Negativity #2: The After Effects of an Outburst

27 May

After much delay, I’m ready to do part 2 of my negativity series. I posted Negativity #1: Reply Letter to a Hater two weeks ago. This is something else that happened to me on that Wednesday that fought to bring me down but I’m not going to let it. Please note, this one was a lot worse.

About a year ago, I joined a writing group that meets on Wednesday evenings once a month. I really enjoyed the group for a few months and was sad when my second job stopped me from being able to go. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with a situation that let me quit my second job, thus freeing up my Wednesday nights. I was excited to dive back into this group.

The group discusses three pieces at each meeting which are distributed ahead of time for members to read. I like that the members of this group are usually brutally honest but offer really great advice to fix anything they find fault with. It’s good to get such honest feedback from these people.

However, I had an issue with it this time. One member shared a piece he wrote where a non-native English speaker is having a conversation with the protagonist. We discussed the scene and offered feedback and were ready to move on when one member spoke up. It was the first time she’d said anything the whole meeting.

She said that the writer was making huge mistakes and glaring errors and went on to highlight one example. The heavy accent that the character had spoken in had contained a few grammatical errors, indicating that the character did not have a strong grasp of English. This member of our group had presumably taken offense at this because she attacked fiercely. She did some research and was able to find articles on Wikipedia that the language structure of the character’s native language would not have lent itself to him making mistakes in English the way that he did. For example, he wouldn’t have dropped a definite article and would have been more likely to mess up certain phrases. She ended her feedback by saying that these mistakes tell her as a reader that the writer is lazy, doesn’t care very much about his story, and that she felt she shouldn’t bother reading if he didn’t care enough to do this research.

I was struck dumb. Her words were so pointed and obviously directed at the writers ability to write well and not at the writing. She crossed the line that critiquers have to be sure to avoid and went after the person, not the art. This was something he was bringing forward for critique, obviously looking for advice like what was at the base of her attack; that he should research the language structure of his character’s native language. But I’m shocked that she went where she did instead of, “You should look up language structures for these characters. I found information on Wikipedia that will be helpful.” Why the parts about his personal character and ability as a writer?

As writers, we’ve voluntarily decided to participate in an industry that is already against us. Paying to submit work that you get paid very little for in exchange for the hours of work that went into your pet project. Why in the world would we want to discourage each other from doing something that requires so much dedication? Why would we ever tell someone that their work isn’t what it should be and discourage them from trying again when we pay editors to tell us that and they do it in a nicer way? You’re giving a free critique and the writer’s publication opportunities are not riding on what you have to say so he doesn’t have to listen. If you have a real suggestion, phrase it in a way I might listen to instead of yelling at me. No one responds well to being yelled at.

Here’s the worst part of the situation; no one told her to stop, myself included. I was so shocked I couldn’t say anything and it wasn’t until the writer snapped back that any of us were able to move on to something else. So we did another critique and were ready to leave when a member brought up what had happened and said we should talk about it. His message was not to take things so personally. I think that’s very fair advice. HOWEVER, you can only ‘not take things personally’ when they’re not personally directed at you. The critiquer’s comments were pointed, direct, personal. The member who brought this up saw more fault in the writer than the critiquer. I completely disagree.

I’m trying to decide if I ever want to go back to this group. I’m bothered that this woman thought it was okay to say what she did, that other members found fault in the writer’s reaction, and that from the conversation surrounding it, I get the feeling that this has happened before.

There seems to be a culture in the group that I can’t get on board with. Even when I hate something that someone’s written, I find a nice (or at least emotionless) way to say what I think needs to change. I would never say those things to anyone because I would never want them said to me. I’m thinking of giving the group one last try, but I’m really tempted to never go back. I’m considering another activity that would conflict and it’s easy for me to decide what to drop. I don’t feel comfortable enough bringing my work to the group so what benefit can I get from attending?

One of my faults my entire life has been to not quit something when I should. It leads to unhealthy relationships and commitments that I’m reluctant to make. I’ve been trying to work on this opportunity so I can focus my efforts where they count and I’m seeing this as a test of my strength. Maybe I shouldn’t give it another chance to be sure, but maybe I should make the cut.

Reader, I hope you’ve never dealt with such strong negativity, but I’m curious to hear your experiences if you have. How do you deal with harsh critiques? Have you been a part of a group whose culture was not supportive? What did you do?

Here’s to moving past this negativity and finding light and encouragement!

Until next time, write on (and never stop).

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6 Responses to “Negativity #2: The After Effects of an Outburst”

  1. readingcook May 27, 2014 at 1:07 PM #

    Brutally honest I can take, but that woman’s comments were mean and petty. While she may have had some valid points to convey, she didn’t have to personally attack the writer in the way that she did. If you are looking for a group that truly supports writers and helps them hone their craft, this is definitely not the group for you. You deserve better.


    • Sam May 27, 2014 at 1:14 PM #

      My sentiments exactly. You can tell someone they need to fix something and still be supportive. If the group isn’t supportive, I’m tempted to drop it. There are too many writing groups to stick to one that brings me down!


  2. Claudia {SparrowHawk} May 27, 2014 at 6:48 PM #

    About a year ago, I was a part of a group of women whose sole purpose was to encourage one another on all things spiritual; it didn’t work out. The group lasted for 2 months and everyone dispersed (myself included). It was difficult to be in the midst of such strong opinionated women who deceptively tried to show a sense of compassion. I left for the sake of my sanity. I would encourage you to reflect on how the group affects your personal life? If the result is negative, girl you need to leave! Ha ha!


    • Sam May 27, 2014 at 8:13 PM #

      Thanks for the encouragement! I think I’ll give it one last try and unless I have an epiphany, I’m out. I don’t need that negativity.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. mom May 28, 2014 at 10:29 PM #

    If you’re having doubts, I don’t think you should invest time in this group. You will always be hesitant to speak up because of possible reprisals.


    • Sam May 29, 2014 at 8:45 AM #

      My thoughts exactly. It’s getting one last try and the chance to redeem itself, but there would have to be something pretty dramatic to change my mind at this point!


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