Group Headaches

March 9, 2017

Writing Groups. Sheesh.

 

I tried to be involved in a writing group on GoodReads one time. I put my name and email out there, hoping that maybe I could start receiving feedback and helping others as well. I got a ton of requests. To read other people’s work. No one to review my own.

 

But, that’s okay, I thought. I’ll give it a shot. I read a whole lot; maybe I could help someone.

 

Now, I must put this down as a warning; a sort of asterisk next to this blog: Certainly what I’m about to say does not include the vast majority of people out there.

 

BUT.

 

Everyone who repeatedly asked to have me review their work was extremely desperate. Their profiles all labeled themselves as authors or full-time writers, yet none of them had so much as a blog for me to get a feel for their writing. Just one manuscript. And most manuscripts were just oh-so-awful.

 

Not all of them were unedited; that isn’t my point. Some were well-edited. That isn’t even my gripe, hell, I put a lot of my stuff up after only one or two drafts. I’m sure a lot of what I post should be put back in the oven for a bit, but this site is part of my workout; my formal-gym. At home, I do my daily writings, my “casual exercise” and the site I put out those finished comics, blogs, etc. It’s good to have deadlines, and people who finish large pieces of work, regardless of quality, should be applauded. Seriously. I’ve said it before, and I will keep saying it: writing is hard work.

 

The absolute AVALANCHE of requests was overwhelming. Anxiety kicked in; I had to post on the thread I’ve committed to too many things and to please stop sending things to me. Pure craziness ensued, but I decided to push past it.

 

I barely made it. I would never publicly say, or even privately criticize people for their writing. There are PUBLISHED works that I don’t like, and I’m well aware of where I stand among most people who post on the internet. I’m probably a bit better than most, but still below average. Everyone has a blog, an opinion or a book they want to get published. But many of these were bad, and long, long works. I could not give up, I had to finish them! Which is fine, that’s what I signed up to do!

 

The issue is, everyone in these groups thinks themselves the next best thing and want you to read their work, but are not willing to put in the time or effort to do the same back. I tried to be both honest, and kind in my reviews. I tried to point out an equal amount of good and bad, make serious recommendations, etc.

 

That was hard to do because some manuscripts I received were almost painful to read. Again, writing is hard, and I’m no Faulkner.

Because of the sludge I had to work through, a lot of what was decent became a chore as well. As of now, I have stopped doing it. My passion for it was quickly killed. None of my work reviewed, even after I reviewed so many things for people.

This brings me back to that original statement: writing groups. They are massively important. In college, I was involved in a few, but none of them went far, or I just dropped out. It’s extremely hard to find a group or even one person that you can trust to give you honest and helpful feedback. The importance versus the difficulty is what I think stops most people from actually improving. A lot of ego is involved in people not sticking with them as well, but to trust someone with your private project: something you’ve spent hours on, really trying to improve yourself and your intellect… it’s a painstaking and highly anxiety ridden thing.

When you look back upon some of the greatest authors of our time (since I am a fantasy lit nerd I will use that as my focus here) authors such as Tolkien and Lewis, you discover had small, trusted communities that reviewed each other's works.  This particular group existed at the time all these authors were publishing their major works, at Oxford University.

I guess that’s one way to join a productive, and achieving writing group.

If you’re not at a university, or not involved in writing as a career, this can make it tough to find one. You have to resort to local groups, which tend not to last long (people hate commitment), or to search online. I have yet to find one worth staying in, for reasons stated above.

If you’re out there, don’t give up hope. Keep searching, I know I will. Plus, one of the best resources aspiring writers have is your friends who are willing to look at your stuff. But, one word of advice: it is a give and take relationship. Do not just hand out your work, but if someone wants you to look at theirs make sure you do it. Be kind, be honest; try to help as much as possible. In the end, it will be worth it.

--f.h.

 

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