In the last several months, three of my writing friends have dropped out of their critique circles. Each one of them felt sad about their decision, yet knew it was time to move on. Our conversations got me thinking about the inevitable changes that any writing life goes through.
I am a firm believer in the power of a good critique group. They can gently guide your work in the right direction. If a group is functioning well, it can get a writer through the hard, slow days in the middle of a project. A critique buddy can be the proverbial wind beneath your wings.
On the other hand, a dysfunctional group can cut you down at your knees and leave you bleeding by the side of the road. No one should be given the power to make a writer feel discouraged about their work. Writers are hard enough on themselves to feel belittled by their fellow writers.
It might be time to step back from a relationship if:
- The group has devolved into chit chat. I am all for hanging out with friends and I look forward to catching up with the other writers before and after the meeting, but the critiques need to take up the bulk of the meeting. I have been in a handful of groups that started out as strong critique circles and ended up coffee klatchs.
- Varying levels of commitment. I am a writer. It is my primary job at this point in my life. It is a hobby for some people. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I need to surround myself with people are on a similar path.
- You are not developing at the same pace. How do I say this? We all improve at our own pace. Some people listen to critique and work hard to improve their work. Others, frankly, don’t. If you find yourself giving someone the same critique month after month and you don’t see any changes, they aren’t listening. Stop. Spend your valuable time helping someone that actually wants your opinion.
- You don’t feel the other members are invested in your success. The point of a critique group is the support each other and to help each other become better writers. Unfortunately, envy can creep into these relationships. One of my friends that dropped out of her critique circle did so because after her novel was picked up by a publisher, several group members became openly hostile toward her. She got tired of their snide remarks and back-handed compliments. It was time to move on.
- You feel uncomfortable sharing your work with the group. At one point, I was in a group where the members ripped each other apart. Several times, I saw members crying in their cars after our meetings. It got to the point that I didn’t want to share my work with those people. Their comments weren’t helpful and left me feeling discouraged.
- Your writing no longer fits with the group’s writing. Writers change over time. You may have started out writing fantasy short stories, and now write suspense novels. You no longer fit in a fantasy shorts group. Years ago, I knew a writer that started out primarily writing science fiction and a little steamy romance, however, her romance career took off and she had to drop out of her science fiction group.
- You no longer fit in with the group. Critique groups are susceptible to group dynamics, like any other group of more than two people. Over time, group members come and go, alliances are formed, and leaders emerge. There may come a day when you look around the table and ask yourself ‘Why am I here?’ If you longer fit in with the group, it might be time to say goodbye.
In the end, writing is a career and needs to be managed like any other career. Jobs come and go. People grow in their careers and need to find different positions, or they will become stagnant. I recently had a conversation with my brilliant daughter (although I may be biased regarding her brilliance) about one of my writing buddies who was considering leaving her critique circle. She cut to the heart of the matter when she said, “It’s like you’re always telling me, if it’s not a good use of your time, walk away.”