I believe in the workshop model of learning how to write. It isn’t how everyone should learn how to write, necessarily, but it worked for me. As a grad student, I presented my poems to a group of people. Everyone said what they had to say about it, and I was left to separate the wheat from the chaff. I learned how to find good moments in bad poems, and how to give measured, helpful critiques, and goddamn if that hasn’t helped me in every aspect of my life.

The local drama (that is, the drama in my head) is that I have joined a writing group for my prose. I’ve been in a poetry critique group since the beginning of time. But this prose thing is all new. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had more formal writing education than they did. This is not surprising, because I have more formal writing education than a lot of people. They had some good/useful things to say about my work. They told me where all my commas should be semi colons.*

*[Quick side discussion: They were right, there were places where I used commas instead of semi colons. I think this came from my poetry days when my poetry buddies yelled at me for using semi colons in a poem. “But it’s correct!!” I wailed. “We don’t care!!” they said. But in some of my prose I have a good litany going, and I don’t want to break it up with a semi colon, even if it’s technically correct. My writer brain and my editor brain are not in conversation about this. Opinions?]

As I drove home I began to wonder if the bright lights of a writing group were the right thing for the second draft of the Fucker. Did I want to keep it close to my chest and resolve my major structure issues before it sees the light of day? On the other hand, the other members of the group are fiction writers and attuned to questions of “arc”. As far as I’m concerned, ark is something that Noah built on a day like today, which is to say that I definitely need help with arc. And lord knows poets can’t help you with that sort of thing.

These people are the same population as my readers. I have more experience than they do. There were some awkward interpersonal dynamics. (I used a word in a nontraditional way—I’m allowed, I’m a poet!—but one of them made a comment about “is that what the kids are doing these days?” I stared at her for a moment. I look twelve, but of course, I’m thirty-ever-increasing-mumbles years old.) But they gave me the kind of critique I haven’t always had. Should I stay or should I go?


7 responses to “Critiques

  1. Unless they make you feel personally attacked or dismissed, maybe you should stay for a while and make sure this feedback is what you need?

    [Side discussion suggestion: when you’re writing fiction, hit your editor brain with a hammer and get as much down as possibly while she’s still stunned–you can apologize and let her loose during the third draft]

  2. I’ve always been a go-with-your-gut kind of gal in everything but work (think of it like your creative brain vs. editor brain). If you leave the group and are excited to get back to writing, keep going. If you leave and can’t wait to go home and have a drink while discussing the members AND have no interest in what you’re working on, head for the hills.
    Separately, if you have any insight into the ARC business, I’m all ears. I get it…but I really don’t. So there’s that.

  3. Keep in mind I’m not the right person to answer this question. After too many years of them, I’m sick to death of writing groups.

    I forget who said this, maybe Tom Perrotta, that there comes a point in your writing where you’ve had the groups, the practice, the feedback (good and bad), the education, the publishing and not, etc… when you finally just have to trust yourself and what you’re working on. Have a beta reader or two. Period.

    There are certainly writers who enjoy a group and get much out of it. Especially if you’ve found a group that clicks and you stay together for years and years. But when the group is more of a distraction or irritation than a help …..

    • Hm. I am way too arrogant to join a poetry group with people I don’t know, so perhaps it is my insecurity with my ability to write a prose book that made me join up. I’m probably looking for affirmation. Damn. This isn’t looking good.

      • Indy, between the amount of reading you do and your poetry creds, I can’t imagine you need anyone less qualified THAN YOU to tell you you’re on the right/wrong track? Maybe give it a few meetings and see how it goes?? Or sit in your silence until a good draft is banged out first?? So many options ….

        And know that I would be more than happy, anytime, to take a peek at a chapter or chapters and give you my opinion. I love to give my opinion! Ha!!!

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