Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Quandary (An IWSG Post)

Hey, everyone.

It's the first Wednesday of the month, which means it's time for another action-packed installment of the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

I'm assuming you're already familiar with the IWSG, but if you're new and/or interested in more information and/or a complete list of participants, please click on the above link.

This month's awesome co-hosts are Fundy Blue, Beverly Stowe McClure, Erika Beebe, and Lisa Buie-Collard.

This month's (optional) question asks, "Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero or the villain? Why?"

But I'm going to skip that question because I have a quandary I'd like to run past y'all instead.

This quandary is really the reason why I'm posting so late because last night, when I sat down to write my post, I was, quite frankly, too damn irritated to do anything other than sit there and silently fume.

So I have, at last, decided to present my problem to the group to receive some outside opinions/perspective. Unless I ultimately decide to write half a post, then delete it because sometimes that happens, too.

Okay, so here's the thing. I have been a member of a small critique group for a couple of years now. There were three of us to start, and we got along really well and I think we worked together really well. Like, if some aspect of my story wasn't working for someone, we would talk about it and brainstorm possible solutions. Which I found to be incredibly useful because I joined the critique group in the first place in an effort to improve my writing. I think there was a lot of trust in that original group. I trusted them with my work, to be honest about their feelings on my work, and that if someone said, "This scene didn't work for me", we would work together to come up with possible solutions that would take all of us into account. Like, the other two wouldn't just impose their will on my story. They'd raise their concerns, I'd raise my concerns, and we'd work together to find a happy compromise.

I don't know if I'm explaining that last part correctly. It may become clearer as we go on. Or I could make it worse. I guess we'll find out...

Anyway, fast forward a little bit to when one member of our trio moved away and we subsequently invited two new writers to join us—both of whom I had met in other local writers groups and who had expressed interest in being members of a regular critique group.

Except one of these two doesn't really come across to me as being interested in critique. Or discussion about a critique. On either side of a critique, too.

If a group member raises a concern they have with her story, she shuts it down immediately with statement along the lines of "No, you're wrong. That's not a problem."

To which I always want to respond, "But it may be a problem because one of your critique partners whose opinion you have deliberate sought out is telling you that it's a problem."

I know she doesn't have to make any change to her story that she does not want to make. That we're just making suggestions that she is free to use or ignore as she sees fit. I really don't care what she does with her story, but it leaves me feeling befuddled that she doesn't seem open to anything any of us say. When she's defensive, bordering on combative, it's like, why are you here if you're not interested in criticism?

Then there's the other side of the criticism coin. At our last meeting, she raised a concern she had with my story. It was a perfectly valid concern; I could see exactly what she was saying and agreed with her. And I told her so. Then I went on to say that the scene was written as such because I honestly didn't know how else to write it without losing the two really important things in that scene I really didn't want to lose.

Now, in the original group, that would be followed by a brainstorming session where we bounced ideas off one another in an effort to come up with possible solutions. This time, however, it was met with more defensive/combative behavior on her part, which was probably met by some combative behavior on my part because I was interpreting her side as saying, "I'm right, you're wrong, and there's no need to discuss this any further."

And I went home incredibly frustrated because this group that used to be so helpful and fun is instead becoming more and more work with less and less reward. I still have a problem scene and no plan in place to fix it.

But I don't know what to do about it. I don't know if there's anything I can do about it. I may be the only person who thinks there's a problem. I may be the person everyone thinks is the problem. Maybe my fellow CPs go home after a meeting and complain about that pain-in-the-ass MJ who's always so defensive and weird about everything.

If I am the only one with a problem or the actual problem, then it feels like the solution is to walk away from the group because if I'm not getting anything useful out of it, what's the point? I would be sad to leave the group because, until recently, it was useful and, you know, my group, but there's already more than enough stress in my life. Do I need to deliberately add to it?

Is it all right to approach the other two members of the group to ask for their opinions to establish if I am the problem or if it's a group-wide thing? If so, how do I do it without them pointing at me and saying, "You're only saying that because she said something bad about your story."

Which is totally NOT the case. I go to that group hoping people will say bad things about my story because I can't improve it otherwise. But if that's not coming across, then that needs to be fixed, too.

So yeah. I don't know what to do, and I don't know if I've explained things well enough that anyone out there can offer some insight. (And if that insight is 'you're insane, MJ', that's cool. And valid.) This is just how I'm viewing this situation and what I'm feeling about it, which may or may not be valid, but it is what it is, and now I need to figure out what to do about it.

Questions? Comments? Concerns?

Thanks for listening. You've been a great audience.


  1. Talk about it with the other two. They might feel the same. If all three of you are frustrated, might be time to gently ask her to find another group.

  2. How close are you to the original two members? Can you bring it up to them privately then address it generally, in the group, in a way that doesn't name names?

    Something like, "Have we, as the original group members, ever discussed how the group handles critiques? Have we ever laid out the ground rules or how we like to do things for you two new members?"

    Ugh, I am so not good at this stuff. Sorry!

  3. Madeline brings up a good point. In my critique group we set up how we'd handle critiques at the start. Of course, we've been a stable (19 years) group of writers, so we haven't experienced what you have. Maybe you could propose reexamining or establishing some guidelines. I'd definitely talk to the original members. You're entitled to tell them what you're feeling--I'd do this without anger or frustration, only facts. Get their feedback and base your next move on that. Good luck and let us know what happens.

  4. Wow. So, I can completely relate. This has happened in my group twice. In my case, I'm the group leader so everything funneled through me, which resulted in some backlash from the defensive party, but the group didn't split over differences. I also managed to keep people from quitting because of that other person.

    I would recommend talking to the other two members and bring up your concerns. If they agree, then decide how you want to break it to her. In both of my cases, I tried to talk to the person first, ask her to be more open to suggestions, and ask questions on how to improve the work rather than defending it. In both cases, this didn't bring about any change. The first person emailed the group, forwarding on my private correspondence to her and tearing into me on how I didn't step up to defend her when her story when she felt the feedback was unfairly harsh. The second person rage quit in the middle of her critique, unfriended me on all social media outlets, and made up an excuse to leave and hasn't spoken to me since.

    So yeah... There's probably going to be a bit of backlash. But my group is happier, more constructive, and more involved without either person. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've seen a member's spin-off group crumble because of volatility.

    If you want to keep the group, talk to the others.

    1. BTW, feel free to email me if you wanted to talk about it. And don't be afraid to tell the other two members that you want to give and get the most out of this group, but you're frustrated because of the dismissive and defensive attitude of the other person. I know with volunteer groups like this, it's hard to bring up these things, because a lot of times we all just want to get along and hone each other's skills. But it's possible and probable they feel the same, but don't want to bring it up for the very same reasons as you. I think it'll help if you open up that dialogue.

  5. I agree with everyone else. Talk to the other members, outline how critiques are to be handled, and then talk to this person at the next meeting. If she doesn't agree or continues to argue, all three of you can ask her to leave. (Then it's not just you being the bad guy.)

  6. I think you should definitely discuss it with the other members. If they agree with you and it's this other person who is the problem, then maybe you all can discuss it with her to try to improve the situation. I think it would be a shame for you to leave the group if this other person is creating the problems.

  7. Ouch. I think you have to discuss it with the others. No reason to suffer the frustration. Writing is hard enough.

  8. I recently made the decision to leave a critique group I'd been with for ten years. The reasons were different, but the emotions were the same. If this group is important to you, then you probably have to take on the uncomfortable conversation and get the group to talk about dynamics and expectations to see if your needs can still be met by this group or not.

    Sorry! It's always hard when you realize it might be time to move on. But if you're creative collective isn't fueling you, but draining you? Might be time to go.

    I hope it works out!

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  9. It sounds like your other member has the problem. Really. Talk to the other two. I bet they'll think similarly. Because the point of a group is to tear each other's work to bits. However, it sounds like all she wants is for you all to tell her what a wonderful writer she is. And what a great critiquer.

    Good luck. It sounds like she probably has to go.

  10. It does take a while to build up trust and to realise that what we initially see as criticsm is actually helpful.If the person is very new to the group, and to critiquing in general then she may settle down in time. I hope that's the case here.

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  12. It is so hard when group dynamics change. I think, if I trusted the remaining original members, I'd solicit their thoughts. What you've written in this blog post assures me that you are not the one creating the stress. Perhaps go even one step further and have a one-on-one conversation with the woman who is making things difficult? Perhaps she has no idea how she is coming off? Yeah, I know. That will be a really difficult conversation to have. We had someone like that in our group, a new member who'd written one draft of one book, of which she didn't want to hear any criticism. After we critiqued a few chapters, she quit. You may find that will happen in this case, since your new member clearly doesn't want to hear what you all have to say.

  13. I agree with everyone that you should talk to the other two members and set down some rules. It does sound as if the one person isn't open to being critiqued. It does take thick skin to sit in groups and constructively take critiques. Perhaps you could ask the group as a whole what they want to get out of the meetings. Get an idea of why she's really there.

    I do sympathize with you. My local critique group has recently added new members, and because of them, I've been going to meetings less and less. (I really like one new person, and not so much the other two.) We have rules in the group and they sorta follow them. The two founding members of the group (both over 70 now) have been fantastic. I've learned so much from them over the years, but they are getting... forgetful and kinda not following the rules anymore either. It's frustrating and makes me feel like I've a stick up you-know-where that I want to shout "Follow the rules!"

  14. I think you should talk to the other members. It's so draining to be in a group with someone who just doesn't want criticism, when you're there to be critiqued so you can grow and improve. It may be that you all have to gently suggest that this might not be the right group for that one member.

  15. I don't have much use for critique groups.
    The last group I was involved in decided after a couple of months that only "what I liked about it" comments were allowed. Basically, a cheer group.
    What's that point of that?
    And that has really been my experience with all writing groups. People go in the hopes that people will pat them on the back and say, "Good job!"
    I gave up on trying to find a group after a while.

  16. I guess you could ask her if she enjoys being in the group. It might be possible to figure out what she likes about it and why she keeps showing up if she's not actually interested in the critique part of it. Or you can tell everyone that you want more critique and discussion on your books, and ask if that's what they want as well. How they respond will be a good indication on whether its time to find a new group.

  17. Oh, gosh, that's tough. Can see how that'd be frustrating! Wish I could offer some advice, but this sort of thing is completely out of my element. I hope things resolve themselves in a way where you can look forward to meeting up with your critique group again!

  18. I would send a link to this blog to your other critique members or send them a private (carefully worded) email and ask their opinion. Of course you don't want to come off sounding like a horrible, mean person. Maybe say that your interactions with this other member make you uncomfortable. Do they have any ideas? Maybe the group can have a discussion on how to approach critiques that can eliminate or reduce these kinds of problems. Maybe try round-robin readings with paper copies where you each read each other's work, write your comments, and then when everyone's done, they take a look at their comments people have left on their submission. Then each person can decide if they want to bring up any comments for a group discussion. This method streamlined things for our group, and it was nice having all comments on one copy of your work.

    It's a tricky situation. I remember when someone who had said many nice things about my writing one day said basically, "This sucks." It really threw me for a loop. But in the end, I was able to see what they meant and rework the story. The troublesome member in your group doesn't seem like she's capable of doing that. She may just want validation for her writing whether she deserves it or not.

  19. You have been given so much good advice. I agree with the previous comments. One person can change the dynamics of a group so much, the group needs to do something. I'm afraid you're all in for some backlash. I also agree that the original members need to set up the rules, then discuss them. If she doesn't agree, she needs to find another group. Don't continue going home frustrated and angry.

  20. I agree with others that you could ask the others in the group what they think of what's going on. Of course, sometimes people come and go and that completely changes the group and in the end you may be better off leaving and finding a new group or making a new one.

  21. In the last about 10 years of being involved with the writing community (on and off line writer groups, online forums, etc) I've found that some people join groups only to have someone tell them how excellent their writing is, and they believe they are perfect and have all the knowledge.

    It happens. Talk to other members of your current group and see if they feel the same way about this member. Maybe they all think "this is just me being sensitive or defensive."

    On the other side, sometimes a writer outgrows the group. Perhaps not all other members are at the same level of writing experience, knowledge, dedication. Its good to have new people, but it does not always work.

    A writing group is like any other like minded group you join; sometimes everyone gets along, sometimes they don't. Speak up for yourself.

  22. Oof. It takes a village to write your best. Art isn't created in a vacuum. One sentence reconstructed starts an avalanche. Am I missing a cliche here? Ha.

    Finding a good writing group you vibe with is like finding a good surgeon, pediatrician, or therapist. Your experience sounds infuriating. I can relate. It's so hard to commit, then have to shop around again. Great post. Happy IWSG!

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