I'm a huge UFC fan. I go through MMA blogs like water, despite all of them saying the same things. What had launched the UFC into the main stream was their inaugural reality show where sixteen fighters lived in a house in Vegas for six weeks and fought one another in a tournament to earn a six-figure contract. The problem was none of the fighters wanted to fight. So the president of the UFC, Dana White, came down to the gym and famously said, "So you wanna be a fuckin' fighter?", and convinced them to fight.
Recently, I had participated in two writing groups. One was a submit/critique and the other was an open mic but the audience were just the writers and not the rest of the patrons at the cafe. Both writing groups sucked pretty bad. At least on those days.
The first group I had attended, I submitted my prologue. Ten writers attended, three submitted pieces to be read and reviewed as homework, but only two read mine. Three read the second piece, and only I read the third but that was because the writer submitted his one page short story at 2:00 AM the morning we were meeting. What the fuck? Of course, he hadn't read my piece.
One of the guys who read mine had one interesting thing to say, which was enlightening given that he's a father. It lacked emotional intensity. But his comment was a little contradictory because he noted that we as writers should only give enough and let the reader's mind do most of the work. So which is it?
The other person who commented on my piece skimmed through the prologue, thinking we would read our own pieces aloud and critique afterward. So nothing constructive there, which, more often than not, is pandemic with these writing groups.
We moved to the next piece, and I listened to the others as they critiqued it. One writer said the piece was fluid, well written. The father had a hard time getting into it and said there were too much detail in certain places, alluding that the reader should be left to do most of the imaginative work. I pointed out many technical errors in the ten page submission, talked about how the structure of the piece needed work (no setting, no awareness of space or people, for example). How the other writers missed that blew my mind away.
The short story was the worst because it read like the writer wrote it after binge drinking and submitted it at 2:00 AM in the morning for everyone to read. What kinda nerd is awake that late?
And I wish I could say that was the worst group.
So there had been this open mic where writers read in front of each other. The purpose was to get practice reading in front of people without risking critique. I felt like I was at some cult because after each piece was read, words such as Wonderful, Fantasitc, Great Job were lobbed. I'm not saying those pieces weren't those things, but, holy shit, no one learns from always being told they're great. Constructive criticism is important.
Look at the most skilled athletes in the world in any sport. They all have coaches. Athletes need eyes other than their own to help guide them. I remember watching the 2002 Winter Olympics, where American figure skater, Michelle Kwan, who had earned Silver in 1998, wanted to skate for gold. She had let her coach go and went coachless into the 2002 games. My first thought: she ain't gettin' da gold. Unfortunately for her, she earned Bronze. But according to Wikipedia, she is the most decorated figure skater in her decade long career.
I'm not suggesting that all writers need a coach. I'm not saying all writing groups suck ass. But for me, I'd prefer personal attention to my specific piece without all the noise of everyone's opinions that often lead to nothing. That doesn't mean I blindly follow my writing coach's notes, but they've been hugely helpful in pulling me away so I can see the forest and not just the trees. Getting out of our own way is key when it comes to writing to the best of our ability.