What Happens When Writing Groups DON’T Work?

After my blogs on writing groups, I received several personal e-mails from people who discussed problems they had in their previous experiences.

Possible problems can occur when a writer shares a rough draft and would like “big picture” comments on plot, character, and theme but instead receives a “line-edit” critique.

Before your present your manuscript, make sure and share with your group what stage of writing it is. What do you need to hear at that point? What are you open to hearing? What don’t you need to hear? What part of the manuscript do you feel is the weakest and how could they help you the most?

If, after you’ve outlined your “rules” people still ignore them, you may thank the critiquers and realize that those people either weren’t listening to your requests or are not able to think in a “big picture” way. They may feel compelled to share something rather than nothing.

Of course, this isn’t helpful, but a waste of time. Unfortunately, if this happens a lot, then the group doesn’t work well.

Ultimately, the person decided to drop from this group. Fortunately, he found another one that worked much better.

Depending upon your specific situation, you might try again the next time and remind people of your goal. But if reminding doesn’t help, and you aren’t receiving enough constructive critique from your group, then it might be time to either have a polite and honest discussion with the members, or else drop out.

When I began writing many years ago, I took a marvelous class offered by an adult school program. The last part of the class the teacher allowed students to read and the class critiqued the members. I learned early on to judge which people in the class wanted what kind of critique. I also found out how to ignore the comments that weren’t helpful to me. Through that class, people also formed separate critique groups based on these insights of listening skills, writing-genres, interests, etc.

Other problems encountered in critique groups have been one person taking over the critiques, tardiness, hurt feelings and not enough structure (too much off-topic talking). Sometimes, by setting up a few rules in the beginning, you can help prevent these things from happening. And if they do occur, start of the next meeting by a discussion of a setting a new precedent.

Have there been any problems that have come up in your groups? How have you handled them? If you care to share privately or on this blog, feel free. We all learn from each other.

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