It’s fairly obvious I’m a writer, mostly because I tell everyone and their dog that I write.
Dogs really aren’t my target audience.
Subsequently, I end up meeting other writers and occasionally I am invited to join writers’ groups. I’ve attended a few and have a confession to make:
I hate writers’ groups.
I really do. At their best, I think these groups are circle jerks in which writers get off on how fabulous and talented they are. At their worst, these groups are toxic pits of jealousy in which people tear down others’ work in a petty attempt at making themselves feel better about their own work.
To me, writers’ groups are about as depressing and toxic as the Bog of Eternal Stench from Labyrinth.
In my experience with writers’ groups, I’ve found some patterns in the participants. Specifically, I’ve identified four types of people that seem to be present at every one.
1. The Albatross: This person has a magnum opus they have been limping along with for several years. They have gone through about 40 or 50 revisions of their work but when they open it up to the group, they are unwilling to hear anything else other than how brilliant this is. They are also completely unable to understand why Random House and the New York Times aren’t beating down their door in desperation for their work.
Identifying Items: A seemingly undeserved sense of self-importance and a 400 page novel manuscript clutched tightly in their hands and NO YOU CAN’T TOUCH IT!
2. The Borrower: They have difficulty producing their own ideas but after submitting your work to the group, this person will come back the following week with something eerily similar to yours.
Identifying Items: A smartphone with the recording device continually turned on and a moleskine notebook in which they write down everything everyone says, ensuring they suck the fun out of every social interaction.
3. The Idea Man: This person is always full of ideas but has yet to bringing in anything for the group to read. Next thing they will, they promise. For realsies this time. They seem to be more interested in hanging out and calling themselves a writer than actually doing any work.
Identifying Items: Cigars (unlit–they’re just for looks), scotch, and a distinct absence of pens and paper.
4. The Talent: This person is actually a very talented writer and hoping for some constructive feedback. Depending on the group, they will either benefit hugely or be squashed by The Albatross’s toxic jealousy.
Identifying Items: Pens, paper, and new content for the group to review.
If you’re a writer and you’re unsure of whether or not you’ve met these stereotypes, please read on to find a transcript of a sample meeting of a writers’ group.
The Writers’ Group
Borrower: Alright everyone, now that we’re all settled and we all have some snacks, I think we’re ready to get started.
Albatross: Since I have you all here, I’d like to go over chapter 37 with all of you again. *flips open his manuscript*
Idea Man: Didn’t we go over that chapter last week?
Albatross: I moved around a comma, it changes the whole tone of the section.
Talent: *reading* I don’t know, it seems pretty much the same as it did last week.
Borrower: Yeah, I wouldn’t have known anything was different if you hadn’t said anything.
Albatross: How can you not see it’s totally different?!
Idea Man: Sorry, it just seems the same is all.
Albatross: I’ve been working on this for six years, you don’t understand how much work has gone into this.
Talent: We’re not saying it’s not good, we just don’t see a big difference with one comma.
Albatross: *sighs* Whatever.
Borrower: I actually have something new I’d like everyone to check out so I can get some feedback. *passes out a short story*
Idea Man: Great, what’s it about?
Borrower: It’s about a young woman in Tennessee dealing with the aftermath of the suicide of her drug-addicted father.
Talent: Um . . . I’m sorry, I hate to say this but your story idea sounds kind of similar to the one I submitted last week.
Borrower: Which story was that?
Talent: The one about the young man in California dealing with the aftermath of the suicide of his drug-addicted mother.
Borrower: Your story is about sons and mothers and mine is about daughters and fathers. Plus yours takes place in California whereas mine is in Tennessee. It’s totally different.
Talent: Okay, um . . . hey, you haven’t said much, do you have anything for us to read.
Idea Man: *turns, mouth full of snacks* What?
Albatross: Do you have anything for us?
Idea Man: Um . . . it’s been a really busy week for me so I don’t have anything concrete. I’ve got some great ideas but I haven’t exactly . . . written them down yet. Next week though, I promise.
Albatross: *sighs* Fine . . . what about you?
Talent: I actually have the first couple chapters of a novel I’ve been working on that I’d like to give you and hear what you think.
Borrower: Really? *clicks pen open*
“Repeat that again, but slower this time.”
Albatross: *scanning the first few pages* Hmm . . . well, this is obviously a very first draft. I mean, you’ve only started on this. Books require years of work before they’re even halfway decent.
Idea Man: I like it. And who says you need to work on something for years before it’s good? Some writers might not need years of revisions.
Albatross: Oh what do you know, your main contribution to the group has been drinking Scotch and stuffing your face.
Talent: It’s true, it does need work. I’d just like to hear if you all think I’m heading in the right direction.
Albatross: *sigh* Well, I guess we could read it over during this next week and get back to you. It’s multiple chapters which is really a lot to ask of the group.
Idea Man: *snickers*
Albatross: Something funny?
Borrower: Oh look at the time, I think it’s best we call it quits for today. Hey, these chapters are for us to keep, right?
Written by: Emily Regan
You can read more at Emily’s blog The Next Great American Writer.