Critique Group Block

Where are the cheap cookies?

Let’s be honest. I’m writing this brief article to tell you that face-to-face critique groups have never worked for me. That’s not to say that such meetings of writers’ minds and voices will not work for you. I suspect that I am the rare exception when it comes to mining diamonds from the mental mountain tunnels of authorial egos. Most folks say — and of course if they bother to say anything at all about the subject, they tend to praise such endeavors for sake of their careers, imagined or real — that critique groups keep them writing, offer essential advice when it comes to revision of a work in progress, help them to make contacts in the world of publication (as in schmooze the schmoozable power brokers) and provide them with an endless supply of cheap cookies and strong coffee.

Let’s be honest. I believe most of these people. Most of them, not all.

Let’s be honest. I’ve been writing for more than half a century (sounds more impressive than saying more than fifty years, either that or more arrogant). During that time I’ve belonged to many critique groups. I’ve never reaped rewards beyond the cookies and the coffee, and of late I’m diagnosed as diabetic, so the cookies have taken a certain toll.

Let’s be honest. Most of the critiques I’ve received have been well-intended, and all of them have led me to believe what I’ve known all along, that what I write is not publishable; it never was and it never will be. Not because I cannot understand what the fickle market wants, but because I don’t own the talent to compose a marketable story. I’m a word user, a verbal abuser, not an author in the making.

Let’s be honest. My latest experience with a critique group left me frustrated, saddened, defeated and blocked.

Let’s be honest. About the rules. Most critique groups agree that as a writer listens to others’ remarks about his story, he is to remain silent. It’s a good rule. Without such a rule defensiveness would reign. But inside each and every writer is an arrogant and egotistical creature who wants to defend his work. And sometimes that creature is correct. For instance, what’s the authorial creature thinking when in his story he has written that a character wore bright-red lipstick in scene numero uno, but in scene numero lasto she wore nothing but the natural color of her pink lips; and the critiquing creature comments, “Bright-red pink lipstick? That doesn’t work.”? Or when the writer offers a 3400 word story for consideration, and a critiquing creature says, “I can see this as edited down to flash fiction.”? I’ll tell you what the authorial creature is thinking. He’s thinking that he’d like to use his pen, but not for writing.

Let’s be honest. At the least the authorial creature wants to scream, “You didn’t listen!” Exclamation point included. But he cannot say anything. That would be breaking the rule. And let’s remember, it’s a good rule.

Let’s be honest. Again about that arrogant inner-creature; and yes, I mean to say that each and every one of you who claims to be a writer owns such a monster, so don’t bullshit me. What’s that high-falutin fruitcake do when he realizes that for all his feelings of frustration, these folks are right about his work? His work is not publishable, and he’s no kid sporting gray hair and sagging testicles just for the fun of it. What does he do? He stops writing for a while, a long while. When next he picks up his pen, he writes without publication in mind. And then he writes at infrequent intervals. Pardon the adverb, but at very infrequent intervals. As in, almost not at all.

Let’s be honest. As if you didn’t already know this, I am that creature. I’m today forcing myself to write this. As well, I’m forcing myself to post this on my blog (and god, I despise the word “blog”), because I realize that someone I know will likely read this, and so I’ll pay the price. But honesty is worth the price.

Let’s be honest. I could backtrack just a bit, back pedal, shuffle like a sad vaudevillian. After all, I’m not you, and you are perhaps a member of the majority of writers who find great value in participating in a face-to-face critique group. Matter of fact, I hope you are indeed a member of that fortunate majority.

But . . .

Let’s be honest. I am not.


3 thoughts on “Critique Group Block

  1. Ah… what a relief. When Anthony was silent (not posting) for so long it was only because he was 'blocked' — I thought perhaps he had kicked the bucket (died, expired, passed away, etc.) and I was anxiously fearful. But now he is back. Oh happy day!Anthony wrote: "…what I write is not publishable; it never was and never will be."Not true, oh disheartened one. A writer can always self-publish, which was often done in the past by authors who suspected their work might be recognized someday in the future, perhaps long after that author's death. For a writer who knows he has talent to give up and not make sure his work is available to the public, even available 'eventually' is an example of the true meaning of a SIN.Think about that, my friend.Gene (also being brutally honest)

  2. And don't forget all those writers who were eventually published and successful only after their submitted queries were turned down many, many times. Many!You shouldn't be thinking about publishing. You should be writing because you love to, so that finding no one to publish your work is only a tiny bump in the road, and not a roadblock. Do what you love and the money will follow. That's what they say. And I suspect that what "they" say is every bit as helpful as what members of writers' critiquing groups say, in the long run. Take what is constructive from your writing group, and use it. But don't write for the sake of publishing. Write because you love your craft, you have something to say, and that's that for that. We want our words to be read, it's true; but don't expect everyone who reads them to like them or think they're worth publishing — you know, just like a restaurant can have a very successful business even though only 1 out of every 100 people passing by stops in.

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