Workshopping your stories with your peers is an essential part of developing your skills as a writer. By sharing your work with others and offering it up for critique, you can get a great sense of your writing’s strengths and weaknesses. However, just because you’re in a writing group doesn’t mean that you’re getting the constructive criticism you writing needs.
Writing groups tend to go wrong in a couple of ways. More often than not, thankfully, they tend to stray in the ‘too polite’ direction. It’s good for writers to encourage each other, and it never hurts to have a positive environment when you’re just beginning to write fiction, but there will come a point when someone needs to tell you that something doesn’t work. If your writing group is so devoted to positive comments that it neglects to point out flaws in its members’ writing, then it’s time to call this deficiency to your group’s attention. Praise is good when it’s earned, but respectful criticism is also essential to your development as writers.
On the other end of the spectrum is the toxic writing group. For some people, everything has to be a contest, and they will treat your writing like a performance that’s being measured against theirs. Although every writer should learn to accept blunt, honest criticism, there is no need to sit quietly while somebody insults you personally or suggests that you’re a hopeless writer. Criticism need not always be soft and fluffy, but it should point you in a direction that will help you improve your writing. Don’t be afraid to leave a toxic writing group behind. When the criticism of your work is focused more on the critic than on the work, it has ceased to be helpful, and your time is better spent with a more mature writing group.
Although most writers find their writing groups to be a source of helpful, constructive criticism, there are times when these groups veer off course. Be aware of when a writing group has become too polite or too rude, and don’t be afraid to speak up when you see the group headed in an unproductive direction! Writing groups should not be nurseries or wolves’ dens, but rather positive and instructive spaces where writers can share, learn, and improve their craft.