‘Authors Anonymous’ and real-life critique groups

Authors Anonymous movie

After watching the movie Authors Anonymous on Netflix, I realized something important about participating in a local critique group: A little manuscript help isn’t worth suffering other writers’ neuroses.

Most writers are neurotic, one way or another. Put five to ten of us in a room together, and shit happens. Usually, that means some lively (at times heated) story discussion, and sometimes outright arguments. There are always pros and cons. The critique group is a crawl — you can get a full manuscript critique from an online writing partner in the time it would take a local critique group to do one or two chapters — but the trade-off is the atmosphere and community. It’s about being united with your fellow writers and motivating each other to improve.

One tense scene in Authors Anonymous shows what happens when that little community implodes: Jealous of another member’s success and annoyed by everyone else, one character bitches out each writer in turn (mostly saying their work is crap) before quitting. It isn’t long afterward that the whole group falls apart. Each character has too much emotional baggage to support anyone; they only end up sabotaging or demoralizing them instead.

Real life can be similar. When writers start picking fights, gossiping, or taking criticism too personally, it’s time to say sayonara. If you’re not getting emotional support from the group, it’s not worth going.

Have you ever been in a writing / critique group with personality problems? What happened?

One thought on “‘Authors Anonymous’ and real-life critique groups

  1. James Fadeley

    I think that part of the neurosis comes from the… instinctive belief that writing could/should reflect the writer’s views and philosophy. I feel like this is reinforced when I see panels at conventions about a topic that can be rephrased, “Is my writing having an impact on society’s thinking?”

    I think this view is a problem, because it often fails to divorce the author’s views from the characters. This difference was highlighted in the Millennium series. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was fantastic, but the next two weren’t great because they featured less developed characters and more stereotypes of Stieg Larsson’s ideals.

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