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.
Writers are often begin as dedicated readers. This is the nice way of saying we were those weird, pasty kids who stayed inside all day with a book while everyone else made friends and went outside.
So yeah. There you go.
As you read, you start to collect a list of your favorite writers and, conscious or not, these are the writers that will influence your writing style. Even more than that, these authors can change your life. So, I have compiled an incomplete list of popular authors and what they say about you both as a writer and as a person.
Hunter S. Thompson
As a Writer: You will spend your life trying to recreate Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but alas—you are not Thompson. You lack the talent and the drug tolerance to even come close.
As a Person: You probably have a stupid tattoo. I’m looking at you, hipsters.
You know who you are and what you’ve done.
As a Writer: You’re not afraid to be imaginative and, like Rowling, strive for complete storytelling without loose ends.
As a Person: You somewhat ignored Casual Vacancy and are still hoping Rowling is going to add books to the Potter-verse (Dumbledore’s life story, the Harry Potter books rewritten from Snape’s perspective, etc.).
As a Writer: You don’t really “write” in any physical sense but “guys, listen, I’ve got this great idea for a book. It’s based on my life.”
As a Person: You read To Kill a Mockingbird in ninth grade and haven’t read another book since.
As a Writer: You are a minimalist and try to make the most of as few words as possible. Your male protagonists often enjoy spending time alone in the woods.
As a Person: You once tried to smoke an imitation Cuban cigar but accidentally inhaled which made you cough so hard you threw up. When asked, however, you often describe your free time as filled with cigars and hard liquor.
As a Writer: Your writing would probably best be characterized as romance or chick lit in which every male love interest is, in some way, a version of Mr. Darcy.
As a Person: You love the BBC and hope to someday find your own Mr. Darcy. Sure, there are other books and other love interests but who gives a crap, they’re not Mr. Darcy.
You also have lots of cats.
One of the Bronte Sisters
As a Writer: You yearn to emulate the feel of the English language from the Victorian era: women succumbing to the vapors, the mists on the moor at dawn, etc. Unfortunately, no one really talks like that anymore and it sounds like you’re trying too hard. Stop it.
As a Person: Mr. Rochester is your ultimate literary crush and you swear your boyfriend is so romantic and just like him! To the rest of us, he’s a douche who won’t bend the brim of his hat and once locked his ex in the closet to keep her from setting his mom’s house on fire.
As a Writer: You spend more time cultivating your mustache than actually writing.
As a Person: You probably have one of three things tattooed on you: “everything was beautiful and nothing hurt,” “so it goes,” or an asshole.
As a Writer: You have an attention to detail that rivals Howard Hughes’s OCD.
As a Person: You’re that guy at the party who tells forty-five minute stories. They’re interesting enough, but dude, learn to chitchat and stop blocking the veggie platter.
As a Writer: You have a great talent for character-driven stories and your gift has you poised to be the Next Great American Writer. You are Brilliant with a capital B.
Oh hey, look what’s available from Barnes & Noble . . .
Hintety hint hint.
As a Person: You are the author of this column, Lana Del Ray, or over fifty-years old.
As a Writer: You have a “burn and turn” approach to writing, which is to say you pump out as many books as possible that all have the same storyline. However, this will probably work out for you financially. I mean, look at John Grisham and James Patterson.
As a Person: You’re my dad. And you hate Tom Cruise.
If I didn’t include your favorite author on this round, don’t worry. I’ll get you next time.
Written by: Emily Regan
As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I pay my rent by working as a bartender. The two biggest holidays for a bartender are of course New Year’s Eve and the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day. The latter is often filled with an oversaturation of the color green, drunken patrons screaming for another Guinness, and buttons and hats pleading “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” (which, by the way, always amuses me that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m often reminded of college applicants claiming to be 1/64 Native American to get scholarship money).
“I’m also black. And a Pacific Islander. And Jewish. And Muslim. And a refugee. Please give me money for college.”
What has been interesting me lately, however, is the luck of the Irish. More specifically, the concept of luck itself. In one of my favorite films, Match Point, the main character, Chris, has a belief in the power of luck. During the opening narration, Chris says, “The man who said he’d rather be lucky than good knew a lot about life.” Then later, during a dinner conversation, Chris says that he thinks everyone is afraid to admit what a big part luck plays. This isn’t to discredit hard work, but rather that without luck, hard work will only get you so far.
This got me thinking about writing. The life of a writer is highly glamorized and I think in general, people tend to focus on the perks. You can create your own schedule, you have the freedom to work from anywhere, you can grow a magnificent beard.
Fuck yeah, Hemingway. Fuck yeah.
But getting to that point, getting to the perks (beard included, I presume), can be one hell of an upward climb. The rejection letters get overwhelming, the pay is either terrible or nonexistent, and each good idea feels like it could be your last.
It’s like Matthew Inman from The Oatmeal is in my head.
Then, presuming you write something you don’t completely loathe, you need to submit it for publication. As much as I with Random House would knock on my door to ask for my manuscript, it doesn’t quite work out like that unless you’re a celebrity.
Yeah. This is a thing.
So you send out query letters, manuscripts, nearly everything short of your first born as you basically beg someone to love your blood, sweat, and tears enough to publish it. But even with all that hard work and dedication, you still have to hope for that right amount of luck that your work will fall on the right person’s desk at the right time. The first time I had a story published, it was with a Buddhist literary magazine, Sugar Mule, that I found quite randomly through a writer’s website. I picked it with a dozen numbers and flooded them all with my story. One by one, each of my submissions came back with the polite “thanks but no thanks” rejection form letter to the point where I’d become so accustomed to seeing the word “no” that when the editor at Sugar Mule said yes, it felt surreal. It just so happened that the editor, Mark Weber, happened to enjoy darker fiction and my story was just the right kind of messed up that he was looking for. But had I not submitted by chance to that specific editor at that specific magazine at that specific time, I might have received yet another rejection letter.
Sorry, you suck.
Another example pertains to a writing collaboration I’m currently working on. I happened to meet my writing partner while I was cocktailing at my job last summer. It was sort of random how I ended up at my current job in the first place and then on this particular night, two cocktail waitresses were scheduled (which almost never happens) and I ended up chatting with a customer who was only in town for one night. We got to talking about writing which led to him giving me his card. I followed up and he invited me on to what could result in being a fairly significant project for my writing career. So many elements had to fall into place to make that particular connection happen and had one thing been different, that connection and subsequent collaboration wouldn’t have happened.
One could argue that these markers in my writing career were fated to happen, if you believe in that sort of thing. I’m not trying to discredit what anyone believes but I think the overarching theme of it all is luck and fate is just the name we give luck because fate sounds more final, more predetermined and we don’t like the idea that our lives are victim to so much chance.
The Chance Monster. Rawr!
If you’ve hung out through all of my ramblings in this column, you’re probably wondering what on earth my point is. Should we all just give up trying because our lives are ruled by luck? Of course not. Hard work is essential to getting where you want to be and what you want out of life. However, I don’t think we should discredit the role that luck plays in success. Who would Lana Turner have been had she not worked at Schwab’s? Would we even know who Harrison Ford is were it not for his working as a carpenter for George Lucas?
Hard work is important but opening ourselves up to opportunities, especially as writers, as crucial. My husband often says I’m lucky which may be true but I think a big factor in my luck is that I take advantage of as many opportunities as I can. As a result, I’ve traveled through Europe multiple times, I have my Master’s degree, and, most of all, I’ve been published. By strangers who thought my work was worth publishing. I like to think I’m talented (because really, what’s the point in trying if I don’t believe in my own work) but I put myself out there and hope for a little luck.
I think that ultimately, I’m not sure if I agree with Match Point’s Chris in his assessment of how it’s better to be lucky than good. I’d rather be both but we certainly can’t be solely one or the other. You can be good and unnoticed or you can be lucky and untalented but to be both good AND lucky–that’s what we’re all looking for. But better than that, I think we, the we struggling to break into creative industries, need to keep putting ourselves out there. The more we expose ourselves to, the more opportunities we create to allow luck to grab us.
Or vice versa. Whatever’s easier.
And hey, if nothing else, it might turn out to be a great story.
Written by: Emily Regan
Like many people, I like to look at the start of a new year as a chance to better myself. I make grandiose plans to get healthy (I will never eat sugar again!) and exercise (I will run 42 miles every day!)
But after about ten minutes, reality sets in and I have to face facts. I would rather hit the snooze button on my alarm clock for an hour than pull my lazy ass out of bed and go jogging. I mean, if my alarm clock turned into a bear then I’d probably start running.
So exercise is out what about eating healthier foods? Surely that can’t be too hard. I already, for the most part, avoid red meat and dairy in my everyday diet. So, I decided to try a three day green smoothie cleanse. I like to start my day with a smoothie so I figured it would be easy to push through a few days and I’d emerge feeling leaner, healthier, and like one of those superhero vegans from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
I made it about eleven hours into the three day cleanse before quitting. I decided to bail on the cleanse due to a friend pointing out that hunger was making me a colossal pain in the ass and then Husband made the point that I was doing the cleanse to make myself happy and I was miserable, thereby defeating the purpose.
Even though I think both Husband and our friend were right, I still felt like a loser for failing at something as benign as a smoothie cleanse. But then it got me thinking about New Year’s resolutions; we all, or those of us that choose to partake, set goals for ourselves to make ourselves better, stronger, faster, happier. We’re going to quit doing this, start doing that, travel to such and such a place, earn/save x amount of money, etc.
The goal of these resolutions is based in the good intentions of bettering our selves and our lives. However, I think a lot of the time our goals are rooted in the arrival fallacy, which, according to Tal Ben-Shahar, is the belief that you will be happy once you reach a certain destination.
“I’ll be happy when I lose ten pounds.”
“I’ll be happy when I earn that promotion.”
“I’ll be happy when we move.”
“I’ll be happy when I get my next book published.”
“I’ll be happy when everyone finally freaking realizes I’m the Next Great American Writer and buys enough copies of my book to make them forget about 50 Shades of Grey.”
“I’ll be happy when I cleanse my body of gross toxins through a three day smoothie cleanse.”
Sound familiar? Granted, the last few were a bit specific, but you get the idea. We spend so much time fixating on the future that we allow ourselves to be unhappy now because we’re saving up all of our happiness points for the future.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says that the fallacy aspect of the arrival fallacy is that arriving rarely makes you as happy as you expect. “Why? Because usually by the time you’ve arrived at your destination, you’re expecting to reach it, so it has already been incorporated into your happiness. You quickly become adjusted to the new state of affairs. And of course, arriving at one goal usually reveals a new goal. There’s another hill to climb.”
So where does this leave us? The start of a new year is a natural point to make a fresh start in various areas of our lives. Should we stop trying to improve our lives just because we might fall victim to the arrival fallacy? Of course not. Instead, I think we need to focus on enjoying the journey. Enjoying the present, however, feels like such a trite thing to say. How often are we inundated with advice to “live in the now,” “enjoy the moment,” and “realize that the present is called such because it’s a gift” or whatever else shows up in every volume of Chicken Soup for the Stupid?
I think what my point boils down to is that I think we need to stop being so hard on ourselves. Am I just trying to justify failing at my smoothie cleanse? Maybe. But I’ve decided to revise my New Year’s resolutions and I’m going to try to focus on actually enjoying my life. I still want to better myself but I’m not going to do it in ways that make me miserable. I don’t want to spend my life saving up happiness points and then find out later that I’m out of time with a stockpile I never cashed in. Recent events in my personal life have taught me that life and the plans you make can change from one breath to the next and frankly, I don’t want to waste any more time planning to be happy later. I figure I have a good chance of following my new resolution—provided I actually eat food.
Written by: Emily Regan
As I established in my last column, How to Drink Like a Writer, I do some work as a bartender to help pay my bills while I’m waiting for the publishing world to realize that I am the Next Great American Writer who will make them piles of money. Truth be told, I rather enjoy bartending. My days are free for writing, I like mixing drinks, and I enjoy getting to talk to the variety of people that visit the bar where I work. Granted, there usually isn’t much time for chit chat when I bartend on the weekends but during the week I get to meet some interesting people which I consider to be useful for writing. Exposing oneself to a variety of people and situations can only enhance one’s writing. I have noticed, however, that there are several things that a not insignificant amount of bar patrons do incorrectly and I would like to put that to a stop right now. If you who are reading this are a writer, too, then chances are you spend a fair amount of time at drinking establishments. Trust me, I understand that writer’s block is a bitch. Or maybe you just want to get outside and interact with other human beings after locking yourself in your office for days on end as you write. I get that.
Keep in mind that although the bright lights outside your house are confusing, you are still required to act at least somewhat like an adult when interacting with other people. Here are a few things I’ve noticed that people do at bars and to put it nicely, you need to cut that shit out right now.
Lesson 1: Getting the Bartender’s Attention
If you have ever waved money in the bartender’s face, tapped your credit card on the bar, or repeatedly slammed your hand on the bar to get a bartender’s attention, you’re doing it wrong. We are aware of your presence and we are going to serve you. That is, after all, how we make our money. Even if we have high falutin’ ideals about money, we still enjoy having money for things like food and rent. But even with that being said, I have refused to serve people who behave like that when attempting to get my attention. I’m a bartender, not a trained monkey, and it might be worth it to consider that you’re being rude and demeaning to someone serving you.
Lesson 2: If You Have to Say You’re Special, You Probably Aren’t.
In every bar, there are legitimately special people, regulars whom we love and who spent a lot of money and in return, we like to take care of them. I also find that the truly special regulars never demand anything. If they order from a new bartender, they don’t get aggravated that this person whom they have never met doesn’t have their favorite drink committed to memory and they don’t demand “extras.”
Then there are the people who think they’re special. When I first started bartending, I had the following conversation with a customer:
Me: Hey, what can I get for you?
Me: Two what?
Customer: Yeah, I’m just used to saying how many drinks I want, not what I want to drink.
Sorry, princess, your special drinks were not part of the training.
Then a few weeks later, I had this conversation with a different customer:
Customer: Can I get an extra large shot of Jaeger?
Me: Do you want a double?
Customer: No, just a tall single.
Me: I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to do anything other than exact pours.
Customer: Can I talk to another bartender? Just so you know, I’m a regular and I tip a lot.
Me: I’m the only bartender working right now.
Customer: Ugh, fine, just an “exact shot” of Jameson.
If you have to tell me you’re special, you probably aren’t.
Lesson 3: Know What You’re Ordering
In general, it’s a good idea to know what you want to drink before you order from the bartender. Now this isn’t to say that you can’t ask the bartender for recommendations. I have people do that all the time and it’s kind of fun, especially when I get to expose someone to a new drink they love. The irritation comes in when a situation like this arises:
Customer: Do you know how to make a Keoke Coffee?
Me: Not off the top of my head but if you tell me what’s in it I can.
Customer: Um, can’t you just Google it or something?
Folks, have at least an idea of what it is you’re ordering. Bartenders can commit a lot of drinks to memory but there are so many crazy variations that if you want something specific, at least be able to say what’s in it (for the record, a Keoke Coffee has brandy, coffee liqueur, crème de cacao, and coffee mixed together and topped with whipped cream).
Lesson 4: Don’t Order a Bloody Mary After 1pm
A Bloody Mary is one of the few alcoholic drinks that is appropriate to consume with breakfast. Not that you can’t order something else, but you might get some funny looks if you drink single malt scotch at brunch.
That being said, it’s a bit weird to drink a Bloody Mary during any other time of the day. I don’t usually mind if the bar isn’t too busy but if it’s 11pm on a Friday night and the line for the bar is four or five people deep, don’t order a breakfast drink with seven or eight ingredients. I even know bartenders who will refuse to make Bloody Marys at night. Most will, but if it’s super busy then we might hate you. Just a little bit.
Lesson 5: Don’t Behave Like a Five-Year-Old
Bar staff members expect a certain level of drunken shenanigans. After all, we are serving alcohol. But it does seem sometimes like people leave their homes and are confused by the bright lights and other people that exist in the world and forget how to behave in public. I’ve seen people start to strip, guys trying to urinate off of the balcony, people trying to dance on tables and chairs, girls arriving without shoes (and bars are notorious for broken glass), and food fights—and that’s just from last Friday. If you are old enough to frequent a bar then you are, in theory, an adult. Please behave like one. The last time I saw someone partaking in any of the above behaviors was when I used to work as a nanny.
Lesson 5: Tip Your Freaking Bartender
One night, a good friend of mine was bartending and a gentleman ran up a pretty sizeable bar tab. A $250 bar tab to be exact. When it came time to pay, my bartender friend ran this customer’s card and gave him the credit card slip to sign. Naturally, after waiting on this customer all night, my friend was expecting a pretty good tip on this tab. Instead, the customer wrote “Sorry, I’m not a millionaire” on the tip line and tipped him absolutely nothing.
I don’t understand people who behave like this. If you don’t have the money to tip, maybe drink less and set aside some money for those who serve you or don’t go out at all. Bartenders are like waiters; we’re usually paid less than minimum wage and are dependant on tips for our income. We can’t very well take your bullshit excuse you scribbled on your credit card slip and show it to the electric company in lieu of paying our bill.
That being said, do I expect people to tip me when I’m just opening a bottle of beer and handing it over? Not really, no. I need tips but realistically, all I did was pop off a bottle cap. But as a general rule, the more complicated the drink, the higher the tip should be. I know I tend to overtip but my policy tends to be $1 per drink for basic drinks like beer but if I’m ordering mixed drinks or something more expensive like scotch, I’ll get into tipping a percentage off my total bill.
If you like the bar and plan to be back, tip well. That’s a great way to ensure you’ll get great service when you return and then you could very well end up as one of the truly special regulars, one who doesn’t need to inform the bartender of how awesome you are.
Written by: Emily Regan