I was on a panel at Killercon last year, and I came out with an unpopular opinion concerning writer’s groups. Don’t always check your ego at the door, I said. Sometimes it isn’t worth it.
You can see the expressions that R.J. Cavender, Sam W. Anderson, and Brad C. Hodson are wearing. (Actually, I’m just lucky that they’re looking so serious in this shot. They are such fun, delightful guys!) Still, there’s a knee-jerk reaction to such a sweeping generalization, and here’s why.
Writers have egos. You know it. I know it. In fact, there’s an e-card going around that addresses that general idea.
It fits quite a few writers. We created the work, we populated it with people, and so we know what’s best, right? Not always. That’s where a wonderful writing group comes in. You want to be with people who have a good eye and are trustworthy. That is when you check your ego at the door. That’s when you sit down and say, “Hey, here’s my work. Tear it apart; I can take it.” It isn’t easy. Especially if you don’t feel that the group understands your work or they don’t genuinely have your back.
You guys know that I’m absolutely mad about my writer’s group. They’re family. We invite each other to blessings and birthdays and nights out. They have my back in the real world as well as the literary one. With them, I absolutely put my ego aside. But we’ve been together for three or four years, for weekly face-to-face meetings that last an average of three hours. We have earned each other’s trust.
But say that you’re with a new group, or what’s worse, an assigned group. Perhaps your teacher or the guy in charge of the city writer’s group just slapped you in with a bunch of other writers. Your ego? Your belief in yourself? Wrap it around you like armor. You might need it.
I’m not saying that you don’t listen. I’m not suggesting that you are in any way disrespectful, because that’s unacceptable. But this group doesn’t understand you yet, and their suggestions might not be gold. I can’t tell you how many times I see somebody offering critique after critique that essentially rewrites the original story. It stamps out the voice and intensity. It’s no longer a story by Author A, but a new story by Author B. However, that only happens if Author A allows it. I know sometimes the temptation is there to simply incorporate the changes, especially for new or rather insecure writers. But don’t. While you don’t want to be a self-absorbed jerk, you do need to stand up for your work sometimes. Then while the world is mad at you, you have your ego to keep you warm at night. 😉
I realize I’m not explaining this as clearly as I’d like. Shall we talk about it in the comments? Shall our delicious writerly egos go after each other (kindly, of course) with foam swords and arrows made of Nerf?