Seriously, We’re Only Human
I’m a member of a writing group where I live. Though we’ve moved location a couple of times, and ‘jettisoned’ our, ahem…messianic leader along the way, we have managed to remain together for over two years, developing into a strong, friendly group of people who love to write.
You’ll probably notice that I didn’t describe us as a group of writers? Some in the group could be placed in that category, but most are simply lovely people who like to write creatively, especially at our weekly meeting where some really good material is produced.
We’re currently putting an anthology together, and have spent the last three months or so reading and critiquing each other’s work, always endeavouring to make the process as collaborative as possible.
On the most part it’s been a positive experience, with most of the group taking an active part in the project. Many of them would have had little or no critiquing experience so it was great to see them grasping what can sometimes be an awkward nettle. As in any group, much of the work falls on the backs of a small number of people who maybe have more experience or aptitude, but this is okay once the rest are willing to tie in and support the open process.
It’s so important in these collaborative projects that everyone understands that opinions are just that - not personal, or de-facto – and that we’re all on the same side, looking to bring everyone’s work to the best place it can possibly be before going to press.
Thing is, when you’re close and friendly with members of a group, and when you know how passionate they may feel about their writing – even though they may just be enthusiasts - how honest are you willing to be when critiquing their work? I mean, in the ‘real’ world of writing and commercial publishing, friendship has to go out the door if there’s to be any chance of work being accepted. But in a writing group, where everyone knows each other nearly as well as can be, would you be willing to go the ‘whole hog’ when critting that friend’s pieces? I mean, we are only human after all, so it’s understandable that you might hold back a little, or a lot, on revealing the truth about the piece, especially if they’re the sensitive type.
This is where I found myself. Now I’m usually straight as a dye, but sometimes - rarely - I find myself pulling back a little where I feel my opinions might offend someone who I know to be a sensitive soul, who loves what they write, but whose standard might not reach the level they perceive themselves to be at. So basically, what I’m saying is, I felt I couldn’t crit to my satisfaction for fear of breaking someone’s heart.
This was a big problem for me, and more so for us as a group, particularly where the quality of our anthology was concerned. If we weren’t being completely honest with each other, then what’s the point of putting the book out in the first place? I for one wouldn’t be able to stand behind it. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d want my work in it. So, lonnnngggg story cut just a tiny bit shorter, we’ve decided to commission an independent editor. While the vast majority of our work has been brought as far as we can bring it, there’s no doubting the benefits an established, and respected, writer/editor will bring, not just to our work, but to how the book is perceived by the public. It’s not a profit-making venture, but extra kudos never does any harm, and…and, apart from our more sensitive friends in the group seeing reality for what it is, I’ll also receive a real outsider’s view of my work. Groovy. Hope I’m able for it.