When I was in my twenties, I was part of a writers group that met every other Monday night at the local library. It wasn’t a genre-specific group; there were romance writers, fantasy writers, sci fi writers, and even one guy who wrote erotica, which was actually kind of sad because he was a twenty-eight year-old gay virgin who insisted on trying to write heterosexual sex scenes.
I guess you could say I was in my “literary” phase at that point. I wrote a lot of self-involved, pretentious bits that I referred to as “stream of consciousness writings” or “slice of life vignettes” because they really couldn’t be called stories in the purest sense of the word. They never went anywhere. Nothing ever happened. They had lots of showy prose, tons of descriptive passages and . . . not much else. Looking back, I am appalled that I actually had the chutzpah to share that crap with anyone, much less other writers.
And the other writers were savage. Ruthless. Brutal. They shredded my little pages of crap in ways that any critique group would be proud of. They talked to me about the importance of things like plot and conflict, and they introduced me to the term “purple prose.” I went home every other Monday night shaken to the core and rattled by their honesty, sometimes more than a little pissed off. There were weeks when I didn’t stop sulking until Thursday or Friday, because I thought they just weren’t smart enough to see the literary glory of what I had created. By Saturday, I usually realized they were right, and I was ready to dive back in and start editing.
When I look back on that time, I don’t remember ever thinking of them as bullies. I never got discouraged or questioned my dream of someday being a writer. Sure, I got my feelings hurt from time to time, but that was the first time in my life that I really felt like I was a writer. Those brutal critiques of my work didn’t make me want to give up; they made me want to do better so I could prove to everyone that I was as talented as I believed myself to be.
Now that life has given me the opportunity to start writing again, I’ve been searching for a new critique group, and I’ve discovered that the world has changed in the past twenty-odd years.
“Don’t listen to the bullies,” moderators will advise in the online critique group I recently joined. “Anybody who says there’s a problem with your work is probably just jealous.”
“If people don’t understand your work, it’s because they just aren’t trying hard enough.”
“They’re just trolls/bullies/competing authors.”
Are you freaking kidding me?!
Look, guys, it’s one thing to be self-confident. We all need to believe in ourselves as writers or we’ll never find the courage to share our work with the rest of the world. We’d be foolish to listen to every suggestion and change everything we write just to please everyone else. Of course we need to have faith in our own abilities. That’s one of the things we’re told over and over again as newbie authors: “Don’t stress about the bad reviews, because even famous writers get bad reviews once in a while.”
It’s absolutely, undeniably, 100% true that not everyone will like everything we write. We are all going to get the occasional bad review or return. We’re all going to hear bad things from people who don’t like our work or just don’t like us.
But . . .
At some point, don’t we all need to hear criticism of our work? I know I’m not a perfect writer, and that’s why I want to be a part of a critique group. I want to surround myself with other writers who care enough about our craft to tell me what they really think of my work. I want to spend my time with other writers who take the kind of pride in their writing that makes it okay to give and receive honest feedback.
That’s why I love the new review I just got on Love’s Little List that points out some potential problem areas. This reviewer isn’t bullying me. She sure as hell isn’t jealous of me, and I strongly doubt she’s a troll. She’s expressing a valid opinion and giving me a chance to see my book through her eyes and possibly learn about ways to make my next book better.
Pardon my bluntness here, but when did we writers become such a bunch of pussies?
I’ve had to walk away from one of my favorite writing forums. I need the support and friendship of my fellow writers, but I just don’t need all of the drama. While there are some really smart, helpful people over there who are willing to help, it’s a sad truth that the majority of posters are just looking for things to argue about, trying to pick a fight so they can cry “Bully! Troll!” For every helpful thread with proofreading tips or suggestions for self-publishing, there are ten others with arrogant asses bickering about the true definition of the term “justify” or whether Word is an acceptable program for uploading manuscripts.
Nine times out of ten, an author who posts a link to his book there and asks for feedback will end up leaving the forums in a flounce. See, they don’t want “feedback.” They want “praise.” But too many of the current generation of writers just don’t understand the difference between the two. When they ask for feedback, they are really asking for gushing adulation, not a true critique of their writing.
Stories abound of self-published authors who argue with their reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads. I’ve seen one guy who likes to remind his reviewers that he has a PhD and they don’t, so their reviews are worthless. Another one responds to criticism by saying that readers who spot plot holes in her book are just overthinking the story. There’s another who rants that all negative reactions to her work are being left by members of some grand conspiracy who seek her out just to tell her that they didn’t like her work.
These writers have to believe that anything less than praise is underserved because to believe otherwise would mean that they are not perfect. And that is just not acceptable to them.
And I find that terribly sad, because the savage, ruthless, brutal feedback I got on those long-ago Monday nights made me a better writer. It’s heartbreaking to realize that so many of today’s crop of writers will never have that chance to improve because they are unwilling to listen to criticism.
I miss my old critique group. I really need to thank them.