Critique of Critique

I haven’t been to the writing critique group of which I am a member, and technically an organizer for over a year. One reason is quite frankly because a jerk that is as arrogant as he is poor at writing fiction opted to take over without anyone’s blessing, bulldozing his way over my head, and that of a fellow organizer. As is often the case in such groups, the behavior was tolerated by most, and a new crop of people showed up to fill the seats, who didn’t know about such things.

Since this time, other moderators have also taken on part of the running of the group, and have done so with actual common sense, and concern for the quality of writing and the conversation around it. If not for the fact that the previously mentioned hack still attended every meeting, I might return on a regular basis.

Note that I said might. The truth is at this point, I must confess what some writers might consider either a heresy or even hubris; I’m no longer a fan of the group critique process, regardless of who runs it, and where it is.

I assure you this is not because my work is beyond critique. As a matter of fact, it is because I would value honest critique from someone I trust that I no longer trust the critique via committee (in this case MeetUp ) approach.

I write a short piece when my turn comes up, and a table full of people, some of whom I may have met before, and some I have not, that hopefully have read my work before sitting down that moment, give me a list of first impressions. I maybe answer a few questions they have. And then, my turn over, nobody thinks about the story ever again.

Yes, there are other ways of proceeding with such a group, and yours may be totally different from what I described. But for me it often feels more like an interview in such settings, at least since the original crop of dedicated writers drifted away. Writing is hard enough without hearing what someone I either never met or don’t particularly respect give their details “concerns” about my piece simply because it happened to be their turn to talk.

A growing familiarity with one another I think is the key to the most useful type of writing group. The group I am in was like this at first. I could see myself being perhaps a part of a permanent small writing group, with the same folks getting to know one another’s work and aspirations. If someone gets a feel for not just what I turned in today, but what I am about as a writer, their perceptions on my work carry a great deal more value to me.

That’s why I want to instead find a beta reader or two. Someone, probably another writer, who will take seriously the responsibility to read my work, form thoughts and questions about it, and meet me in a low pressure environment to discuss them. Someone for whom I would be willing to do the same thing. Though I have had friends read early drafts of my work in the past, a regular beta reader willing to commit would be even more constructive, I think.

But I’d want to know them, not draw them out of a hat on a website or something. A smaller group of people I liked a few years ago that sprung from the main group spent a month reading and offering thoughts on my first novel, and that was quite helpful. Those same people aren’t available now, but I’d like to get back into that sort of more intimate arrangement, where any of us can tell the other, “Will you take a look at this latest story?” or “I’m messing around with something in this novel, what do you think?” Not surprisingly, I prefer the quiet, deeper approach.

Writer’s groups do a lot of good for a lot of people, and the more people that get together to encourage people to write, the better. It helped me early on. But just as one’s fiction goes through stages from early draft to final form, so too can one’s process, and I feel my process no longer is suited for the random bi-weekly critique style mixed bag of colleague, friends, strangers and fools, depending on what day it is.

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