Here’s something that I always wanted to talk about but never quite felt brave enough to tackle it: Writers’ Groups.
Some people have great success working with writers’ groups. Those are the roups where people gather together, usually once or twice a month, to read and critique a sample of each other’s writing. I attended one or two in the past few years and vowed that I wouldn’t do it again.
When I was taking dance lessons at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Morristown—my favorite non-writing activity, btw—my instructors always critiqued me during the lesson. One instructor, however, always praised me. Praise, praise, praise. It got to the point where I finally turned to him and said, “It’s nice to know what I’m doing ell but, that doesn’t help me improve. Tell me what I’m doing wrong.”
Unfortunately, many people don’t want to hear honest criticism.
Writing a story is a little like pouring your soul onto paper. Reading it to others (or having them read it privately) is a terrifying experiences…at least in the beginning. Will they like it? Will they understand the dichonomy between the characters and the setting? Will they appreicate my dialouge? Will they approve of my writing style?
That’s what most writers think.
I, however, add one more question to the mix: Or will they simply tell me what I want to hear?
Both of the writers’ groups that I attended were more of the former and basically none of the latter. Some of the writing was great but the storylines completely narrow and dull. You found out you were adopted? Very interesting. You wrote about your experience which was nothing over-the-top in the drama department? Not very interesting.
This happens a lot. We all have stories in us. But how many people (I.e. Audience size) will want to read your story vs. talk about their story.
And that’s the problem with writers’ groups.
If I said to a particular writer that her story about adoption was, frankly, boring to me and the writing far to literary as if trying to prove a level of intelligence that was definitely not required for that genre, I’d have been seen as negative, unhelpful, even mean. People don’t want to hear that they have poured their soul onto paper for what appears to be self-centered and egotisitical reasons and that no one really wants to read it.
But it should be said.
So many people want to write a book and publish it. THose words are like little newborn babies. Prescious and perfect, beautiful and angelic. Surely everyone else will see that, right? These writers spend time and money self-publshing their work and then wonder why no more than a handful of people purchased it. Worse, some of these writers search for an agent and then criticize each one that turns them down as being ignorant, unintelligent, completely passe.
In my opinion, writers group definitely serve a purpose for practice and commrodierie. No one else will know the pain of writer’s block or mania of writing non-stop for hours because a scene moves you. But to critique each others’ work? I find that shallow from the perspective of how a true critique actually improves the writing but glorious wonderful for building up the ego.
I would love to start a real writers critique program where I could dive into a chapter and mark it up, returning the comments, changes, suggestions, and edits to the writer in the hopes that she or he would learn from my critique. I just don’t know if most aspiring writers are actually ready for it.