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Karen Duvall
10-20-2008, 02:07 AM
Oh, woe is me. I've been with my critique group for a little over 10 years and these folks are terrific. That's not the woe part. The woe has to do with one member who doesn't "get" the story I'm writing and her critiques are woefully unhelpful.

We all write in different genres and I'm the only one who writes fantasy. It's always been somewhat of a problem because a couple of the older members get really confused over anything that doesn't mesh with the real world, but I'd just grit my teeth and take what I could from their feedback.

My latest work is extremely different from anything I've written before, and is very much out there. I love it, it's the best work I've done, and my agent is excited for me to finish it. But this one crit group member (she's in her mid seventies) is struggling with this story because it's dark (to her), and disturbing, and she doesn't understand the plot, and she doesn't like the characters at all. So I get to read through her confused comments and silly questions, and it's driving me just a little insane.

What can I do? I love this group otherwise. We've been together for a long time, we understand each other, and they're brilliant for the most part. They've helped me so much, all except for this one member. I've told her she doesn't have to read my work if it makes her uncomfortable, but I think she feels obligated to as a member of the group. I don't want to upset her, she's a sweet old lady, but I really don't want her to critique my stuff anymore. Can anyone here offer me some advice?

veinglory
10-20-2008, 02:09 AM
Why not just ignore her critique?

mscelina
10-20-2008, 02:12 AM
I agree. Just say "thanks, I'll take that into consideration" and chuck it in the bin.

Karen Duvall
10-20-2008, 02:14 AM
Why not just ignore her critique?

I already do, but I still read it. I just hate for her to go through all the trouble of reading my work and upsetting herself. I suppose that's all I can do, though. It just seems so cruel. :cry: I'd like to just not even read it, but my curiosity gets the better of me. If she says something, I just have to know what it is! Even if it's dumb.

WendyNYC
10-20-2008, 02:47 AM
Can you just say, "I understand this book isn't something you enjoy and that's fine, really. But it's probably not in either of our best interests if you spend your time reading and critiquing it."

Keyboard Hound
10-20-2008, 03:00 AM
Sometimes hurting one member of a group can carry over with everyone else, especially if all have been working together for a long time. I saw it happen once. And the lady in question was in her mid seventies and partly deaf. When she left, she took a lot of the heart from our group. And she took a lot of experience in understanding life situations we often write about.

I don't know exactly what was said that drove her away, because I was not at group that day and no one was talking later on. I do know one or two didn't like her feedback, but I always thought it would have been better for them to take it, smile and say thank you, and then ignore it than to have caused a rift that took years to get past.

If other feedback from the group is valuable, it's worth trying not to disrupt the group just to have that. Maybe the situation will improve.

IceCreamEmpress
10-20-2008, 03:02 AM
I think that telling her not to critique your work would be rude and unnecessary. Even if you don't get anything useful from her critiques, I find that critiquing others' work always gives me a fresh insight into my own. I don't see how cutting her off would do anything other than hurt her feelings and hurt the group dynamic.

sanssouci
10-20-2008, 03:10 AM
Wow, I have the exact same problem with my crit group. I'm the only SF/Horror writer in the bunch and these two older ladies HATE my stuff. All they write about is their dead relatives and I always try to be super helpful but they've never returned the favor. Grrr, so frustrating. I told them flat out that their comments aren't helpful to me, and pointed out the crits that have helped (the rest of the group is great). Now they go into a lot less detail about why they hate the violence and monsters etc.

Karen Duvall
10-20-2008, 03:34 AM
Heavy, heavy sigh. Well, thanks for understanding. I certainly don't want to hurt her feelings. I've just mentioned that if she finds my work offensive, I don't expect her to read it, but as I said, she does anyway. And some of her comments are helpful, though I have to read through a lot of silliness to find them. She's a retired English teacher, and though she's a bit old fashioned, there's still a great deal of expertise there that I can take advantage of.

She writes some interesting stuff, though it's literary and I have a hard time getting into it. And the usual craft points like character conflict and scene structure are things she's not particularly interested in adhering to. The rest of us are like broken records when we repeat our criticisms over the same issues ad nauseum, but she doesn't seem to notice. Isn't the definition of insanity to repeat the same action and expect a different result each time? :Wha:

veinglory
10-20-2008, 03:44 AM
I really do think it makes sense to scale efforts to fit results. If there is a person where the exchange his little worth, you both need to make less effort there. If you scaled back in responding to her crits, and giving her yours, it might give her permission to do the same. Otherwise you are both locked into doing things that you aren't benefiting from much, or enjoying.

Karen Duvall
10-20-2008, 03:47 AM
Good point, veinglory. Now just to convince her of this without hurting her feelings. Maybe it will reach that point eventually, naturally, as time goes on. And I do skip critting her stuff sometimes, and I make no apologies. Maybe she'll catch the hint and do the same (hope, hope, hope, hope...).

Anonymisty
10-20-2008, 04:26 AM
I joined a marvelous critique group many years ago. One of the members was a retired gentleman who wrote westerns, and absolutely did not "get" fantasy, my genre of choice. The first time I read pages to the group, he looked at me with a quizzical expression, and asked, "What drugs were you on when you wrote this?" :D

Karen Duvall
10-20-2008, 04:40 AM
LOL, Anonymisty, that sounds like the lady in my group. Ha! She's very befuddled by my strange creatures that really aren't that strange, and an alternate history New York City that doesn't align with her conception of what's normal in her world.

In her critique, which is like 3 pages long, she lists her five main problems with the chapter I submitted for review by the group (which is only chapter 2 of the book so far) and this is what she says:


And fifth, while I can take the dark quality of your world, the references to things I recognize from the familiar world, such as paper bags, Central Park, etc., confuse me. The characters accept them as part of their world, too, so I'm just not sure how they live in relation to my idea of normal.

Oy.

JoNightshade
10-20-2008, 05:01 AM
She writes some interesting stuff, though it's literary and I have a hard time getting into it. And the usual craft points like character conflict and scene structure are things she's not particularly interested in adhering to. The rest of us are like broken records when we repeat our criticisms over the same issues ad nauseum, but she doesn't seem to notice. Isn't the definition of insanity to repeat the same action and expect a different result each time? :Wha:

I'm not in a critique group, so I can't comment on that dynamic, but... I do have two elderly grandparents and I attend a Bible study that's mostly little old ladies. So my advice is to keep very, very much in mind that she's in her mid-seventies. Please forgive me for making blanket assumptions based on age, but a great many people, at this age, are very, very set in their ways. It's like it gets harder and harder to change and adapt the older you get. So for her to adapt in any way to your storytelling, which is new to her, will be very difficult, if not impossible. You're just not going to succeed on that front. In my Bible study, we have one woman who is in her eighties (everyone else is mostly sixties). She's a very sweet lady, still all together mentally, but the things she says often don't really go with what we're talking about, or she'll have misheard something, or misunderstood the question... anyway, the rest of us just give her an extra measure of grace because we respect her age and we know it's amazing that she even has the dedication to do something like this at her stage in life (our study is fairly intensive).

So anyway I guess my point is, if she wants to read and critique, let her. Thank her, be polite, and take what you can from it, knowing her limitations. :)

Blondchen
10-20-2008, 05:12 AM
I have no experience with critique groups, I'm afriad. But tons of experience with old ladies. Just remember this, to her television, answering machines and computers were all "strange creatures" at one point in time.

Is ther some way she CAN be of use to you? Like, if you ask her to look at one specific aspect of your writing, ignoring the fantastical elements she doesn't grasp?

Karen Duvall
10-20-2008, 05:16 AM
So anyway I guess my point is, if she wants to read and critique, let her. Thank her, be polite, and take what you can from it, knowing her limitations.

Of course you're right, Jo. I lost my 85 year old mother a couple of years ago to congestive heart failure and she was so bright and so open minded about everything that it's sometimes difficult to comprehend there are elderly people who aren't nearly as hip as dear old mom. Even my 75 year old mother-in-law is in the know, but she has a 16 year old grandson to keep up with. Like you say, some older folks are set in their ways, and it's kind of sad because life hasn't stopped for them and there's more they could learn if they were interested enough to learn it. Yet I'm totally respectful of the lady in my crit group and would never do or say anything to hurt her feelings.

Karen Duvall
10-20-2008, 05:22 AM
I have no experience with critique groups, I'm afriad. But tons of experience with old ladies. Just remember this, to her television, answering machines and computers were all "strange creatures" at one point in time.

Is ther some way she CAN be of use to you? Like, if you ask her to look at one specific aspect of your writing, ignoring the fantastical elements she doesn't grasp?

She's the ultimate grammar guru, so yeah, she's very useful in that area. You can't get better grammar help than her.

What's really amazing is how proficient she is on the computer. Granted she has a few technical issues, as do we all, but she keeps up in that regard. It's just imaginative new ideas she struggles with that don't conform to her reality. I think she might be religious because my "uninviting story" as she likes to call it is about demons and she finds that troubling. She doesn't know who to root for. :D

JoNightshade
10-20-2008, 05:22 AM
Incidentally, my own mother is nowhere near 70, and yet the technological divide between us periodically leaves me screaming. Silently. In my brain. :)

Karen Duvall
10-20-2008, 05:28 AM
Incidentally, my own mother is nowhere near 70, and yet the technological divide between us periodically leaves me screaming. Silently. In my brain. :)

LOL! Well, my mom was scared of the VCR when I bought her one for her birthday many years ago. But when it came to off the wall, outside the box, innovative and creative ideas, she was all over it. ;)

Dale Emery
10-20-2008, 09:11 AM
I just hate for her to go through all the trouble of reading my work and upsetting herself.

It's entirely her decision whether she wants to read it, especially after you offered her a face-saving way to avoid upsetting herself.

Continue to make the offer, and continue to accept her decisions about her own behavior.

Dale

Carmy
10-20-2008, 05:53 PM
It's tough, Karen. When I was invited to join the group I'm with, they were mostly poets and literary short-story writers. I mainly write history and fantasy novels. I also used UK English, still do. I found the poets' critiques very helpful, but the literary ladies gave me nothing I could use. Gradually, a few more members joined who also wrote fantasy. By listening to our critiques of each other, and the occasional reference to published fantasy authors, some literary ladies chose to learn and get with the program. Some also left the group.

I think, when you join a group, you should be prepared to expand your mind to encompass genres you may not have read before and learn about them. Not everyone can do that, regardless of age, and those who can't should restrict their comments. If you don't understand something, how can you possibly offer help?

Phaeal
10-20-2008, 06:52 PM
In the groups I've attended and run, a core rule was:

Do NOT criticize anyone's choice of genre or subject matter.

A remark like "What drugs were you on when you wrote this?" is unacceptable. It's tough enough to put your work on the line without ducking tedious barbs like that. Sometimes, I've found, the barbs can disguise themselves as constant questions about what's going on in the story. This can wear the writer down fast, and she has no good way to call the insidious complainer on them -- hey, isn't a critiquer supposed to point out what's confusing?

For a young or inexperienced genre writer in a group without other genre writers, the experience can be damaging. He can come to think that no one understands his work because it's not understandable. He may not realize that the fault lies with the critiquers, not himself. Ditto with a literary or experimental writer in a group of people who don't appreciate these modes.

In my experience, most writers can understand most writing, whether it's the genre they usually read or not. They CAN deal with the genre; they just don't want to. The crucial thing is the desire to understand and be helpful, to address what you can and leave the rest to others, and to have the sensibility not to constantly swat the poor writer with "Well, this isn't really my thing" or the like.

Groups confined to one genre can be very helpful, though even these may divide into subgenre camps. For me, the ideal group would include writers of a number of genres, because when these are working, the hybrid vigor can be amazing.

A group leader should watch out for the "not my thing" dynamic and nip it in the bud the way a gardener nips out unsightly sprigs. The result is a fuller, healthier, more beautiful plant.

Feeling your pain, Karen. If you have a group leader, maybe you could discuss this with him or her. Older groups like yours do tend to have "bad" habits or interactions which the group has come to tacitly accept for the sake of cohesion. Often it's new members or outside observers who can point these out.

Anyhow, failing any real change, I'd just smile and accept the woman's crits, scan them for helpful grammar suggestions, and ignore the rest. Meanwhile, continuing to give HER work your full attention and best effort will earn you enormous writing karma points.

historian
10-20-2008, 07:04 PM
I am 85 and can understand (more or less) fantasy although I have trouble with unpronouncable character names. :) However, I don't care for the genre, don't read in it and don't feel qualified to crit. I have the same problem with sci/fi.

I just say so and let the next critter take over.

historian

Bufty
10-20-2008, 07:19 PM
Historian -I had a post done re an on-line group site you and I used to belong to, but deleted it only seconds before you posted. What an incredible coincidence!

It was virtually saying the same thing as you have said, only expanded to say I regarded the grammar and logic comments you did make to be invariably smack on the button, extremely helpful and well worth careful consideration. I give you a belated and sincere thank you. :Hug2:


I am 85 and can understand (more or less) fantasy although I have trouble with unpronouncable character names. :) However, I don't care for the genre, don't read in it and don't feel qualified to crit. I have the same problem with sci/fi.

I just say so and let the next critter take over.

historian

Karen Duvall
10-20-2008, 09:09 PM
Groups confined to one genre can be very helpful, though even these may divide into subgenre camps. For me, the ideal group would include writers of a number of genres, because when these are working, the hybrid vigor can be amazing.

The multiple genres really do help, which is why I also belong to an organization made up of many fiction genres, so the annual conference we have is an absolutely fabulous mix that's valuable beyond description.


Feeling your pain, Karen. If you have a group leader, maybe you could discuss this with him or her. Older groups like yours do tend to have "bad" habits or interactions which the group has come to tacitly accept for the sake of cohesion. Often it's new members or outside observers who can point these out.

Yes, I've been thinking of talking to her, though she hasn't been involved in the group lately due to other commitments. We also have another leader, or sub leader who used to be the leader, but took a really long sabbatical. He's back now and the two are playing tug of war with the scepter. This group is totally email, by the way. The hub is Denver, but the members live in various parts of the western US.

Thanks, Phael, for your understanding! It helps. Critique, to me, has been a valuable tool for my writing and I'd never be where I am without it. I've learned to augment my critique experience by going outside my group and seeking those who write in my genre, and it has really helped me open up and not hold back my creativity. Wish I'd thought of doing it years ago.

ajkjd01
10-21-2008, 12:44 AM
Karen, I'm in a similar boat, and I really don't know what to do, either.

I've been in a critique group for the last two years, and they've been very helpful. I couldn't have gotten better without them, and I know that they've helped me grow as a writer. But...

There are a couple of people in the group that have started to criticize grammar issues that I know for a fact are wrong. (I kinda tend to be the group grammar Nazi, without trying to....they're advocating for "said-bookisms" and all kinds of things that all of us should know better about). They've started arguing with me on whether I can mention name brands in a contemporary fantasy (um, I'm a lawyer. I went to a law school with a speciality in intellectual property, which includes trademark and copyright law. I know this stuff.) And now they've started ignoring critiques with the response that Tolkkien and Jordan have done it so it's okay for them to do it. I'm not saying I'm perfect, or that I'm better, but I've started to dread hearing them critique my stuff, and even dreading reading theirs.

I'm ready to pull out my hair. Or stab myself in the eyes with sharpened chopsticks.

I'm the only one submitting material professionally in the group right now. I've been reading their critique notes like you do...sometimes they do have a nugget of something that no one else has caught, so I hate to ignore their suggestions when they do spend considerable time reading and making notes, and the rest of the group doesn't make me as nuts as these members. I want feedback, but I don't want to spend my time for critique explaining case law and trademark issues, or pulling out Strunk and White all the time to defend myself.

On the other hand, the other members really do give insightful feedback.

So let me turn the question around and continue with the discussion...how do you know when it's time to find a new critique group and move on?

Karen Duvall
10-21-2008, 04:48 AM
It's frustrating, isn't it, aj? I've learned never to defend myself because it's just a waste of energy, and I'm about to stop explaining things to her that most fantasy readers would know. She insisted I explain to the reader what a scrying mirror was, and she didn't know what a glamor spell was so no one else would, either.

I emailed one of the other members of my group today to express my discontent, and was surprised to learn she's having the same problem with this sweet little old lady. This other member writes thrillers, and our more mature critter does not like edgy, unpleasant characters, or characters who do edgy, unpleasant things. I'm glad I'm not alone, but neither of us know what to do about the problem.

I'm going to email the group leader to let her know my feelings in case I decide to take a break from the group. This way she'll at least understand why.

aj, I've taken a break from my group before, but it was because I was taking a break from writing altogether. It lasted about 3 years, I think. But you know, you could continue with your group and join another group that specializes in your genre at the same time. That's going to be my next step. It's just so hard finding a professional group of people at the same writing level who get your work, and who you can trust.

eyeblink
10-21-2008, 10:02 AM
In the writing group I attend (which is mostly genre-based - SF, fantasy, horror, crime) there is someone who very clearly cannot stand my writing. In nearly six years I don't think he's said a kind word about anything I've workshopped there. It's not a dislike of me personally (I don't think), but some combination of subject matter, writing style and sensibility clearly rubs him up the wrong way. Oh and he did describe my writing as being like that of "a mad lesbian feminist" once.

I am a published short-fiction writer so I don't think it's just because I'm a crap writer. It's just that there are people in that group who are obviously far more in tune with what I'm doing than he is. (One of them is a perfectly sane bisexual feminist, by the way. :))

My advice is to be polite, listen to what she says (as anyone can point out an inconsistency or a factual error) but basically ignore it unless other people say the same thing.

ajkjd01
10-21-2008, 04:27 PM
My group is strongly fantasy oriented; there's only one person writing anything other than fantasy, but no one is writing the same type of fantasy. We're all over the board. I'm thinking you're right; hang on with these guys and look around for another group in the meantime.

Chumplet
10-21-2008, 04:51 PM
I'm pressed for time, so I didn't have a chance to read through all the comments, but maybe you could get the moderator of the group to go over the rules and etiquette in a general sense, so maybe she can glean some hints from there. Yanno, sort of a "Please don't feel obligated to read a genre you have no interest in" comment.