Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Writing Critique Group Synergy

"A friend loves at all times,and a brother is born for adversity." Proverbs 17:17 NIV

A friend called. She’s experiencing frustration with the writing critique group that she started six months ago. As she talked, I recognized similar situations I faced.

When I initiated a writing critique group six years ago, we started with “the basic rules”—what’s expected. Time. Place. Critique and Manuscript Rotation Schedule.

Early on, one person hijacked the group. More time was spent trying to resolve or keep her anger and personal agenda in check than the group spent writing or critiquing. That hurtful experience was a turning point in my life. I realized that pursuing my calling and the passion to write was more important than pleasing her.

Getting on the Same Page
I thought everyone in the group was on the same writing page. Not.

My expectations included:
* Write on a regular basis
* Polish writing skills
* Achieve writing goals
* Obtain honest and constructive feedback
* Have manuscript critiqued not once, but many times
* Discover writing strengths
* Overcome writing weaknesses
* Share rejections
* Applaud accomplishments
* Be a safe place.

Sounded reasonable to me. As time passed, our group excitedly shared articles on how to improve our writing or market our manuscripts. Everyone in the group paid heed and applied everything we were learning together. Trust developed.

Then we started to set the bar higher. We—

* Asked submitters to spell check and paginate before submitting a manuscript to the group.
* Wrote group guidelines.
* Created manuscript submission guidelines.
* Explained the kind of critique we wanted: Big picture? Fine line? Brainstorming?
* Requested target audience and writer’s guidelines for target market so we could critique more effectively.

At some point, these standards became automatic, which can be frustrating to a new member.

Distractions I Never Expected
It’s the unexpected that throws a group into conflict.
* Hurt feelings.
* Insecurities.
* Jealousy.
* Whining.
* Control freaks.
* Negative, angry attitudes.
* Uncommitted members don’t meet manuscript deadlines or provide critiques.
* A member consistently arrives late.
* One member has a different agenda than the rest of the group.
* Asking someone to leave.
* Meeting starts or ends late.
* Meeting schedule isn’t followed.
* Someone takes and doesn’t put an equal effort into giving.
* Different agendas of what the group is—writing group, support group, prayer group.
* Disagreements whether we pray at the beginning or end of our meeting time.
* Individuals creating endless rules to control others.
* Misunderstandings blow out of proportion.
* Shutting the group down.

The Evolution of a Writers Group
Every issue was a crossroad. Which direction would the group go? Beth and I reevaluated: What is our group about? Through good times and bad, we evolved from a beginning writers group to professional writers group.

All Beat Up and Grown Up
Even though Beth, Tiffany and I have different gifts, writing voices, opportunities, and target audiences, our writing goals and hearts are united. Our meeting time is nonnegotiable—but we are not meeting today.

There are rare cases when unexpected circumstances turn our lives upside down. That’s when nonnegotiable becomes flexible. Tiffany’s merciful heart is helping someone in crisis. Beth and I decided not to meet and to use the time to write at home. Beth said, “Scoti, put your book proposal aside and just write chapters today.” Will do.

A critique group evolves.

In the beginning, the members met weekly and only critiqued manuscripts during that time. Now Beth, Tiffany and I sacrifice time during the week to help each other meet short and sometimes many deadlines.

We have no rules. They aren’t needed. Mutual respect reigns.

When I write, I hear Tiffany’s voice in my head, “Tell me more, Scoti.” Beth’s voice says, “You have three articles in this one article.” My voice cries, “Help me focus!”

Recently I expressed to Beth, “I’ve been rejected, betrayed and abandoned so many times that sometimes I’m afraid. What would I do if you weren’t in my life?”

Beth admitted, “I’ve thought the same thing.”

I’m not sure how to explain our critique group’s synergy, but here is where we are today. We—
* give each other grace
* admit our weaknesses
* think the best of each other
* commit to each person’s success
* embrace each other’s insecurities
* guard each other’s hearts and backs
* sacrifice to help each other—no matter what
* care about each other’s personal triumphs and struggles
* understand and accept that we are not perfect as people or writers
* appreciate and applaud each person’s writing voice, expertise, life experiences, and passions
* And we want to be joined at the hip for the rest of our lives. God willing.

Our group has become a safe place to open our hearts and writing veins. We bleed words and tears onto paper. We’ve become a place where grace abounds and dreams come true.

1 comment:

Beth K. Vogt said...

Safe places are not easily found--but well worth the wait.
I've got your back!

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