You did all the homework. You met the participants of the writing group you were considering and made sure the expectations were lined up with your own.
But still, the worst has happened. Your group is a hot, dysfunctional mess.
Maybe you had a productive year with the group and now it’s stagnating. Or maybe there is one individual in the group that has messy boundaries and brings drama instead of their manuscript. Or maybe half the group is flaky or there are contradictory expectations from the different members.
There are lots of ways a writing group can go bad, and once that happens, it might feel impossible to recover.
Before you can treat what ails your group, you’ll need to identify the problem. Is it the whole group or just one person. Is it a personality thing or a situation of conflicting goals? Maybe it’s pacing issues? You are slower than the rest? Or faster?
Once the source of your group angst is clear, you have a few options.
- Talk to the offending individual (if it’s one person that you are clashing with)
- Talk to the entire group if it feels as though the focus of the group has gone off into the ditch
- Consider breaking off into a smaller group with those who have similar goals and styles
- Leave the group
Before you start pointing fingers, ask yourself: Is it your fault the group is floundering? It is possible that you are the reason that your group is a hot mess.
Self-evaluation is worth its weight in gold. Are you flaky? Do you expect everyone else to read your work, but find yourself consistently failing to hold up your end?
Maybe you no-show. Do you bring your real life drama to the group and when the groups settles into business, you fail to shift gears?
Do you bring a buddy to the writing group who is not a member? Does the guest hover awkwardly and stare at the other members? If you have ever been in a writing group, you will know that I am not joking with these questions. There is in all of us a touch of madness. The question is how much is too much?
Is your eccentric self too much for the general population too handle?
If you answered yes or even a strong maybe to any of the above, you are going to have to get yourself together. Ask yourself if you can pull up your boot straps and be a functioning member of the group or if you just need to save the group some trouble and kick yourself out.
In the end, communication is key. Identify the issue, find out if the problem is group-wide or just a personality clash between you and another person. Once you figure out what the problem is, or who, you can determine if you need to leave or if there is a way to salvage the group.
Whatever you decide, don’t forget to remain, as ever, a consummate professional. This is your career, after all, even if it is only part-time. And you never know what bridges you might burn that will bring you regret later.
The best thing you can do to ensure a writing group free of toxins is to not be toxic yourself. Bring your best self to this group. Respect the time and knowledge the collective brings you and don’t abuse it. Or be abused. Don’t stick around if it’s not working. If a writing group cannot be fixed, it’s okay to move on. Sometimes we outgrow our situation. That’s good. It means we are growing. Which is, after all, the very point of a critique group–becoming the best version of ourselves.
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