my writing group is too damn nice

Yesterday, my writing group had a new experiment. Instead of meeting in someone’s house, as we have done for the past year, we agreed to meet in a pub.

Alas, a huge five-party altercation ensued. It nearly ended violently. When the check arrived and everyone had put in their money, we were significantly over.

It was the closest we’ve ever gotten to screaming at one another (nicely, of course). “I saw you overcontribute! Don’t lie to me! Take back your stinking overgenerous dollars!” etc.

We actually talked about our Niceness yesterday at the pub. I had been a guest at another writing group last week, and saw a very different kind of forum there–people jumping on one another, or telling one another baldly that the project was headed in the wrong direction, etc. I understand that some people thrive on this kind of critique, and indeed perhaps everyone needs it at a certain stage in their writing. In my case, I left feeling rather bad about myself (this despite the fact that at the end of the night, I hadn’t had the courage to actually share anything).

For me, the too-nice writing group is definitely what I need right now. At the point I’m at in my life, the hardest part about writing is sitting down and doing it. There are so many other ways I should be using my time, after all, so many obligations to other people and institution. But when I go sit with the Nice People, who have read whatever little thing I produced last week, and I hear nothing but their enthusiasm for the direction I’m going, or perhaps gentle critiques couched in emotional reactions to the story, well . . . then I go home and want to write more. At this stage, being cut down to size–even rightfully–might be just enough to make me think (or realize) that this is a rather pointless endeavor and I might as well not waste my time.

I’m always curious about how people share their writing, and where they find the inspirational feedback that helps them most (or, if they’re the kind of person who writes in an entirely solitary way, where they find their confidence–that is certainly something I’d like to understand better, too). Please tell me your writing story, if you have one.

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11 Responses to my writing group is too damn nice

  1. emilycross says:

    I’ll be honest I don’t think writer’s groups would work for me. I went to a writer’s workshop *for beginners* and the standard of writing was so amazing – just from random exercises that I felt I’d never be a writer. Really shook my confidence. So at the moment I generally email/post stuff up to be critiqued in private boards – I like mixture of opinion and hurts less than face-to-face

  2. jalluisi says:

    I’m on the edge of possibly joining a writer’s group for the first time – I’ve been invited to one, despite the fact that the only thing I’m currently writing is my blog. And I’m hovering on the edge of going or not going, largely because I feel like I’ve got way too much on my plate as it is; how can I possibly add regular writing to the mix? I mean, I have a full-time job, a part-time freelance job, an online class I’m taking, a blog, a book club, the gym (when I actually go), a husband, two dogs, and just general life maintenance and being social with family and friends – where could anything else possibly fit?! But I’m still intrigued enough that I haven’t said no yet…

  3. Karissa says:

    Ha, funny you posted this. Well one, because of what we were discussing just now, and two because I just got my rewrite of that old people story workshopped yesterday.

    You know, I love workshops. I totally struggle against feedback — I kinda want to defend all my choices, even in my head — but I like having the critique. It makes me think. I couldn’t deal with a group of total assholes, people just tearing you apart for the sake of tearing you apart, but I also hate it when people are too nice and just lavish you with praise. Partially because 1. I think people tend to be NICER to the work the sucks, because they’re afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings and 2. It’s entirely unhelpful and perhaps maybe even condescending. It makes me feel like maybe nobody in this room thinks I can do much better, so they’re just going to coddle me instead of pushing me to achieve my potential. I don’t know if I always felt that way, and certainly, my ego gets bruised when somebody tears me a new one, but at least for me, when I critique other people’s work, I’m nitpickiest yet most excited about work that I think truly has potential to be fabulous, or writers who I think are truly talented. I’m usually too bored or frustrated with bad writing to find much more than general craft things to say, and so when I only get vague comments from people regarding MY work, I start to wonder if perhaps it’s so bad that there’s nothing to say to make it better, so people don’t bother.

    I think it’s a natural thing to be insecure about your writing — I think if you’re an absolutely confident writer all the time, you probably suck. I do also think there’s a time and place for the kind of environment you can handle. When I was just tentatively putting my toes in the water about writing, I probably would have given up if all my stories were torn down. Not that I want to be torn down now. But I want someone to be like, Okay, I really think you’re good at THIS particular thing, but now let me tell you all the things that aren’t working for me. At the end of the day I think I need to hear the bad things, and then decide for myself if I agree or not. Perhaps that’s what it is though — having enough confidence in your vision as a writer to be able to hear all the bad stuff, and be able to figure out if it’s something that you should dismiss, or something you should consider. Just yesterday I had someone who was very hard on me in workshop tell me afterwards, “You know I’m only hard on you because I think you’re fantastic, and I want this to be the best it can be.” Well, THAT’S exactly what I want. Regardless of whether or not I end up taking his feedback, I want someone to tell me what they truly think without fear of hurting my feelings, because they see my potential to be get better.

    That, of course, doesn’t mean that I don’t still get defensive immediately and nurse my bruised ego afterwards. But then weeks pass by and then you see clearly, and then… on to revision.

    Wheee.. I wrote my own blog post in response to yours!

    • Oh hey, this reminded me of something that came up yesterday that I should have put in the initial post (woops).

      Wendy ( told a story about when she saw Joyce Carol Oates give a talk. JCO suggested that when you critique a piece of writing, you pretend it’s already been accepted for publication–in other words, try to do it in such a way as everything you say is designed to make the piece as good as it can be (as opposed to focusing on judgments, etc).

      This struck me as very wise.

      • JES says:

        Oooh, I like that.

        In software development teams… well, I don’t know what the practice is these days. But they used to tell us when you’re critiquing someone else’s code, negatively anyhow, you should avoid using the second person. (Say, I noticed at this point that the subroutine does X instead of …that you do X.) This forces you to address the product rather than its creator. More subtly, it also makes the creator less likely to become defensive.

  4. I love my critique group. They’re all nice ladies (it’s women only) and they know their stuff. We ask people to submit a sample, so we make sure that all the writers are at roughly the same level and that the group as a whole is interested enough in the person’s writing so that we never end up saying, “Well, it’s not my thing . . . ” For the longest time, if you had told me that I needed a critique group, I would have burst into tears and said that I didn’t want anybody else involved in my writing, and how dare you say that I’m not good enough on my own! But since actually joining a critique group, it’s true: no zealot like a convert. I’ve thought a lot about it, and the strongest feeling I get when I think about my critique group is a sense of relief. Yes, all the things they say about critique groups are true. You get companionship, a good edit, and motivation to produce writing regularly. For me, though, my critique group relieves me of the burden of being the only person who cares about my book. I used to think that if I had a critique group, then the book wouldn’t really be “mine” anymore. After having been in my group for a year and a half, I’m finally understanding that it’s just not true. I couldn’t write any of their stories, and they couldn’t write any of mine. It really is simply about helping each other.

    • Karen–yeah, I’m with you on these many points.

      It sounds to me like your crit group is a little more streamlined than mine is. I think a lot of us are at very infantile stages of creation, so our less streamlined situation works well. But definitely, as you progress, “it’s just not my thing” can become a bigger barrier to worthwhile commenting, I’m sure.

  5. Hey, it’s not just your group. Splitting a dinner bill is approximately as quick and easy as the Paris Peace Treaties.

    My writing group is a weekly social event with friends I made during NaNoWriMo. There’s more chatter than actual writing work, but the sense of mild peer pressure to get some writing done is helpful for everyone involved. Being NaNo participants, everyone has a good sense of when something is crazy enough to work. We tried making it a critique group but most members didn’t have the time. Which is a shame, because I thought they gave useful feedback!

    I don’t tend to have one steady, go-to source for critique, which is fine with me. I just like to check once in a while how my original writing is coming off to people outside my head — and anyone reasonably open-minded can fill that role. Open-mindedness is the important factor because my subject matter doesn’t follow the typical fantasy formula. If a person refuses to give non-traditional fantasy scenarios a chance, they’re just not going to like or accept my work and there’s no sense raising everyone’s blood pressure over it. It took a few critiques turning ugly for me to figure this out. Having a compatible crit style really is important!

  6. Roberta says:

    Gosh, I could really use a Too Nice Writing Group right now. You are a lucky duck. Enjoy it!

  7. JES says:

    I have no writing group. The one I was in years ago completely spoiled me, I’m afraid. We were all — or eventually became — close friends, who generally knew and honored what each of us wanted from our own writing. (Job changes, cross-country relocation, divorces, kids, and death eventually play hell with the most perfect group, alas.) Was in a couple smaller groups afterward, which sort of dried up and blew away.

    Since then I’ve often longed for feedback on something I’m working on, and wish too that I were seeing others raise questions about their own work in a non-angsty way. But the thought of introducing myself to a new group of unknown quantities, while I’m this far along in a WIP… I don’t know. It’d be tough for me, and not fair to the others in the group either.

  8. cindy says:

    i love my crit groups too. one is sort of
    on hiatus and i miss them terribly. i was very
    lucky to have found them when i did. i know
    Silver Phoenix would be a different book without
    their encouragement and comments. i do
    think a good crit group is hard to find.

    and i’m nervous to sub a new short story as
    i haven’t been critted in so long! (mainly because
    i worked directly with my editor for Fury.)

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