Oh, boy! At my Left Coast Crime workshop, there was quite a reaction to the adamant directive that we should not be in writing critique groups. (I work with three throughout the year, so my ears perked up!)
This mandate came from Jan Burke (workshop leader) and Sue Grafton (guest author) during my day long, preconvention workshop. Jerrilyn Farmer (co-leader) moderated her response by saying it might be okay with the right people for a short time.
But no one of the three highly-successful writers thought that staying with a writing group for long periods of time helped make you a better writer.
In fact, the opposite.
Though none of them used the term, I connected their words with “learned helplessness” from my educator days. Learned helplessness is a condition of learning welfare that occurs when the student is given so much support to succeed that she cannot continue learning without the support. She abrogates her responsibility for learning, knowing she won’t be allowed to fail.
How does that relate to writing groups? My understanding of the views of Burke, Farmer, and Grafton is that they believe that writing groups hold authors back from being the best they can be. And, in fact, a writing group is the resort of the “lazy author” (my words as I interpreted theirs).
Sue Grafton said words to this effect: Why would you listen to other people who may write the same or less well than you? How does that make you better? It is YOUR job to know when something isn’t working in your manuscript, and you shouldn’t expect other people to do your job. Do the work. Put in the time. Brutally evaluate your own output. That’s your job if you call yourself a professional writer.
I can see both sides to the argument. (Of course I can. I’m a wishy-washy Libran.)
I realize that I do depend too much on my writing group colleagues to find and help fix my manuscripts. That is going to change. I am going to take more responsibility for being the professional I want to be.
By the same token, a part of me thinks that my critique groups also represent my potential readers. So isn’t that input helpful? To know what works or doesn’t? What is left out or extraneous?
"Nah," Sue Grafton, Jan Burke, and Jerrilyn Farmer would say. "That’s your job."