Critique Groups: First Experience
A couple months ago, I decided to join a writers' group. I was wary. I was hesitant. I was not afraid of the criticism at all. I was afraid of not fitting in. Either they might be way more experienced than me and talk down to me or they would be all new aspiring writers who I would need to help and the relationship would stress me out rather than be reciprocal. I hope no one takes the latter as snobbery, but I have degrees in English, teach grammar, and am published, so it was a legitimate concern that I would be "grading" or editing for free, and I'm nice, so refusing to help would be difficult. As for the former--despite being confident--I still feel a bit inferior to authors who are able to sell well, who have fans, as I'm still starting out with a zero marketing budget, so things are trickling in slowly. I am a very busy person, so I thought this would be too much: special needs child, career as an English Lecturer, and slotted to publish 2 books a year.
When I contacted them, they were nice and were inviting. They did tell me writing was a hobby for most of them, but there were a few successfully self-published authors in the crew. When I arrived, I was the youngest in the room. I was nervous about that. Despite being close to 40, I'm short, and I look a decade younger (or more, according to some crazy, flattering people). What this usually means is I'm treated as inferior, ignorant, and naive--even if it is a topic of my expertise. This treatment drives me crazy and sets me off into rabid-chihuahua mode.
To be honest, walking in late, I felt some tension. I listened the entire time since I hadn't read any of their works yet. I noticed a stern woman giving criticism in a tone some would say was harsh. Her advice was correct and she knew her stuff, but the delivery was a bit condescending. Another woman was pretty combative about any advice. Afterward, the one who tried to give advice asked to speak with me. After a conversation with her, I realized she was a former professor and had books published through publishers too. She said she joined the group wanting to help people, but they didn't want her help. I didn't know the group yet, so didn't know if this was true or if it was because her delivery was kind of old-school academia (treating "pupils" as lessers).
I knew I could not judge the group off the one day, so I went back. I figured if it went badly again, I'd quit and have a blog topic at the minimum. This time, both women were not there and others were there I hadn't met last time; I went through the meeting, knowing this would be my deciding factor. The meeting was great. There was no tension, no rough criticism--all told in constructive ways--and no one was angry about advice given. I was able to contribute what I knew. Unlike what the one woman had told me, I found people were eager to learn about how I was published and what I knew. But it was not in a way that made me feel exploited or used, but I felt useful. I love helping people if I can, so this made my day. I officially joined the group and jumped into critiquing and sending in a half completed book of mine that I was having trouble with.
Meetings from there on went well. Everyone gave advice about others' books and things were running smoothly. With my book, I got the positive feedback I needed--since this book is out of my normal genre, age category, and was personal--to go forward with it. They had great advice to help me get through my usually nonexistent writer's block. In the end, a few women shared their stories of their children or their own problems that related to my story. Some were in tears. It was a powerful and moving, and I knew then and there I made some friends.
I sometimes have a difficult life. If it isn't difficult, it is busy. These people have given me a community, a friendship that was and is needed. A place where I don't talk about my problems, but my craft. A place where I don't talk about my job, but my passion.
I was skeptical, but so glad I joined up with fellow writers. I feel happy helping and get so much back. I suggest anyone who feels alone as a writer, who seeks connection, to try to find a group out there near you. If it doesn't exist, create your own.