The pros and cons of joining writing groups has been debated for years. Objectively, having a group of dedicated writers commenting on your work seems like a no-brainer. Being part of a caring coffee klatsch of fellow writers will make your writing better. Having honest feedback can only help, right?
I’m not so sure.
Cover by Committee
When I was designing book covers, there was a term the design department used for most of the covers we designed: cover by committee. You see, once you’ve designed your initial cover, you show it to your work mates, who make suggestions. You incorporate some of them and now have a few alternative cover designs. Next, you pass your revised covers on to your department head. She makes comments, and you rework the covers to include those. The editorial department evaluates the covers, giving their input, and you revise again. Then it’s time for the marketing department’s review. Seven people stand around giving their opinions—and often their demands—on your three prototypes. “It’s not sexy enough.” (Whatever the hell that means!) “I want all caps for the title.” (Which, of course, goes against the best typographic principles.) “I only like black and red covers. They sell the best.” (Great. Scrap the carefully thought-out color palette that’s supposed to echo the book’s theme.) Finally, the publisher adds his ideas, and the resultant cover looks nothing like your original design. Oh, mustn’t forget the author. She has a say, too, but it’s usually overridden. The “good” authors love their covers.
What Does This Have to Do with
Joining a Writing Group?
More than you’d think. Really. You see, no matter whether they’re online groups or forums, or in-the-flesh circles, they’re essentially committees. Groups of people meeting for a specific function [fill_in_the_blank]. They call themselves something else and boast that they’re all about “friendly competition” and “constructive criticism.” They’re still committees, composed of individuals of varying backgrounds and experience, meeting to help others write better and have others help them.
I Don’t Want Lumpy
I’m sure that the contributions are heartfelt and sincere; I just don’t want to hear them. I’ve learned that committees take the essence of an idea and massage it until it’s so lumpy that it doesn’t resemble the original. Lincoln said it best. You can’t please all the people all the time. There will be those who love your work and those who hate it. There are even some who didn’t like the Harry Potter series. (Gasp. Twelve agents rejected the first book. My husband said it was boring. I loved it.)
Reading Buddies, I Love You
Am I antisocial? Maybe. Am I afraid of criticism? Absolutely. Am I oversensitive? Admittedly. It’s not that I don’t want feedback. I do. But I think that having a few reading buddies you trust, with whom you’ve built relationships, works best. At least for me.
You might not agree, and that’s fine. What works for some doesn’t work for others. My point, really.