It’s time once again when the email queries of those seeking advice are answered, Smart Bitch style.
Dear Smart Bitch Sarah:
I’ve been a member of a critique group for a few years now, and the three of us have developed a wonderful dynamic. I know my writing is better because their questions and comments. Recently, though, one of the members asked if she could bring a friend into the group, and we agreed.
It really isn’t working out. At first I told myself that it was because I was so used to my critique group’s style that hers was so irritating. But after the third or fourth time we examined a chapter of her work in progress, I realized it wasn’t just me.
What’s really bothersome is that she doesn’t listen to our critiques at all. I’ve tried to focus my comments on one issue per chapter, and yes, I do make sure to say something complimentary, but she doesn’t listen or make any changes. She seems to want admiration more than critique. She doesn’t ever make critical comments on our work, and only praises us and asks for more of our stories to read.
The friend who brought her into the group is now wishing she hadn’t, but while we all agree she’s not contributing anything to the group, we don’t know how to ask her to leave, because she’ll be so hurt and it’ll certainly ruin her friendship with my one critique partner.
Do you have any advice how we can ask her to leave? Or how to get through to her?
Wanting Things Back the Way They Were
Dear Wanting Things:
Sit her down outside of the critique group and say that while you’ve enjoyed having her in the group, you’ve collectively decided that since you are in different places in your writing projects, you’re going back to the arrangement you had before she came. You wish her the best of luck, and maybe even offer to help her find someone who may make a better partner. But you say, “Thanks, and good bye.”
If you want to get specific, tell her that you don’t think your suggestions are being met with any serious consideration. Give examples. But simply say no, and make sure you present a united front while doing so.
Breaking up is never fun to do. But writing is an art and it’s a business. The art requires honest critique from people who want you to succeed, and the business requires that you forgo the urge to “be nice” and replace it with “be real.” Rejection is part of publishing. Setting limits is part of being an adult. And the three of you have reached a limit: your group, from the sounds of it, isn’t functioning as it used to since you added a fourth party.
Women, as a rule, are not encouraged to be forthright and assertive socially. We aren’t supposed to be “mean” to one another – and more often than not you can spot the villainess in a contemporary romance simply by her predilection for long, pointy, manicured red nails and a tendency to speak her mind and potentially hurt feelings.
Now, it could be that her writing is not to your taste, and that her style does not mesh with yours. Reading is, after all, subjective. It could be you resent the new dynamic and don’t like it as much, and that feeling is contributing to how you read her writing. Like I said: subjective.
But from your letter it seems that everyone in the group agrees that her writing and her critiques are not adding, but subtracting from the group’s progress. If you want to pursue writing as a career, you have to be able to set your own limits, define progress and regression, and remove obstacles.
If she’s an obstacle, then she needs to find another group to work with. Being nice will only make the problem more difficult as time passes, and being nice never does anyone any favors. So paint your nails red and break the nice cycle: it’s time to stand up for yourself, and your writing.
If your other critique partners aren’t willing to do so, there’s no reason why you have to participate in the group. It is ok, even acceptable – hell, it’s demanded in solitary endeavors like writing to look out for yourself first. And that’s what you have to do. As contrary as it may be to what’s expected of female group dynamics, your professional needs must come before any amount of “nice.” Yes, friendships may end and people may be angry, but this is business. It’s business time.