writing group ambivalence

In five minutes, I have to leave for a meeting of my current writing group. Formed in August, it consists of people from my department and also from a neighboring university. Not all in the same subfield or even discipline, although there are enough overlaps to help us understand each other's work.

In theory, I'm all for writing groups. I know I've benefited from getting feedback on my writing. I know I learn a lot from reading other people's drafts, and giving them feedback -- sometimes more than I get from their comments, even. And the meetings of this group (we've only meet 3 or 4 times) are pleasant, mostly engaging. On the one hand, I feel grateful for the opportunity to think about other people's topics, to discuss ideas with my colleagues, and so forth -- it's a rare monthly treat in the midst of the day-to-day obligations of the job.

But at another level, this group gives me anxiety. Every time we've met, afterwards I've been in a foul mood of insecurity and doubt. Which is not the group's fault, obviously. But now that I've recognized the pattern, it makes me less enthusiastic about going to the meeting.

I should confess that my work has not yet been critiqued by the group -- which is comforting because I've seen how polished or not other people's writing has been. But probably ups my anxiety level, too. I think my turn will come in January.

In graduate school, I had two writing group experiences, neither of them exemplary. The first was a three-person group (the fourth dropped out almost immediately) that in retrospect I think I possibly subconsciously designed in order to spend time with Ex Girlfriend A., who I had not yet started dating. (Once we started sleeping together, the group disbanded.) The third person was on her way out of the program -- by the time the group fell apart, she'd basically decided to quit ABD. So you could say the group was psychologically or personally useful, but not so great as a writing support system.

My second experience was wonderful, but it wasn't a group -- I had a dissertation buddy, a close friend who became closer as we marched each other through the dissertation process. We each read every draft word, multiple times -- a kind of intensity and support that could never be replicated outside the emotional hothouse of a top-tier PhD program. Without her, I wouldn't have finished my diss. But we weren't a group, with orderly rules and procedures and a variety of opinions.

And then in the past few years there were a couple of attempts at forming writing groups in my dept that didn't really work. And another group I was invited to, but didn't want to join, because two of its members drive me nuts.

The sad truth I now see I must confess: I simultaneously want the support of a writing group, but I also apparently am more judgemental deep in my heart of hearts than I think I should be in order to be a good group member. I wish my group could be as smart as the group I think I ought to have had in graduate school. (Not even a nostalgic wish for the past, this is some idealistic mish mash). This is the kind of perfectionism that keeps me procrastinating and insecure.