Lately I read everything I could about a writer’s life. Inevitably, I read dozens of time the advice to join a critique group. It will improve your writing, they say; it will help find your writing strengths and overcome its flaws; feedback is essential for a writer. I guess it might work, for others. For me, joining a critique group about 16 years ago, turned into such a traumatic experience that it caused me (probably) the longest writer’s block in history: 10 years.
So, here is my story.
I used to be that student who couldn’t wait to receive the task to write an essay, a story, a composition. And my teacher always asked me to read it out loud in front of the class, because my writings were just so “beautiful” and I was so “gifted”.
One day, my history teacher – who was also a poet – asked me if I ever write something else. I told him that I do, so he advised me to join his critique group – one of the two groups in my small town (his arguments were exactly the same I read today in articles about the advantages of joining a writers critique group). I was thrilled: a grown up is taking my writing seriously (I was only 14!), I’ll get the chance to see if I really have talent, I’ll talk with experienced writers, my stories will be published in their monthly literary magazine, I’ll become famous! (again, I was only 14 years old!)
Of course, they didn’t take me seriously at the beginning. I was a child writing childish things, while they were serious, profound, mature writers. They accepted me probably because they saw me as an exotic touch on their writing group. I didn’t care. I carefully stored in my head every advice, every opinion, every joke, every single word said about my stories.
I got interested in the process of publishing the magazine and I offered my help. I learned to typewrite (yes, on a typewriter!) and I started to typewrite the handwritten poems, the stories, the essays of my “colleagues” so that the printing-house could publish them in the magazine with no mistakes.
Soon, my life got very busy. But I was happy. My parents were also thrilled (and proud!) that I found such a “safe” hobby, keeping me away from boys, clubs and bad entourages.
And soon they had to take me seriously, because my stories were not childish at all. Moreover, when published writers from other cities visited us (to launch a book, to have a speech, to share their experiences), they always showed genuine interest in me and in my stories.
I thought my colleagues were happy for me. I thought their smiles and kind words were real. It was not the case, and what happened next took me by surprise and defenseless.
Oh, yes, I became famous in my little town! Not for being a gifted and promising writer, but for having a dirty affair with the leader of the critique group (also the director of the “House of Culture” in my town – an establishment where all the cultural activities in the town are organized). I found out about this rumor in the hard way: I was 16 years old and crazy in love with one of my classmates; one day he broke up with me for being “the slut who sleeps with old men for money”. When I asked for an explanation, he told me that everybody in town knew I was sleeping with the director of the House of Culture (older than my father!) for money. He didn’t know about it until recently… well, boyfriends always are the last to find out about these things!
And so, my reputation was ruined even before I knew what a reputation is.
Then… an avalanche of absurd events crushed me from all over. A “fellow writer” (later I found out that she was behind all these) stopped my mother on the street and complained about my indecent behaviour and my lack of good manners. She went to the principal of my highschool with the same complaint. She told him about my promiscuous “affair”. Then, the wife of the director went to highschool, complaining that I was ruining her marriage (!!!!), that I was sending her mean anonymous letters (?????) and asking for my expulsion from high school for inappropriate behaviour. People in the town were gossiping about me all the time.
Luckily for me, my parents trusted me. And so did my teachers: after all, I always was the first on my class and I never had any problems at school. But they told me to give up on my critique group. It was the only way to be left alone. At least until I finish school.
I knew I didn’t have another choice. I was too shocked about everything that happened, too young, too unexperienced to fight back. Nobody in the critique group said anything to help me – with two exceptions. I didn’t understand why all these happened. I never bothered anybody, I was always respectful, I never did anything inappropriate, I always tried to help everybody.
Why all these lies, why me?
And this question kept me away from writing for 10 years.
So, I’ll never join again a critique group. God himself can guarantee for their good intentions, I’ll never believe they exist in a critique group when you start to be seen as competition by the other writers.