Time to Leave Your Critique Group?

In past posts, we've looked at the right time to join a critique group, how to evaluate feedback and accept criticism. Sometimes though, a moment comes where a writer begins to question the effectiveness of a group. If things aren't working like they used to it's easy to get trapped in Limbo. Should you stay and tough it out? If you leave, how do you do it? No one wants to cause hurt feelings or make others feel like they are 'no longer good enough.'

Let's look at the common reasons to part ways.

--Activity level too high

Sometimes a group morphs into a hyperactive critiquing machine that leaves you with precious little time to breathe, much less write. If too much of your writing time is spent on other people's novels, then it's time to scale back or risk burn out.

Talk to the group and voice your concerns--you might not be the only one struggling with the load. If others feel as you do, work out a pace that suits everyone. And if you're alone on this, the good news is it should be relatively easy for you to part ways. Most writers are very understanding of time constraints and putting your own writing first.

--Activity level too low

Some groups start out strong and energetic only to slow to a crawl once critiques start to roll in, pointing out just how much work needs to be done on a novel. People get depressed, they stop putting up chapters for review and they stop critiquing. This can be very frustrating for two reasons: as a reader, you become invested in the other stories and want to know what happens next. As a critiquer, you are giving up your time to help and it's frustrating when it is not reciprocated.

If you're the one shutting down, then try to pull yourself out of your funk and remember you made a commitment to the other members. Hold up your end of things. If you can't, be honest about what's happening, apologize and bow out of the group.

If you're the one submitting and critiquing, and others are not, then bring it up to see what's happening. Is RL (Real Life) getting in the way? This happens. People lose their jobs, become ill or find all their free time sucked away when problems arise. Be understanding. Is it the depression issue? Talk about it and see if you can work through it together. Sometimes people need encouragement and another writer to understand. If you can get the group on track, great! If you can't, politely move on.

If several critters are not critiquing your work and none of the scenarios above fit...

It might be your writing. Again, this happens--sometimes a plot or character is like a lemon zester to the brain. Be a professional and recognize that not all writers will connect with your work. It isn't bad or wrong and it doesn't mean you should toss your MS off a bridge.

Find out what's bothering critters and challenge yourself on their comments. If three people all dislike your MC, then there might be something there. If you agree, the best thing you can do is pull your book from the critique process and work on it, while still remaining a member of the group and critiquing. These people may have just saved you a lot of grief, and when you work out the kinks, resubmit it to them.

If you disagree with their assessments, then this group is likely incompatible and you should acknowledge the 'not for everyone' scenario and leave on good terms, wishing the others well.

--Negativity

Sometimes groups or certain members become bogged down with the weight of writing woes: constant rejections, writer's block and depression/negativity. Prolific members once eager to learn and pass on their own knowledge stop submitting, stop critiquing or put out half-hearted efforts. They may become a bundle of excuses, anger and frustration, with nothing good to say about the industry or the writer's path. This is not a good place to be.

Writing is hard. Sticking it out despite all the rejections and roadblocks is even harder. If your crit group vibe is sending out serious negativity, it's time to get out. If you don't, it's very possible you will succumb to it.

In this case, tell the truth...sort of. Acknowledge that the atmosphere has changed. Suggest a break from the group might do everyone some good. And it might. I've seen people take breaks, shake off their funk and come back fighting. I've also seen people stop writing and never come back into it. Each of us has to find our own way.

--Growth

Some groups, the best groups, continually evolve. As we critique and receive feedback, we grow and become stronger writers. But sometimes the other members in the group don't match our individual growth rate...then what do we do?

First of all, never think you're too good for the crit group. You can always learn something from any individual, no matter what level of writer they are. However, there are cases where some writers grow by leaps and bounds while others take a slower, more steady pace to develop writing skills. If the feedback from your group seems too advanced, leaving your head swimming with where to start as far as applying suggestions, this group might not be the right fit at this time. Profound, in depth feedback is of no use if you don't know where to go with it.

Likewise, if you find yourself wanting feedback on your theme or character arc (and you specifically request critiques focus on this) but your fellow members aren't sure what you mean, you might want to find critique partners who can help you in these areas. This doesn't necessarily mean leaving the group. If you have a good support system, suggest opening the group to include more members who can meet a wider range of critique needs.

--Focus

As writers grow, we often try new genres or age groups. Sometimes, we think we're all about Women's Romance only to discover we're really YA writers, or we try out picture books only to settle on Mid Grade as our focus. This is a natural occurrence, and if you find yourself writing mid grades while everyone else in the group is spinning picture books, then ask youself if the group is still meeting your needs. Some writers can translate easily--Adult Fantasy writers might make great YA fantasy critiquers. People who write MG may crit YA or Chapter Books just fine. But sometimes you end up writing Sci-fi and guess what? No one in your group reads or even likes Sci-fi. But they like you, so they crit your work anyway.

Sure, these crits are helpful, but you really need feedback from those in your chosen genre. They know the market, what needs you must meet and what boundaries you can push. They can help you with specifics in ways that someone unfamiliar with the genre cannot.

If you're getting great general feedback, you might want to keep the group but find an additional partner who writes what you do to bounce around those specifics. Or, you might want to move onto a group that matches your focus completely. If you leave, explain your reasons, thank everyone for all that they taught you, and move forward.

--Style

All writers have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to craft. The best groups are ones where each member brings something different to the table: maybe one of you is the line edit queen, another can create breathtaking description and someone else challenges all the members to go all the way when it comes to getting into the character's head and emotions. But what if it turns out everyone in the group only line edits? Sure, your manuscript will be 100% structurally correct. Too bad it won't do you any good in the slush pile if your characters are cliche or your plot has more holes than a hobo's underwear.

Diversity is the lifeblood of a great critique group. If everyone has the same strength and their critiques are singularly focused on this area there's very little room to grow. Discuss expanding the membership to bring in other writers with different skills and viewpoints. If there is no appetite for change, then politely disengage and move to a new group where diversity is embraced.

--If You Do Leave...

...always do so with grace. Thank the other members for helping you, avoid negative comments and move on swiftly. The right fit is out there!

18 comments:

Windsong said...

Awesome post. I wish I could come up with more than just wow, but . . . wow! Great insights!

PJ Hoover said...

Wonderful post! It's so thorough!

ElanaJ said...

Excellent advice! :)

Hazardgal said...

Hobo's underwear! Great comparison there! This is an important post for when you have the square peg in a round hole feeling in a group!

Bish Denham said...

Most excellent post! Thanks.

beth said...

Excellent post!

I've had several of these experiences. Once, my crit group slagged off and got lazy--fortunately, we were able to bring it back to life and start over with a restructure.

I also have one person who's very negative in her critiques--but at least the other people in the group are quite positive, so it balances out!

Christine M said...

Great post! Thanks!

Lady Glamis said...

Wow, great post! If I ever feel the need to leave a critique group, I'll remember the great advice you've given here. Thank you!

Pen Pen said...

I think that finding the right people to work with on writing is like finding a soulmate--u should constrain it to people who aren't jerks but will still be honest. Joining a group u don't click with is like marrying someone you didn't know well but find out later is not for u at all.
Pick slowly people! Pick slowly!!

T. Anne said...

Thank you, great advice!

Becca said...

Great post, Angela. Very well put, all of it. Leaving a crit group (or any group, for that matter), is always tough. You've laid out some great guidelines on when and how to do it with grace.

Pen pen, I agree with your comment about writing partners being like soulmates. I've often referred to Angela as my writing soulmate, though probably not to her face. Didn't want to freak her out...

So yes, take your time and choose carefully and the perfect group sometimes does appear :).

Brown-Eyed Girl said...

Amazing. Etiquette absolutely everywhere!

Merc said...

Wonderful post! Absolutely spot on advice and ideas here, thank you!

Ghost Girl said...

Awesome post! I've had a few conversations with friends lately who are in this boat. Thanks!

Mary Witzl said...

I have to agree with everything. I smiled at the thought of a whole group full of line editors. The group I'm in now has a nice mixture of skills. And I may not always love everything they write -- or their criticism of what I write, but the interesting thing is that I often come around to it. And you are right: I've learned from all of them.

Angela said...

Thank you everyone. I hope this will be a post that people will come back to if they ever need it. I would love it if no one EVER needed it, but we all know that dysfunction in critique groups does happen. Hopefully these ideas will help people know what to do.

And Becca, that doesn't freak me out at all. I don't know what I would do without your feedback, expertise and brainstorming. You and I are a great fit! Hugs!!

Creative A said...

Ooooh boy. Great post, and I have to say I'm guilty for a few of these. You guys really have some great advice here - thanks for posting this!

-CA

Rita said...

Very nicely articulated post! I got here via Jill Corcoran's blog, and I'm so glad. Thanks for the insight!

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