Monday, December 15, 2008

Doom! Gloom! and Critique Groups

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I've been in the same critique group for over five years now and although it's been reconstituted in various forms there has been a constant core group of people who have provided me with considerable and (often) much needed support...But as 2008 draws to a close my writing group has started to feel decidedly disenchanted, jaded and (dare I say it) depressed...and I'm starting to fear it's partly due to me.

As the only published writer in the group I used to at least provide a bit of hope and some inspiration but now, given all the doom and gloom in the publishing industry, the group is starting to view the road to becoming and staying a published author as an insurmountable obstacle course. Sure I may have cleared the first few hurdles but now, as they watch me continue to traverse the mine field they are starting to ask - when does it ever get to be easy? I confess that I suspect it never does...that the obstacle race is never over, the hurdles just change...and then the group sinks back into despair once more.

Some members have said jokingly it's time we started writing erotica (okay, I confess I was one of them!) because hey, maybe we'd actually make money if we did...but then we all give ourselves a reality check and realize we cannot change what we write. As for most writers we tell the stories that need to be told - that well up from within and pour on to the page. We can't write to the market or try and pretend to be a different kind of writer (damn, damn, damn!).

My writing group meets every second Friday and, up until June this year, people were battling on but upbeat and determined. Now the group is teetering on the edge of despondency. While ruminating on this week's blog I visited, thinking there might be some funny one-liners from their spoof on the inspirational posters we've all seen gracing corporate America's walls. But while lines such as "Limitations - until you spread your wings, you'll have no idea how far you can walk", raised a smile I realized that the LAST thing we needed was more 'demotivation' for our work!

I keep thinking of that hilarious sci-fi spoof Galaxy Quest and I feel like I've turned into the Tim Allen character who cries "Never Give Up; Never Surrender!" from the bridge of his ridiculous spacecraft just as he faces probable annihilation...

So I'm turning to you all for advice. How can a writing and critique group support one another in these challenging times? What is the single best thing you have come away from this year, in terms of your writing, that might buoy the hopes of both the published and the unpublished writer?


  1. I'm in a great critique group. We're all mystery/thriller/suspense writers--some published, some not. As tough as the business is these days, it's not impossible to get published. Those of us who haven't had a book published yet need to remember that every book we write gets us closer to that goal. Look on writing as a learning process. If someone's only reason for writing is to be published, maybe they shouldn't be writing in the first place.

    Personally, I know I'm getting closer. I had a short story accepted for Mysterical-E (Spring 2009) and my critique group is saying good things about my WIP (and believe me, they are tough critics!). I just have to follow my own advice and keep plugging away!

    Too many unpublished writers dream about getting that big publishing contract instead of focusing on the words they're putting on the page. Keep writing and making each new project better than the last, and I believe eventually that contract will come (although it won't be as big as most writers hope).

  2. Joyce, your comment is right on the money. I agree with every word!

  3. Joyce, terrific comments. I think it's hard for many unpublished writers not to see publication as some kind of validation when it isn't (though it can be nice!). We all need to try to stay focused on the craft of writing and that's a great piece of advice for me to tell everyone this Friday when we meet!

  4. It is a tough environment right now, but bear in mind they'll need to publish something next year. I think good books always rise to the top.But then, I'm a perpetual optimist...

  5. In cruising through my usual blog stops, I ran across a post by an editor who acknowledged that this is a scary time for both published and unpublished authors, but that they should view 2009 as an opportunity to polish and perfect without the stress of worrying about publishing just yet. Things are gloomy now, but it's better to have something polished and perfect and ready to go once the upturn comes.

    Joyce, we may be appearing in the same issue of Mysterical-E. Joe told me possibly spring 2009, so we'll just have to wait and see.

  6. The good news is that none of us can lose our jobs as writers. Why? Because a depressed economy cannot stop us from thinking about and writing our stories. Writers are artists, not assembly line workers. We write our own books based upon our own original ideas. So there’s no such thing as getting laid off from our ideas. No one can get a pink slip from inspiration. Words and ideas are free, so the utility company can’t disconnect us or turn them off. The interest paid on our ideas is zero and so are the payments. They are not going down in value. Ideas don’t care at what level the stock market closed. There is no foreclosure on inspiration.

    No matter how depressed the economy gets, there will always be readers who want to be taken to a place they’ve never been before. That place is just inside our imagination. And the fare is free.

  7. Thanks for the uplifting words Joe! You are so right and I am always inspired to write so I feel lucky I get to pursue my passion. I think it is much harder for others in my group who feel like they are hitting their heads against the wall. I will be sure to tell them that at least we, unlike many other people, can provide an escape from the gloom and doom. Nothing like the imagination to make you feel better! Michelle - I'm hoping I can bottle you optimism and serve it at our next meeting!

  8. Here are my thoughts in terms of critique groups: Am I getting what I need from them? Am I contributing something useful to them in return? I've resigned from several groups because the groups didn't "grow" with me. Too often writers in my groups forget to focus on the craft of writing, as opposed to the insiration behind the writing. I'd love to find a critique group that is ahead of me in terms of publishing progress. I do find it hard when the groups look to me for inspiration, when my own sense of inspiration is lacking!

  9. Great(and timely) comment Kathryn. I feel it hard trying to rally the group when I have no pep left myself! Also I'm the only mystery writer in the group so I am facing the challenge of getting more out of it than just emotional support - I need people to push my craft but as yet I haven't pulled away. The group provided so much emotional support in the early days that I would feel guilty leaving though I think you make very valid points - perhaps I really should for the sake of the writing.

  10. The thing I keep doing that makes me optimistic about my future success is investing. I invest the necessary time, energy, research, and money in my novel writing endeavor. There is always an audience for good storytelling, even if it doesn't make you rich.