critique group

Sharing with the Class 2

I’m in a pretty brilliant writer’s group, I must say. I might be in a different state than most of the group, but they skype me in and it seems to work alright. 🙂 We’ve known each other for years and have sort of gotten better at that mixture of critique and encouragement that actually keeps us moving forward.

I have discovered one thing, though, that makes it so that I very often having nothing to share with everyone: getting critique mid-writing absolutely doesn’t work for me.

When I first started with the group, I was ridiculously shy about actually sharing the crap I was writing. It wasn’t going to be good enough, it wasn’t going to be enjoyable, it wasn’t going to be… I don’t actually know what it wasn’t going to be. Mostly it was fear, even though all of the people in the writing group were my friends. That’s how we found each other, actually, we were all already friends and trying to meet regularly to encourage each other in our artistic endeavors.

Regardless of our friendship, though, sharing anything I’d written was like exposing my carefully cultivated fungus to the open air: a horrifying prospect.

I started with short stories of varying quality and when the world didn’t end, I graduated up to my longer works in progress. It’s been years since the group started, and at least a year or two since I finally gave up on being shy around them. I shared a novella I’d finished and got the feedback that: ‘wow, you need to rewrite this ending entirely’ and I figure that if I can survive that without any true negative reactions on my part, I can survive showing them just about anything.

Part of becoming more comfortable in sharing my work has been realizing that I’m really, seriously, immensely hard on my own work. Anything they can say, I’ve probably said worse. I need to rewrite the ending? I’ve probably considered redrafting the whole thing twice-over. So I’ve sort of tricked my brain into seeing critique that’s not as drastic as my own as, well, pretty much a relief. It’s very nice to share with my writing group because they’re not going to be nearly as mean to my writing as I’ve already been.

So, now, it’s not a matter of if I can share my writing with my crit group, it’s if I should I share my writing with my crit group.

A lot of my ‘most productive’ spates of writing depend a great deal on momentum. I need to somehow shove myself into the world of the story and let it build, cumulatively, until I’m done. The few times I’ve shared my in-progress stuff with my crit group, those stories have become less ‘in progress’ and more ‘hopelessly mired in edits’. The more my momentum bleeds away, the less likely it is that whatever story I’m working on will ever be finished.

And, just like I’ve come to realize I have nothing to say about in-progress stories besides: ‘great job! I want to read it when you’re done!’, I don’t find middle-of-the-story critique to be particularly helpful. Sharing something mid-work is fun, but that’s not when I really need feedback. I like being able to look at the big picture – in my work or in someone else’s – because that’s when you can really tell whether or not there are plot threads that go nowhere, or whether or not your foreshadowing or firearm-and-mantlepiece moments actually function as intended. You get developed themes all the way to their conclusion, and you can figure out if that oddly dangling big of description or world-building from the beginning actually matters by the time you get to the end or if you can sacrifice it on the alter of pacing.

What I end up sharing with my crit group are little thousand-word (or less) stories that I’ve whomped out in the week before group, if I actually get something done for it. I don’t feel too badly when I don’t get a nibble of writing out, though, because the group is actually rather large, and in a week I’ll usually have chunks of at least three novels/serials/screenplays to catch up on.

Even though my feedback is increasingly: I love it! Please finish it! (My crit group is very talented. :))

Everyone’s process is different, and some of the others in my group are the sort who want the encouragement that comes with someone reading, appreciating, and wanting more as they’re writing. I haven’t quite sorted out if it’s a function of being a ‘love having written’ type of writer, or just because positive feedback is very inspiring, but I do know that it’s very different from how I prefer to operate.

So – from the looks of it, I won’t have anything to share with my group (barring short stories) for at least another month. If not more. Work on Station is continuing apace, though at the moment I’m struggling with a sticky bit right near the end and I’m a little uncertain about whether I like the solution I’ve come up with or not. The modifications are looking quite good, though, and I’m pleased overall.

Next writer’s group is in less than a month! I hope to have something for everyone to read this time, even if only something short.