Be Careful For What You Wish

6 May

When I first found out about a new novel critique group online, I was delighted and eager to join. I thought this was the group for which I’ve been waiting.

I haven’t had as much experience with critique groups as I’ve wanted, in part because two critique groups I joined in the past fell apart. In both examples, I was one of maybe two people who wanted the group to continue. Yet it was like herding cats. People dropped out. They said they were too busy with other things, or they took a road trip. In short, they didn’t last, and I was again left without detailed developmental feedback while I continued writing more and more fiction.

Because of all this, and the fact that I wasn’t already in a novel critique group, I jumped at the chance to join this particular novel critique group, without knowing anyone in it.

Yesterday a friend pointed out to me that meeting people online is chancier than meeting them in person. If you meet people online, you have no idea what they’ll be like. If you meet them in person, you see how they conduct themselves and how they speak. You sense their energy.

I’ve only attended three meetings with this new novel critique group. During the second and third meeting, I received feedback on the novel I shared. I’ve been depressed and anxious ever since.

We’ve only been going over 2,500 words, about ten pages, at a time, rather than the more typical fifty or one hundred words you would expect from a novel critique group. However, we also shared synopses, which help to an extent. I find that this sort of micro-managing isn’t beneficial. A lot of the feedback I’ve received on my novel wouldn’t have happened if these people had read the first hundred pages rather than the first ten or twenty pages. I suspect that if I had told them this, they would have accused me of being defensive and would have said that unless you give such-and-such information earlier in the novel, the reader won’t connect with the protagonist and will give up reading.

Especially considering what a disturbing autobiographical novel I’ve been sharing, some of the feedback has been extremely insensitive and toxic. At first I thought I could handle it as long as I reminded myself that I am not the person I was twelve years ago, but that hasn’t been sufficient. After the first time I received feedback, I told myself that it hurt not because of the style of anyone’s feedback but because this particular novel is painful to revisit. At that early stage, this was at least partially correct.

However, if I had received feedback only from empathic, kind, sensitive people, then the feedback wouldn’t have triggered so much anxiety and depression. As it was, two people have given toxic, insensitive, and clueless feedback. That has been the primary cause of my humiliation, anxiety, and depression—not just the specific manuscript I chose. Certainly, it’s true I chose a disturbing novel, and it’s likely I wouldn’t have experienced as much humiliation, anxiety, and depression if I’d chosen a manuscript that isn’t autobiographical. However, considering the attitudes of these people, I still would have experienced some level of the same reactions. In the past, I have received scathing feedback from fiction that was devoid of autobiography, yet the feedback still hurt. In such cases, I’ve created a deep and sensitive protagonist, and the scathing and insensitive critique claimed that the protagonist was an unlikeable character. This situation with the novel critique group is very similar, but worse.

I have decided to refrain from sharing any more of this manuscript with this critique group. I admit that some of the feedback has been very useful—in fact, I have enough useful feedback to drastically revise the manuscript. However, I dread continuing to associate with this group and receiving more depressing and humiliating feedback. At this stage, I don’t feel inclined to even share a completely different manuscript. I would rather simply stop participating. It’s possible that maybe some time in the future I’ll be willing to share an extremely different novel with them, but currently I don’t wish to do so.

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