From the Back Nine: Critique groups

  • Wednesday, August 2, 2017 1:30am
  • Opinion

I’m not much for joining in. I’ve never been to a quilting bee or a hootenanny. My last square dance was 57 years ago. I don’t know for a fact, but I’m pretty sure joiners are friendly folk who don’t tell each other they suck.

Writers do. We flock together for the express purpose of critiquing each other’s work. It is the same streak of sadomasochism that makes us want to be writers in the first place.

The problem with critiquing a writer’s work is that you might as well critique her heart, mind, waistline or children. Even the gentlest “You suck but only a little and only just this once” can hurt like the very devil. And, big surprise here, not all writers are gentle. Some might say something like, “Disappointment is one of your books under the Christmas tree.” Now you are not only hurt but angry.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

In truth, it isn’t always possible to be kind no matter how hard you try. My first critique group was a bevy of hard-to-spell personality disorders. At least two of them were passionate about their manuscripts which were, I’m sorry to say, pure crap.

Even Thumper would have had trouble finding something nice to say (saying nothing at all is not an option in a critique group). Maybe something like, “Have you considered medical school?”

The real problem in the group was Alpha Male. One meeting, I suggested one of his phrases was a bit esoteric. His eyes took on that disturbing you-harpies-are-all-alike look. He threw his pages in the air and snarled, “Do you really think it is the writer’s responsibility to dumb down his work to match the lowest of the readers?”

All righty, then. Having achieved the status of “the lowest” I figured I had little to gain from reading his stories and he had little to gain from reading mine. Clearly the group would function better without me and vice versa.

So I left.

Oddly, none of the members sent me a thanks-it’s-been-great-wish-you-all-the-luck-in-the-world email except, you guessed it, Alpha Male who wrote “I’m sorry that you are resigning from our group. Your comments were generally among the most insightful and helpful.”

I believe that may say more about the rest of the group than about me. Anyway, it is one more example of how difficult it is to really understand an Alpha Male which has been a failing of mine for seven decades.

As time went on, I joined another group and then another. Thus far, the one I’m in now may argue, snipe and adjudicate, but we have refrained from throwing pies or cat calls. Not that it couldn’t start any day now.

Something for me to look forward to, here on the back nine.

Linda B. Myers is a founding member of Olympic Peninsula Authors and writer of such books as “Fun House Chronicles,” and the Bear Jacobs mystery series. Her newest novel, “Bear At Sea,” published in March, is now available at amazon.com. Contact her at myerslindab@gmail.com or Facebook.com/lindabmyers.author.

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