Joining a writing group is probably the best thing I’ve ever done, in terms of improving my writing. Getting other people to read and critique my work has forced me to look at my stories afresh. It’s sparked new ideas. And, uh, it’s stopped me from making completely boneheaded leaps of illogic in my fiction. I am unspeakably grateful to everyone who has ever agreed to read my work, because, quite honestly, it was probably a bit of a slog for them.
However, the fact remains that having your story critiqued can bear some resemblance to walking across hot coals. (Should I cut down on my hyperbole? … Are you critiquing me right now?) Some criticism, in particular, is incredibly frustrating to hear. That’s because critique’rs are human and, therefore, deeply flawed.
Let’s take a look at some of the archetypes that make up every writing group:
- The Adverb Police
“Slowly”? NOPE. “Sardonically”? NOPE. “Softly”? NOPE. You can rely on the adverb police to go through your work and cross out every adverb included, as if removing adverbs were the difference between abysmal writing and superfantastic writing. Bonus points if the adverb police officer also scrawls “show, don’t tell!” on every other page.
- The ‘Oh, this reminds me of…’ Girl
We all know there’s no such thing as an original idea, but the Reminds-Me-Of Girl is here to hammer that point home extra hard. She loves your story idea! She’ll also spend five minutes telling you about the many books, movies, and TV shows that it reminds her of…
- The ‘Oh, this reminds me of…’ Girl: Highbrow Remix
Bonus points if the Reminds-Me-Of Girl starts dropping incomprehensible references to philosophers or dead Russian authors.
- The Faint Praise Damner
Three words: I liked it. If you’ve ever had those three words fired directly at your face, you’ll know the deep and real pain of faint praise. Bonus points if it’s followed up with the word “but”.
- The Pedant
This critique’r eats a nourishing breakfast every morning of pulped Hart’s Rules, washed down with an Elements of Style smoothie. If there’s even one grammar mistake in your work, THEY’LL LET YOU KNOW. Oh boy, will they. Bonus points if they lapse into a rant about how “everyone does this and it’s not right, it’s just not right!”
- The Short-Term-Memory-Loss Victim
This well-meaning reader really likes your story … yet somehow can’t remember any details. They’ll call your main character “whatshisname”. They’ll forget everything that happened last chapter (even though you included a story-so-far blurb – goddamnit, Gladys, the hero is a WEREWOLF, not a vampire!), plus most of what happened this chapter. This means they’ll end up critiquing some piece of work that bears only a passing resemblance to yours.
- The Psychic
This is another well-intentioned reader, one who likes your story so much they’ll spend the entire session trying to guess what’s going to happen next. Left unchecked, a Psychic can easily become an Ideas Man…
- The Ideas Man
This guy or gal has a gift for you: IDEEEEEEAS! Their ideas are (they believe) amazing and they’re prepared to just give them to you. Aren’t you grateful?!? Weren’t you dying for someone to come along and tell you to include some aliens in your historical romance? Weren’t you hoping someone would drop a convoluted metaphor in your lap, in order to “jazz up” that scene in the mortuary? Well, here you are. You’re welcome.
- The Creative Writing Teacher
Regardless of the fact that this critique’r may be an accountant who’s never even taken a creative writing class, let alone taught one, they’ll be desperate to drop some knowledge on you – whether you want that knowledge-drop or not. Every critique session is a learning experience and the Creative Writing Teacher wants to shove that learning down your throat like a Victorian schoolmaster. They’re probably imagining themselves standing in front of an olde worlde chalk board, brandishing a cane.
- The One Who’ll Fix Your Problems For You
Then there’s the critique’r who enters each session from above, floating down in a flowing white gown, strumming a harp. This angel will exhibit a better understanding of your characters than you have. He or she will benevolently identify the key issue with your chapter and tell you how to fix it. Angel-y McAngelface will wave their magic wand over your writing (wait, am I mixing metaphors?) and open up new and exciting avenues for your story.
Of course, Reader #10 is so wonderful that it’s possible to stomach all the horrors of the other nine.
Also, if we’re being completely honest, even those of us with the best of intentions will occasionally slip into being a Reminds-Me-Of Girl sometimes. My pen hand always itches to cross through your adverbs. I can’t help but want to replot your whole chapter for you – completely against your will. However, I promise to make an effort to try and avoid these lapses in future …
What has your experience with writing groups been like? Do any of these archetypes ring bells for you?