All good things must come to an end. Here’s how to know when to bail and how best to do it.
|Claire Splan||Dec 2, 2020|
Finding a good, supportive writing group can be one of the more valuable steps a writer can take in their creative and professional development. The right group can help to keep you inspired and productive, hone your editing and critiquing skills, and stretch your creative habits and goals.
But in time even a good writing group can cease to be helpful. Sometimes changes in the group membership can shift its focus or tone. Sometimes you’re the one that changes and the group is no longer a good fit for your writing purposes. And sometimes, as with any kind of relationship, people just get tired of each other and want to find new sources to meet their needs.
The relationships forged in writing groups can become oddly intimate. After all, you do open yourself up to each other in very personal ways by sharing your writing with each other. So it’s important to recognize when your relationship with the group is no longer working for you and that you make your exit in a way that’s positive and forward-looking. Following are some of the situations where you might want to make a graceful exit.
You’re spending more time reading and critiquing than writing
The goal of being in a writing group should always be to make you a better, more productive writer. If you find that too much of your writing time is being taken up reading and commenting on the writings of your group and that your own writing is suffering, that’s a big red flag.
For example, I’ve been in groups where people might re-submit a chapter for critique again and again after revisions, taking up lots of precious time of the group’s members but not really moving the project much further along. Sometimes this can be rectified by establishing group rules for how much time should be spent critiquing in between sessions or how often any member can send around work for critique. But if the problem persists, you’re likely to find that you’re giving more than you’re getting out of the group.
You’re writing in a genre or subject area outside the group’s range of experience
It’s good to leave yourself room to explore new subjects, forms, and genres, but if your group mainly writes general fiction and you decide to try writing sci-fi or poetry or lyrical essays, it may be a mistake to bring your new work to the group for commentary. Inviting critiques from people who aren’t really familiar with the genre can result in unhelpful or even damaging feedback that can set you back.
Be aware of where your writing impulses are leading you but don’t expect that your current writing group will be ready or prepared to follow along.
You’re starting to feel like you’re writing by committee
Sometimes writers get into a habit of submitting works in progress to their writing group and then incorporating whatever feedback they get into the revision without carefully considering if the comments are in line with their intention for the piece. That might be due to an effort to please every reader or from lacking a clear vision for what the piece should be. Sometimes it’s just due to creative laziness and using your writing group as a crutch.
Whatever the reason, when you blindly incorp feedback into your writing you might as well have assigned a committee to write it. That’s not a situation that is furthering your development as a writer.
One or two people are dominating the group or not getting along
The interplay of personalities is always a critical factor in the usefulness of a writing group and that can change over time. Relationships and alliances may shift or deteriorate completely. New members coming into the group can dramatically alter the dynamic, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Ignoring personality conflicts rarely helps. Confronting the conflicts can sometimes defuse a situation but not always, and it can eat up time and energy of the entire group. If personality issues don’t seem to find a resolution, you (and perhaps the rest of the group) will eventually have to make a choice: either the problem personalities go or you do.
How to make a graceful (and grateful) exit
The best and most adult way to leave a writing group is to do it cleanly and honestly without anger or bitterness. This is not the time to unload all the complaints and petty criticisms you’ve been holding back on. Keep in mind that the writing community can sometimes be a small world and there’s a chance that in the future you may once again encounter the people you’re leaving behind. Karma can be a tough writing instructor.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for taking your leave:
Don’t burn bridges
Even if you have no reason to think you’ll want to rejoin the group, there’s no need to act with 100% finality. Think of it more like leaving a restaurant after you finished a meal rather than divorcing a spouse you never want to see again.
Do thank the group members
Collectively and individually, for their feedback and encouragement, even if you feel they were not all that helpful. Trust me on this — you learned something from them, even if it’s not yet clear to you.
Don’t imply that you’ve outgrown the group
It’s not a competition or a race. It’s about finding the right fit for your writing goals.
Do gather contact information from everyone
And leave your information with them. These people are still part of your writing tribe, even if you’re not in regular contact with them. Add them to the email list of writing contacts you should be building.
Don’t waste everyone’s time revisiting old grievances
It’s done. And it’s not Festivus. You’ve made the decision to move on, and the past no longer matters.
Do offer encouragement and pledge continued support for the group members’ writing
Follow them on social media and applaud their accomplishments. Attend readings when invited. Commiserate when they’re discouraged. Be a mensch.