In the beginning, before everyone gets to know each other, it’s dangerously easy for facial expressions, body language, and tone to be misunderstood. New members need to be especially aware of how critiquing is affecting them. Even successful writers have occasional moments of discouragement and self-doubt, but critiquing should ultimately be empowering through providing tools for self-improvement.
Feeling like you’re empowered and becoming a better writer may take a while though. In the meantime, muster your patience and don’t be too hard on yourself, and at the first sign that you are becoming more discouraged, overwhelmed, or frustrated by the critiques than empowered, you need to take action. But don’t quit! You will, however, need to figure out what works for you. Consider continuing to attend so that you learn by critiquing others, but take a break from being critiqued yourself. Or bring shorter pieces for critique, and/or do some self-study through courses and how-to write books. Also, please speak up or email me so we can help you get over the hump!
Some critique groups read an entire novel at a time. While that approach has merit, that’s not how we operate. Members in this group need and want more detailed feedback. Accordingly, new members may not email us their entire novel, but they can read the entirety a chunk at a time over the course of many meetings. Impatient new unpublished writers usually come to realize this approach is quite effective. Typically the critiques of opening chapters, particularly of first novels, uncover lots of issues that require extensive rewriting. In most cases, having someone read the entire novel is counterproductive because it generates an overwhelming amount of feedback. However, once you make friends in the group, you can seek volunteers for outside-of-the group critiquing of whatever the group as a whole can’t accommodate. That could be– reading an entire novel, critiquing chapters that can’t be re-read at a meeting, quick turnaround of material to meet a contest deadline, or a final proofreading before submitting, etc. Negotiate everything–what you need and when and how.