Writer’s Craft #70 – The Perils of the Writers Group
Justine Graykin is a writer and free-lance philosopher sustained by her deep, abiding faith in Science and Humanity — well, Science, anyway –- and the belief that humor is the best anti-gravity device. Find her work and bloggings at justinegraykin.com
Joining a group is the essential antidote to the classic isolation of being a writer. A good group provides feedback, prompts, deadlines, support and encouragement, as well as valuable tips and connections. But you never know what you’re going to get when you join a writers group. I’ve been in a few, and made some long-standing friends in each. We’ve kept in touch long after abandoning the group, and still occasionally share our work. But it’s hard to find a group you want to stick with, because there always seems to be at least one of several “types” who attach themselves to the group and pollute its dynamics. Maybe you’ve run into them:
The Airy Poet. Even though this is a group ostensibly put together to talk about prose, this person comes and insists on reading you his/her latest poem. It usually has to do with finding one’s inner peace on a beach or among wise trees, the pathos of abandoned elderly people, the joy of one’s pet, or the aching glory of love. When they read your work they always gush unhelpfully with uncritical encouragement, because that’s what they want from you.
The Condescending Mentor. Loves to drop excruciatingly overused phrases like, “using all the tools in your writer’s tool box” and “you’ve got to kill your little darlings.” Is really too gifted a writer to be bothered with your amateur attempts, but they are willing to lower themselves to help you in your struggle. Manages to work in seemingly casual references to their New York agent, dreadful editor, unreasonable publisher, or soon-to-be-released critically-acclaimed best-seller, at every opportunity.
The Stylebook Nazi. Has read everything Stephen King ever wrote about writing and can quote it chapter and verse. Always knows exactly where your commas ought to be, and bleeds red ink all over your manuscript. Circles every adverb and scathingly points out how often you use passive voice. Writes like Stephen King, but without the substance or originality.
The Sweet Earnest Thing. A genuinely likeable, well-intentioned person who is the victim of a parent/teacher/spouse who said, “Gee, honey, you have such talent! You ought to be a writer!” Has virtually nothing to say, hasn’t a clue about pacing, world-building, or creating vivid characters, but can put together sentences without grammatical errors and spells reasonably well. Somehow, you just haven’t the heart to tell her the truth, so you keep encouraging her and cursing yourself in your heart of hearts for not having the courage to tell her outright that she hasn’t a hope in the world of getting published anywhere outside of Reader’s Digest.
What have your experiences with writers groups been like? Have you encountered characters like this, or others who make the experience less than productive? How do you cope with them?