Shortly after finishing edits on my manuscript, I decided to join a writing group. I dove in and selected the first group I found; short-cutting my research and ignoring the prospect of what needs that group should fulfill. This is not to say they weren’t a welcoming gaggle of creative sorts; but they were definitely a group of people quite far removed from my intended audience. I discounted this important factor because I was all about convenience and they met mere minutes from my house. I further justified my means because we had a common goal. We aspired to get published. Sold!
Each member’s job was to post our work to the member site. It would be downloaded weekly for peer review/comments. I decided to participate as an auditor the first week and contribute the next. Feeling confident after that first session, I couldn’t wait for the next.
We opened the following Saturday with comments on the co-founder’s work. Most of the group showered her with high praise and accolades. When it came my turn to contribute, my peers were less than enthralled with what I had to say. Rather, as their discussion evolved, I found myself defending every comment I had made. I suggested what I thought was the obvious. The writer had violated the rules (six pages maximum, 12-pitch font, double-spaced, one-inch margin all around). She had crammed so much type into those six pages, I had great difficulty deciphering what was written. I listed two examples: 1) the typeface was ridiculously small (possibly 8-pitch), margins were non-existent; and 2) the content had an endless flow of vague pontification between the two characters. It was so extreme, by the time I was midway through the first page, I had no idea who was talking with whom and just exactly what the characters were talking about. The general consensus of the group toward my input was to discount its worth because I didn’t have enough background on her story. Apparently, they had been discussing her work for several weeks by that point.
Uh-oh, my work was up next. The first person likened my work to ‘…a soap opera that was going nowhere…’ On the heels of his feedback, the next iterated ‘…the opening was somewhat vague and cited one particular analogy I used: “…anchor that had been set and once it was lifted, the unknown of drifting aimlessly began…” She was stuck on the anchor. She took the anchor analogy literally and was confused because she didn’t get the connection between sailing and my story. I let that one roll off my back.
When the erotic/fantasy writer gave her critique, my blood began to boil. Before she began, she took a dramatic deep breath and condescendingly shook her head a few times. Her action made me think a wise sage was about to impart invaluable gospel. She told me with a great sense of authority that I had gotten my genre all wrong. Given the fact I had written the perspective of both adult and child in the opening, there was no way I could target the specific audience of young adult. Technically, she was right about the two perspectives. However, her delivery was hurtful and did give rise to my blood pressure. I shut down and began to mentally obsess about her work. Here was a person with a creepy affinity toward writing about the sadistic pleasures, joys and erotic Utopia of something half human/half beast arriving at the ultimate pleasure in life once it has consumed the innocent virgin bestowing her expertise on my novel. My story in comparison was no comparison! My analogy: I had written the equivalent of Pollyanna spending a summer in the mountains and was receiving comments toward its merit from the devil himself (or in this case, herself)! I gathered every ounce of strength to prepare and focus in order to receive the last person’s comments.
She was the founder of the group. She was the only member who had already been published many times over–a former journalist; had worked for a few newspapers; written several pieces for local and national trade publications and was working on her first novel. She too took a deep breath and simply said: “…I like what you’ve written. I think it’s a great start and cannot wait to hear what happens next… you’ve done a terrific job in defining your characters and there is sound emotion resonating from the pages… I can hear your voice…”
The world is full of critics who have a wealth of judgment to support their criticisms. Listen carefully for the useful nuggets of information and leave the rest behind. Constructive feedback fuels the journey as it further strengthens the writer.