed as expected. Although size prevented the multiplicity of genre groups SAWG had, nevertheless a fairly good (TMOH) general critique developed . There were rules, but were designed to facilitate free flow of ideas. Documents and FAQ’s were available.

    Eventually, however, a cancer, designated Libtardus nonprofundous developed, diverting the intent and ability of KWA to function. At which time, this person had to divest interest and participation in the clone.

    And so, after starting a decent writers group, I – I mean, This Person! – stopped going. Political cant was rampant, and unidirectional. The one time this person chided someone for spending productive time ranting about YeeHaw Governor, a severe slapdown resulted – aimed at this person, who had created the clone, and not to the erstwhile offender.

    And that’s this person’s story of the joys and tribulations of writer’s groups.
    And I severly miss a decent critique now.

  15. In retrospect, I can see the signs. I don’t write much anymore and am woefully out of practice these days, but I did a lot some years ago, and boy, are those signs clear looking back.

    Had one WIP that was more of a slush pile of fantasy ideas that all just seemed to work together, so they got tossed in the same world. Amazingly enough, a story arose, Frankenstein-like, from the slush and I decided to hand it around in the group to see what reaction I got.

    “What do I do with this?” (hint: I’d been critiquing and sound-boarding these people’s ideas for weeks).
    “I know you ripped off .” (nother hint: there are these things called tropes… And one well-known urban fantasy wizard does not a high fantasy rogue make.)
    “This is not like your usual stuff.” (most of my work to that point had been conventional short stories- action and detective stuff mostly).

    After that, got conned into doing some work for the university free press, “editing” for their creative writing publication. Had fun, but that was draining- slush pile of about a thousand shorts and poetry of varying quality, limited time frame to put it all together semester. A few true gems whom I hope are publishing now, a couple pants-on-head crazy but entertaining as hell, only a few outright fire fodder.

    For now, if I ever get any decent stretch of free time again (one regular job, two seasonal/fixit jobs, starting another regular job part time on top of that plus family obligations), I hope to get some of the stories that have been bouncing around in my head to page sometime so they will stop pestering me and keeping me up at night.

    For writer/indie support groups, that’s rather what I think of this space (and MGC), as well as the slush conference on the Bar. But then, I do better with the written word than in-person interactions, and I make a fine batch of cookies my own self. *grin*

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