Monday, February 8, 2010

Outgrowing Your Peers

This is a sad topic for me, but at the same time I'm trying to convince myself (and others) that it shouldn't really feel that way.

I think all of us have helped each other with our writing, at least a little. At the same time a few of us have struck something deeper, a friendship. But, what can happen as we all become better writers is that we also grow and have different needs, and sometimes we can outgrow each other.

In an ideal situation, we and our peers will continually develop and improve at about the same pace. I have that experience with my wonderful writer's group. We have been together for 5-6 years, and we've all grown as writers and as reviewers, to the point where we are celebrating our different styles and voices while still helping each other get better. Criticisms have diminished because we are all in more control of our art. Now, we can just read each other's work, point out small problems, but generally just enjoy some fine writing among friends. And, our shared high standards inspire us to push ourselves more.

But, I'm not always so lucky. Occasionally I also find myself among a group of writers that are not pushing themselves in the same way that I push myself. For a long time I felt bad about not wanting to work with these people, but in this past week I've come to realize that we have just ended up on different paths. I was so resistant to it, but really it is perfectly natural. Just as we graduate from our various schools, we should understand that we will sometimes graduate from our writing circles. I think we should accept that, maybe even celebrate it, because it is a sign of our improvement and a result of our hard work.

And, most importantly, just because we outgrow some people as writers doesn't mean we must outgrow them as friends. How lovely will it be, when we all get to a place where we can just admire each other's art and enjoy all of the different voices around us?

Have you all ever outgrown your peers or writing circles? Were you able to move on in a way that didn't injure friendships? I feel at peace today because I know that I'm lucky to be in touch with writers that are already good and still wanting to be better.


  1. I felt this way last year. I was involved in a writing circle, as we were all newbies, yet as the oldest one of the group and with so much more life experience, I couldn't help feeling I was far ahead of the curve. I don't know if it was because I really wanted to be a published writer and so had the drive and determination to make that happen, or if it was because they weren't learning and growing at the same pace I was, so I left the group. I don't regret it because now I've found so many other writers whose craft I admire and aspire to, I really feel I have so much more in common with them -- even though we all write in different genre's. It's the quality of the work that attracts me. Dont' get me wrong, I'll help anyone with anything, I just don't want to be held back from my potential.

  2. I think outgrowing our peers is a natural part of life and that, as we get older, we base our friendships on different things. I think when we began to grow apart from the things that bound us together in the first place is when we start reevaluating our friendships. For me, at this point in my life, my circle of friends has grown smaller than larger, and there is a deeper connection amoung this circle of friends.

    And, as sometimes happen, the old friendships, the ones without the deeper connection, fall to the wayside. Case in point: friend from high school. We were incredibly close, lost touch, reconnected, and then, over time, I realized that we had reached the points in our lives where the things that once bound us together no longer existed. It was at that point that a distance began to grow between us. I think this is a natural progression in life. It doesn't mean that I don't like this person, just the commonalities are no longer strong enough to sustain the friendship on the deeper level I seem to need.

    Are we still friends? Yes. Do we stay in touch like we once did? No. Would we be there for each other if needed? Yes.

    Life brings people in and out of our lives, sometimes forever, and sometimes for just a brief moment. My personal philosophy is to cherish the moments those people are in my life.


  3. This is a great topic, Davin, and I do agree that it is sad. I've only belonged to one real writers group, and that was in college. It was only three of us. By a strange turn of events, we completely broke up, and I guess you could say we outgrew each other. It wasn't more of a growth than just separation and moving up in different direction, I think.

    I feel like I've outgrown what I need, mostly. I used to need lots and lots of readers. Not so much anymore. I'm still sending my work to too many people, probably, but as time goes on I'm sending it to less and less people. I'm figuring things out on my own, figuring out what I need as a writer instead of relying on people telling me what I need.

    Scott: It was at that point that a distance began to grow between us. I think this is a natural progression in life. It doesn't mean that I don't like this person, just the commonalities are no longer strong enough to sustain the friendship on the deeper level I seem to need.

    I cannot tell you how much your comment has struck me this morning. I have a friend right now that this is happening with, and I think she's upset about it. I'm afraid she thinks I don't care about her anymore, when in reality we're just outgrowing the relationship. It's sad, but natural, like you say. It has been something that's been hurting me for awhile - to see her misunderstanding the situation. Perhaps a long talk might help. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

  4. Ugh, this is a difficult topic to discuss. Feelings and insecurities and all that mess so often get caught up in the middle of these types of discussions.

    and, yet, they are important to have.

    I'm glad to hear you have found peace (and even a little joy) in your specific situation. I have do doubt you handled it all with grace.

  5. One of the things I find more often than not is not so much an outgrowing of peers, but rather a finding of others who share my opinions/views/ambitions more acutely.

    Just a more positive way to look at it, I think.

  6. This is a thorny topic. One of my worst fears is that I am imposing on someone or that people are merely indulging me or being gracious and I am too dense to see. I am overly sensitive, okay close to paranoid, about it.

    On the other hand, I've also experienced outgrowing some peers. This is difficult for two reasons: (1) these things are subjective (2) it can smack of arrogance and I don't want to think more highly of myself than I should. (3) hurt feelings.

    The few times I've had to handle this, I simply withdrew myself slowly. Maybe it is the cowardly thing to do, but who says it's better to tell someone that you've outgrown them? Is it really honesty? And is expressing this particular honesty of any good to them or me? And would I really prefer if someone told me face to face they have outgrown me or would I rather learn to read the more subtle, gentle signs? Room for all sorts of misinterpretation of course, but messiness is a part of life, INHO.

    Geez, Scott, Monday morning and I have to think about paranoia and misreading sighs and consequences.

  7. People grow at different rates and some are content where they are. It's important for our own personal growth to stay challanged by those who equal or surpass us. Staying with old companions for sentimental reasons is comfy cozy, but is not practical from a professional standpoint because it will only hold us back and prevent us from getting better.

  8. I completely understand that we are all on different paths. Just like life and even in out social circles we each have a different level of maturity and understanding of life in general. It's nice to watch each other grow and to help those who need a helping hand. I enjoy watching the progress of my writer friends.

  9. Anne, I agree with you that often it's our goals that can make us outgrown a group. I do have high aspirations, and sometimes it frustrates me when others don't want the same thing. I know I should accept it, but at the same time, I guess I just don't feel like I can help someone much who doesn't care about improving their work. Thanks for your comment!

    Scott, that is very beautifully said, and I can come up with my own experiences that sound just like what you describe. It is natural, as you say. I even have a friend who is able to look at his romantic relationships in the same way, and it is very reassuring.

    Michelle, as you know, I find that I'm sending my work out to fewer reviewers now than I used to as well. I think that is the result of a certain confidence I have in myself now that I didn't have before. Of course, I do still need a few readers. :)

    Tess, LOL, I'm not sure how gracefully I've handled things, but I did try! And, what I needed to emphasize in my own situation was that I still really valued the friendship, if not the critique.

    Matthew, that's an interesting way of looking at things. Mayhaps I'm not as positive as you are. :P

    Yat-Yee, It is a thorny topic. Truth be told, I tried your slow extraction method for several months. It just resulted in more people asking for help, reaching out to me. I had to be direct because no one would let me off the hook easily. But, for me, I think direct is often a good thing. It's something I should be more often.

    Lee, you are right in that there is a certain comfort to staying with what you know. But, I do like to be challenged. Not only do I think it's good for me, but I think it's fun. Thanks for your comment.

    T. Anne, I like to see the progress of my friends too. And, I'm also happy (even though I'm also sad) when my writer peers outgrow me. That's a good point! And, is that a new picture? :)

  10. And I hope I'm always one of them, Davin. :)

  11. *smacks head* Davin: I apologize, for some reason, in my Monday morning hazy brain, I thought Scott wrote this post...

  12. And oh, if I am one of those people who has not read your signs, I guess I do want a direct response.

  13. I've never been part of a writing group, so I can't answer this directly. I will say that as time goes by, there are fewer people to whom I will listen when they talk about craft, and I find myself more willing to disagree with other writers because I am becoming both more sure of myself and (unfortunately) more prideful regarding my writing. There are maybe five people with whom I regularly talk whose opinions I'll actively seek.

    When I was younger I was in bands and generally I was the most advanced musician there, because I was obsessive about practicing my instrument and would let real life sort of take a back seat. You see where I'm going. I was a pretty good guitarist but my bandmates were better adjusted, better socialized and happier people. So I don't know if I "outgrew" them or if we just had different priorities. I am leery of joining a writing group now that I'm a crotchety old man; I can easily imagine myself telling people that they aren't taking writing seriously enough to listen to, so would they please shut it. I'm really not nice at all.

  14. "I feel at peace today because I know that I'm lucky to be in touch with writers that are already good and still wanting to be better." GREAT STUFF, Davin. I love it!

    I have had that to happen. I left the group. And it was a group that I helped to start. But I didn't feel as though I was getting what I needed. And some were upset with me, some were not. But it didn't matter. I had to do what was right for me. I tried to keep communication going. It just didn't work out. Love this post. Because this happens to all who hone their craft, eventually. =)

  15. I've wondered about this in the past. I like supporting other writers, and share a crit group with a graphic novel/comic book writer, a YA writer, a magazine editor, and two other litfic writers. Thus far we've all enjoyed each other's work, and been good for one another, I think. Will this change in the future? Perhaps. But for now, I'm enjoying the journey with them.

    My other group is a local one that met till recently at a B&N nearby. That group ranges in skill level quite dramatically. I still love talking writing with them, though. And I see involvement with that group as paying it forward, in a sense. If I can challenge them to be better, submit more, then I'm giving back to the writing community. That's gotta count for something, karma-wise, right?

  16. I think this is a problem with all amateur groups--whether they're writers, actors, painters or whatever. Most people are uncomfortable beyond the amateur "hobby" level. Trying for the pros is damned scary. People in the group who want to stay cozy in their amateur status will often guilt-trip the more ambitious because they want to justify their own stagnation. But if we let them keep us from reaching for our own goals, we end up resenting them and the friendships dies anyway.

  17. I'm not sure I've really outgrown anyone yet. I'm still on the beginning end of things. I hope no one gets sick of helping me, but I can see where they would.

  18. I've only ever been involved in online groups, but I have noticed this too--at some point I find I'm not satisfied and possibly it's because I'm looking for more than a particular group can offer, or we don't mesh, or a mix of things.

    In a larger community I find it easier to quietly withdraw from the "public" group and focus on a much smaller "private" group of writers who are closer to what I need/want and whose work I greatly enjoy and feel I can help with.

    That... sounds really selfish, looking on my comments, but eh, what can you do? If you always give and focus all your energy on other people (as I did for awhile, and burned out) it'll eat into your own writing and time and I don't think that ends well. I guess we DO have to be a little selfish sometime--at least, I do.

    So yeah, I think it's natural to outgrow peers on some level--it's sometimes uncomfortable. But I think writing peers and writing friends can be different--I'm still friends with several writers whose writing I don't necessarily read/crit much, because we have different goals and are at different points in learning; and at the same time, I crit and receive crits from some people who I don't necessarily think of as "friends", but more crit partners--it's a more... professional relationship, maybe?

    Interesting topic. :)

  19. Great post, Davin. This is a tough question to deal with, because so often we want to think about our friends' feelings before worrying about what is best for EVERYONE in the situation. The hard truth is that you need to be around people that help challenge you, and they need to have someone around them that can use their help (as opposed to someone who has progressed beyond their collective abilities). It sounds like you're taking the right approach to things though, and I'm sure everyone will be better for it in the end.

  20. What a perfect mirror of sentiment. I have felt the same bitter sweet guilt, but have come to accept. Colleagues are now friends, and I kind of like it that way.

  21. Great post, Davin. I'm in between writing groups for that very reason. Great people, just different needs.

  22. Yat-Yee, for the record, no I'm not talking about you! I did tell the people I was referring too directly. And I used phrases like "I'm going to quit no matter what" and "ASAP" and other very urgent and forceful things.

    Scott, it's definitely about priorities. I honestly don't see anything wrong with wanting to just write to record one's feelings or just to have a hobby. I think that's quite lovely, actually. But, like your band experience, if our own priorities are different, it can be a bit of a drag.

    Robyn, thanks for saying what you did. It does comfort me to hear that I'm not alone in feeling this way, because I did feel bad about it!

    Simon, I really am all for helping more beginning writers. My deal was with people that weren't looking to be better. I believe in paying it forward because early on, a wonderful writer named Kathy Fish went out of her way to say good things about my writing to people that helped me get some work published. I'm so grateful to her, and now I try to include the word "fish" (or "poisson" in some cases) in as many of my stories as I can as a little tribute to her.

    Anne, thanks for saying that. That's very interesting about the guilt, and as soon as I read that, I think it did ring true for me as well, on some level. Wow, that's fascinating.

    Lois, for me, if a writer continually pushes herself or himself, I'm okay with it. I like to see improvement. It's accepted stagnation that bugs me.

    Merc, I do think this is selfish. But, I also think writing has to be selfish for many reasons. In the end, we are telling our stories and we want to get better for ourselves. My most meaningful stories have very little to do with how well-liked they have been by others.

    Eric, thanks. It is hard. And, like I mentioned before, I went out of my way to emphasize that my decision has nothing to do with friendship. I still want to be a supportive friend.

    Jm Diaz, there is something lovely about that, isn't there? It's like, at some point, we can just respect each other and not worry about being critical.

    Paul, great people, different needs. Exactly. :)

  23. I am currently in a writing group with some wonderful people, but I find that I am the only one who is writing right now. Consistently, anyway.

    It's hard.

  24. I've been in a number of groups over the years and it's usually a mix of skill. Ideally, I'd like to be with writers who are commited to improvement, open to discussion and come prepared.
    I don't mind helping newer writers, but I want to grow, too.
    This is a touchy, important topic to bring up. Thank you, Davin.


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