Local writing groups have their merits and faults. The group I used to belong to was a “pat on the back” club. This may be nice for a new writer’s ego, but I was looking for earnest critiquing. I needed help in this new career choice of mine, not just “ooh shiny!” I joined the group blindly assuming that the members had the same goals as I did. I was naive and wrong.
I listened and followed suit with the others in the group, and when it came to my turn to give “honest” feedback the writer of the work I was critiquing turned brilliant red and I swear I saw steam coming out of their nostrils. Apparently, honesty was not their policy. After several months of sharing and reading, listening to suggestions of contests we could enter, and subtle indications that what I wrote was inferior to their masterful works, publication came.
This did not settle well with the group. I was late for the Tuesday afternoon meeting already. I’d had car trouble, and I didn’t have a cell phone back then. I walk down the corridor and hear the group talking about my publication. That’s when the truth came out. The comments that were thrown out in criticism were emotionally based. There was nothing said about my grammar – points for me! There were no complaints about the structure – more points for me! The comments I heard were:
“I don’t see the humor, that’s not even funny.”
“The subject matter is boring.”
“I could tell a lot better story about fishing than this, this is juvenile.” (It was a personal experience article about fishing experiences with my father.)
“It’s very amateurish.”
“I think she should stick to her day job. I haven’t liked anything of hers we’ve read so far.”
OUCH! I wanted to cry. I stood in that corridor, hands dirty from messing with the car, eyes welling with unshed tears, and my heart in my throat. I had to decide: suck it up and go on in, or turn around and just leave. I brushed at the dirt on my jeans and chewed my lip.
Everything that was in me screamed to run away and allow the tears to flow. Uber Nazi muse showed her hand that day with a sincere pep talk. Lean in real close while I tell you this – she’s out of the building at the moment and I’m not suppose to share her tender side. She pointed out that I had achieved a success of publication without their help. I had achieved something that still eluded the members that sat in that room. Somebody not only liked it but was willing to pay me, at that time a stay at home mom, for my writing. And, my muse reminded me, it wasn’t even my true passion of becoming an author of fiction books. Note that is plural. Books as in many books. I’m not Stephen King or Nora Roberts; I’m me. I have my own voice and somebody somewhere had already proven to me that I could do it.
It was like heroin to an addict. The Uber Nazi muse knows me better than I know myself at times, and I need her to speak the hard truth to me at times. It gets me out of my whiny self-pity, and notches up the determination. I rolled my shoulders, rolled my neck and letting it pop. I blinked away the tears and opened the door. They were ridiculously nice while I was there and even went so far to stand and applaud my publication. Later one of the ladies commented that I seemed a little preoccupied. Ya think?
That was the last time I went to that group. We were incompatible. I was looking for a personal trainer to kick my butt and get my writing in shape. They wanted a member that would join in their self praises. I cut loose that day. When it was time for critiquing, I didn’t hold back. I tempered it with praise of the things I liked but pointed out things that were obviously wrong to me. I asked the questions like “Why would this character suddenly behave this way?” when it was out of character to do so. I commented on the flat Stanley character that added nothing more than a stage prop. I went over the last piece read line by line and commented that this was a forced conversation. It wasn’t realistic, it was contrived. I”m sure their sentiments were that I had become jaded with my own self importance now that I was published. Hardly!
I didn’t lash out from the pain of the knives in my back. I gave them the real me for the first time and they didn’t like it, not one bit. I gave them the kind of feedback that I was looking for. I was very careful to lace it all with praise for the good points. The description of the farm-house setting was serene, calm and inviting. It made me long to sit on the porch swing and sip on an ice tea. In the end, I had to break up though. We just weren’t right for each other.
Fast forward to the present; a column and multiple articles under my belt and I’ve joined a couple of online writing groups. Not all of the members are compatible, but I’ve found a few kindred souls that are pure gold. I treasure them. They are honest with me. They rejoice with me in victory and offer an “aw I’m sorry” at my failures. Sometimes they are a sounding board and sometimes I’m their sounding board. Sometimes we just blow off steam together, laugh and cut up. I hope they think it’s a compatible relationship as well.
To the ones that aren’t compatible, it’s nothing personal. It’s not you, it’s me.