Critique groups come and go, form then fall apart, gather and… sometimes keep gathering. My original critique group belongs in the hall of fame. They’ve been together approximately fifteen years. But more often than not, a critique group’s shelf life is longer than a jug of milk and shorter than a can of tomatoes.
My last group included a military writer, a Christian mom, a sizzling author of erotic romance, and me. And then there was *Bess. I put the asterisk beside her name because the details are messy and I’d rather no one got hurt.
So Bess didn’t last long. Reading her work was both a pleasure and a pain in the ass. She had a professional background in editing. Slaving over her Magnus Opus for the better part of two decades, her prose was technically perfect, the story engaging, but I didn’t have a clue about her genre… a fan-fiction offshoot of cult-famous sci-fi series published in the 1970s.
I wasn’t the only one sitting at the table, slack-jawed and slightly confused. I mean, in her outer-space world, there were warriors, royalty and magical *cats (not really cats, but I figured I better change this animal detail, too). Though we all tried to come up with constructive feedback, none of us were familiar with her genre.
It got worse. My pages were up next. She handed me my chapter with “great stuff” written at the top, had no comments, and drifted off, bored, for the remainder of the meeting. Did she think we were all just such awful writers she couldn’t bear to share her true feelings? Or was she lazy, and didn’t bother reading? Or shy? Or maybe our non-space-cat efforts just didn’t hold her interest.
This was a five-writer-date-from-hell. Space cats be damned, someone had to tell her this wasn’t the group for her. It fell to me and I broke up with Bess.
That’s where the “it’s not you, it’s us,” excuse came in so well. Her work was stellar, but the dynamic wasn’t there. She deserved critique partners who really got who she was and what she was writing about. A functioning critique group has members engaged in each other’s work, who exchange honest, thoughtful feedback.
Luckily, everyone got their happy ending. Bess landed her space cats in a sci-fi group, and the four of us kept critiquing until our group had an interstate move, a divorce, and life in general broke us up. But I keep hoping to one day open an email and read those magic words: Hey we’re getting the critique group back together!