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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Hayden

Friday Frustrations: Critique Groups

Haven't done an #FF in a while so I'm posting one tonight.

Many writers are more sensitive than the average person. I am more sensitive even than most sensitive people. I also dislike the spotlight and most of the time I dislike being looked at, especially up close. So you can imagine how fun it is for me when I sit in a circle and other, more talented writers take a great big shit on my work. I'm exaggerating a bit; the feedback I receive has never been that my prose is absolutely abysmal and I should never hold a pen again. Nothing like that. But the criticism, even "constructive" often hurts. Not always, but usually. Negative feedback is part of the trade; to be a writer who shares work on any scale is to be a masochist on some level.

What I love about writing besides my obvious dalliances with words is that it is so solitary. I like background noise and can work anywhere, no matter how public (well, pre-COVID), but the work itself is done alone. I finally have a job where I never have to work in groups. But unless you self-publish everything, you have to involve other people at some point. An editor, a beta reader or, in the case of this blog post, a critique group.

I've never signed up voluntarily for a critique group. This is not a matter of hubris, but in fact the exact opposite of that. I've been invited to join a few writing groups or attend events, but I avoid those that promise to share their work and then give each other feedback. I mean, what could be worse than that? I am comfortable with vulnerability in my life in other ways, but to put my art out there and risk evisceration is not something with which I am comfortable. I don't want to be lied to and told everything is perfect on the page. I'd just rather not sit there squirming in my chair, wishing I could disappear while people take turns at the unpleasantries.

It is the case, then, that the times when I've been in these circles (is this a 10th circle that Dante forgot to include in Inferno?) were times where it was unavoidable: my freshman year composition class, a fiction workshop, etc. While I found a couple things valuable, overall it these were experiences that I'd rather not repeat or even revisit in my mind. Perhaps if I could receive the same feedback but written, it would be more bearable. There's something about being in the physical presence of other writers that is already intimidating, but to have them, sometimes one by one, verbalize what they liked and disliked about your creation makes it worse, especially when presented by someone snarky or uncharitable. Comments, or even instant messages, would drastically improve the experience for me. I don't like being forced to deliver feedback either; it can be incredibly awkward in some cases.

It's not that I don't want to improve, it's just that a group structured this way is probably my least favorite way to get a few pointers. I'm getting better though with feedback in general, and with sharing my work. I still don't broadcast to the masses when I've written a draft or published something, but I will occasionally email a piece to a friend. And I used to always preface with "no feedback please, good or bad" but now I say that I'm open to it. And I've put myself in situations where things like sharing aloud and soliciting feedback are present, but optional. I've matured a little, I guess. And I have a (slightly) thicker skin now. If I'm going to do this whole writing thing, I have to deal with people's opinions.

But I'm still not joining a standard writing group, though I appreciate the invitation. I will keep declining politely.

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