Last month I complained about my local writers' group because a handful of the members refrain from critiquing any piece outside the mainstream. Thus, anyone writing genre fiction, be it sci-fi, fantasy, or in my case, a story about a guy fighting crime whilst wearing spandex, will receive less feedback from the group as a whole.
Many of you recommended I escape post haste and join (or create) a smaller, more focused critique group. I thought it was sound advice, and went into last week's meeting fully intending it to be my last. I would call out the group for its behavior, stay for one final round of critiques, and then part ways, only remaining in touch with the few whose opinions I truly valued. But then a funny thing happened.
I enjoyed myself.
I raised the issue at the beginning of the meeting, reminding everyone that — as it states in the second line of the group's charter — fiction has many facets one can give feedback on that are independent of genre.1 A few people were quick to say they shared my sentiment; everyone else nodded in agreement. One woman even admitted her guilt.
Of course, it may have helped that the other four culprits from last month weren't in attendance. Three had stayed home because of the violent thunderstorms that had passed through that evening.2 Nevertheless, it felt like a minor victory.
We then went around the table and everyone provided useful feedback for the first story. Everyone, that is, except for the one woman who'd admitted her guilt just minutes earlier.3 But along with the critiques, we had a few good laughs, and afterward I stayed and chatted with a couple of the guys for another 45 minutes or so. For the first time in six visits, I left feeling positive about the group, rather than mixed.
Despite this, I don't know if I'll be heading back. Part of me thinks this was an outlier, that if I return I'll be asking myself why I bothered. Perhaps I should stick with my original plan, and just remain in touch with the few members whose opinions I truly value.
Or maybe, just maybe, the next meeting will coincide with another thunderstorm.
1 Dialogue, for instance. And description. There's also pacing, plotting, conflict, character arcs, character motivations, setting, structure, tone, and improper use of Comic Sans. (Here's a tip: Are you using Comic Sans? Then you're doing it wrong.)
2 That's right. I said "had passed through." As in, they'd already come and gone over an hour prior. It would seem these people can get scared off by both fantasy and reality. By both the futuristic and past events. By things both outside their comfort zone and things inside a temperate zone. (Yeah, that last one doesn't quite work. Too bad, I'm keeping it.)
3 She gave a two-sentence critique, the second sentence being: "I liked it." (In her defense, I've never heard her give a better critique.)