Word count: 285 Reading time: 1-2 mins.
No man is an island entire of itself wrote John Donne. The advice-to-writers’ take on that quote is: if you want to succeed you must join a writers’ group. This advice pops up frequently and, for all the benefits group membership promises, there is a potentially disastrous downside: the destruction of your work.
I have seen a writer leave a meeting early, only to have another member of the group turn to the rest and say with a sneer, “Who’s going to want to read something like that?”
I sat speechless and wondered, “Is that how my prose will be discussed when I am out of earshot?”
Likewise I have had fiction shredded by members of an online group who felt that anyone else’s success detracted from theirs. I left that group quickly and didn’t bother to report back when the two much-criticized stories won awards.
Julia Cameron in her book The Writer’s Life says, “I have seen more good writing destroyed by bad criticism than I have ever seen bad writing helped by good criticism.”
Anyone who’s ever had the best from a writing group – support, companionship, and encouragement – may not understand the damage a bad group wreaks. Anyone who joins a group needs to proceed cautiously and remember the words of E.B. White A writer’s courage can easily fail him…I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.
I agree writing does take courage but sharing it takes even more. How do you avoid feeling stranded at the edge of the world with your work? Do you share with a group or only let a few select readers have a look?
Illustration by Harmsen Van der Beek