In the middle of this last summer, I joined a critique group. I was really, REALLY excited about it. I couldn’t wait to dig in, dive in, improve my writing and all that jazz.
A couple weeks ago, I backed out of it.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, trying to figure out why it didn’t work out. The people were great. I invested, in all likelihood, over 100 hours into critiquing other novels. I learned SO MUCH.
And yet, I got to a point where I thought ‘I cannot do this anymore’.
It took some time, but I think I figured out why.
- It NEVER ended
That’s right. The workload never ended. As soon as I’d finished one thing, there was something else waiting to be done. Someone else to read for, more chapters to get through, another book to read, edits to review… and for someone who is a list maker and a box checker, this was super anxiety inducing for me. I felt like I was NEVER on top of it. My own work suffered for it. I stopped writing for the most part because I could not step back from the critique to-do list and just be to-done for a while.
- Lack of freedom to help others
I REALLY enjoy reading for other people when I can. I’ve been part of a fantastic online writers group for almost two years now (more than?? I can’t remember) and I found that while in the critique group, I didn’t have time for this writing community and I missed it dearly. People asked for help and I WANTED to, but my hands felt so tied. I was already wrapped up in 5 novels, how could I possibly help anyone else? It was a frustrating position to be in and I didn’t like it at all.
- My own writing time evaporated
Because of my own personal tendencies, I created almost nothing in the time I was in the group. I was SO focused on helping everyone else that week after week, writing prompts slipped by and I didn’t write. I hardly read (other than my crit novels). I wanted to be working on things, but that voice in the back of my mind reminding me that I was failing by not completing the work was driving me totally batty. I couldn’t shut it off, I couldn’t get on top of it.
I would have LOVED for this group to have been a hugely long-term thing, but unfortunately, because of my own tendencies, it actually created more anxiety and stress in my life than it relieved. I have nothing personal against anyone and I continue to interact with them all in other ways.
What I have found is that by eliminating it, I’m mentally in a better place.
Because of my anxiety, I try to fill in every empty moment with SOMETHING and I didn’t realize this was something I did until recently. The space of doing nothing is REALLY hard for me. I don’t MIND silence. I don’t MIND being alone. I’m an introvert. Alone is my favorite place. But even in my alone and in my silence, I feel the urge to DO. Whether it’s knit or write or read or watch a documentary or go for a walk or clean something up or, or, or whatever. I’m not good at NOT DOING. Not PRODUCING. Not ACCOMPLISHING.
I never have been.
For as long as I can remember back, my mom has called me an overachiever.
I overachieve because in one way, it tempers my anxiety. I use my overachievement to prove my worth. As long as I’m accomplishing something, it’s okay that I’m here and breathing and taking up space. I didn’t realize I did that. Anxiety has ruled my whole life and I never knew.
So, I think dropping the crit group was a first rather unintentional step toward mental health and freedom and wellness. Because I’m not doing that, I have space to do other things. And because I’m trying REALLY HARD to honor the Sabbath, I don’t write on Sundays anymore. That’s my day off. After doing approximately 100 loads of laundry last Sunday, I started thinking that maybe I need to be even more strict with myself on Sundays. I need to learn how to NOT DO. My only restriction right now is writing. But perhaps I should add screens. All screens.
Yes. Even TV screens.
What possible bad could come from that? Unknown.
But for now, I’m just focusing on not writing on Sundays. Because I need space to rest. I need to learn to rest. To not do.
Maybe, sometime in the future, a crit group will be the right choice, but for me, for right now, not being in one is the best decision.
Have you ever been in a crit group? Are you in one? Tell me about it!