Why would someone who likes fantasy even value the opinion of someone who writes romance? Why would someone who writes young adult value the opinion of someone who writes memoirs? If you write romance, then why value what a science fiction schmuck like myself is going to say about it?
Here's my point: given their free time, these people (on their own) do NOT go to the bookstore and read the type of writing that you're doing. Yet, you're willing to listen to them either praise or rip apart (the more likely scenario) your writing as they tell you "this bores me" or "this doesn't work for me." You know what you should say? The whole genre probably bores you because you don't buy it and this invalidates your opinion. AUDIENCE IS EVERYTHING! Every manuscript has an audience and soliciting it to the wrong one is always going to get you negative feedback.
So yeah, I think writer's groups/critique sessions make absolutely no sense. Honestly the only reason I go (I no longer have work that I put before anyone) is because I enjoy the social atmosphere and the food. I suppose that's reason enough, right? Maybe my group of peeps should just come together and face an uncomfortable candor: that we should rename writer's group "game night" and play Bananagrams instead of critiquing one another's manuscript.
As a caveat, if you haven't ever played Bananagrams you really should try it. I once managed to spell "xylophone", but I digress...
|This game is serious fun. If you disagree, then you're boring.|
I tell them they really should go online. The noise to get noticed is deafening: a million voices raised in unison all chanting "I wrote a book, please read it." Just look at Twitter, Facebook, and the Blogosphere at large. If each writer were a grain of sand, then all of them together would make a beach that extends to the horizon like you see on HGTV's The Hawaii Life.
Some of the writers in my group are into super intricate world-building. You know what? It's really good stuff, and therein lies the rub. One guy has come up with monsters, has maps, a magic system, colorful characters, and tons of plots going on (kinda like George R.R. Martin). It's so intricate that I can't even begin to tell you the details. I even call it "brilliant." But here's the thing: a kaiju's belly full of writers are brilliant and crazy world-building is done all the time by millions of Dungeon Masters worldwide. That statement should tell you two things. The first is that Dungeon Masters at every con from coast to coast are creative people. This makes "creativity" as a commodity in writing about as common as dirt. The second is that I think George R.R. Martin could probably run an interesting Dungeons & Dragons game if you could keep it from descending into sex talk.
I told this group that there are so many people out there making worlds, typing away at keyboards, who have come up with planets that do this, and magic systems that do that, and political intrigue that do this other thing that you could fill Salt Lake's largest convention center with their numbers. I think I used the phrase, "I could throw a spongy rock in a crowd and it would bounce off the noggin' of someone brilliant! Therefore, you are not special. And I'm sorry to burst your bubble about this."
So I said, "No they don't. I'm sorry but I disagree. I think there's plenty of evidence that some very profitable writers get published by major names and don't have 'talent' as you say. I think that people who sell a lot of books (as in the millions) got lucky. This isn't something you can strategize. Circumstances unique to their lives that have nothing to do with planning and everything to do with serendipity made their stories HUGE best sellers. Names like Stephanie Meyer, George R.R. Martin, and Amanda Hocking. And to insist that you are better than someone else who isn't published or doesn't have a contract is just a lie. It comes from the fact that you're probably starved for validation because you've been mediocre most of your life and secretly have contempt for others because you feel you've never been recognized for how smart you are. But there's lots of smart people in this world, and being smart doesn't make you a genius. Genius is extremely rare, and when you actually see it, it knocks your socks off. Just look at Mozart and Salieri because Salieri can tell you what that feels like. As for writing, be thankful if you EVER make it big because it means you won the lottery. That's it. People who win the lottery don't go around and say, 'He he, I won because I was smarter than everyone else.' They say something like, 'Gosh I sure was lucky.'"
It may sound like I'm a real sour puss when it comes to the business of writing and publishing, but I'm not. In truth I'm probably the best advocate for writers because I don't bullshit them. I encourage people to write all the time (that ask me) and I point the many ways in which someone can navigate the business. But here's what I say to their elaborate plots and wonderful characters that inevitably bombard my ears: "It sounds brilliant and you have a very creative mind. But never forget that there are millions of people out here who are just as brilliant and just as creative. If your manuscript doesn't attract the attention of an agent who goes through fifty thousand submissions in a month, it may be that you lack that 'extra something' that has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with something that's not within your ability to control. And if you fail and never realize your dream? Well that happens too, and it sucks for you. Sometimes it's better to pick up a book and be the audience for someone else that HAS made it, because in the death of your dream is born one that belonged to someone else. And that isn't so bad. Not everyone can be a star. Not everyone can be super. Not everyone can be special. In our society there's the cream of the crop and then there's everyone else. That's just how it is; welcome to capitalism. Think about it. In a society where everyone is super, no one is. There's great comfort in belonging to the 'everyone else,' because you're rubbing shoulders with great people who just haven't had the distinction of being recognized. Trust me on this, because I speak from experience." No one wants to be mediocre. It just happens and asking "why me?" will never bring you peace of mind.
I'll leave you with this thought from Syndrome in Pixar's The Incredibles because (despite the uncomfortable message) it is oh so true: