Why writers’ critique groups disappoint

I’ve tried quite a few critique groups. You know, a bunch of folks who present written pieces for commentary. They vary in format and style and frequency, but typically grumpy old me finds them wanting and leaves. Why?

I can think of many reasons why I or any writer might find a particular critique group unsuitable. A personality clash with a group member is one possibility. A critique group mightn’t be well managed, with individuals grandstanding or lacerating. A group might meet too often or not often enough. The.culture could be poisonous.

But the issue I’ve personally encountered most is a simple technical one. For me it’s important that all the writers in the group are roughly “of the same standard.” Yes, I know that defining writing “quality” is subjective, but the issue to me is how I feel the group stands in relation to my own perception of how well I write.

Specifically, I usually exit a writing group because I find too many members are “not good enough,” a judgement that damns those who don’t write much and whose pages are, in my opinion, even more amateurish than mine.

So that’s why I’m so enamoured with the Inner City Writers Group. All of us are equals. All of us are producing real manuscripts. All of us will one day be rich and famous. Well . . .

Writing Big Year: Blerggggh

York’s two-and-a-half days of Chapter 5 drafting: the left image shows plot points covered, that is, three; the right image depicts plot points undrafted, i.e. heaps. Not a grand result, though part of it is due to collapsing a big 1953 tale into a short aside, something I’m glad I’ve done. An empty feeling . . . not because I “underachieved,” but because tomorrow we start a seventeen-day trek across England, the Coast To Coast, and right now all I wish is that I could sit back down to write more, but I cannot.

York work

Here I be. Home during daylight hours for half of Thursday and all of Friday and Saturday. The plan: speed-draft Chapter 5, based on plot cards. I don’t think I can do it. I think I can do it. I don’t believe I can. I believe I can.

Word and Ulysses

Like many people, I’ve been tied to Microsoft Word for decades. In the past I tried various alternatives but none worked well enough. Word is comprehensive, robust (though for many years it wasn’t, I used to save documents often to avoid losing them) and quite easy to use. But now I work across hardware enemies – a Windows desktop and Apple phone/tablet – and Word began to irritate me. Syncing with Microsoft’s OneDrive was so, so slow, and the iPad version of Word was okay but only just okay.

Ali Dawes introduced me to Ulysses. What a revelation! I’ve now switched to doing all my drafting on the iPad (and occasionally the iPhone!), eventually porting my words back onto the desktop’s Word (a bit clunky but okay). What do I like about Ulysses?

  • It’s a typing program with a really clean interface that encourages wordsmithing. (It has many more features, such a markup language, which I’m slowly absorbing.)
  • It syncs, using iCloud, really fast and seamlessly.
  • The way Ulysses organises folders and documents (they’re called sheets) is very logical yet flexible.
  • Everything about it is modern, cool and useful.

That first feature, the way it encourages me to write just like a pen does, is the one that sways me. I can’t recommend Ulysses highly enough.

The big demands of a Big Year

A Big Year makes unreasonable demands. In Daybook: The Journal of an Artist, Anne Truitt captured one aspect of this, when she wrote that

the knowledge that the week stretches ahead of me, full of people, just when I need the solitude that provides the mental space and physical pacing that eases my work, the feeling of being frayed by demands tangent to my purposes—all these mental rats snarled and scurried.

Big year conflicts, management thereof

A month ago, desperate to finish a chapter, I skipped a gym session. Now, my Jogging Big Year is nearly all about 1,600 kms, but I’ve been insisting that on every non-jogging day I would do gym. So in my mind I’d made a decision to commit a minor Jogging Big Year breach in order to attend to the Writing Big Year.

Then, two days later, even more desperate to finish that chapter, I  did the unthinkable – I did not jog on a jogging day. For the first time this year, during a week entirely in Melbourne, I jogged not 40 but 30 kms. Major breach, major breach.

It seems to me that conflicts of this sort must arise. All you can do is steel yourself and decide between the two conflicting goals.

But here’s the good news – I rose extra early the next morning – the day we flew out – and fitted in a jog otherwise not planned. Peace of mind . . .