Ten People You Don't Want to Meet at a Writer's Group
Writing can be a lonely pursuit and sometimes it can be hard to find motivation to go on. More so it doesn't exactly invite a swinging social life onto the scene. You can't blame us for wondering what the other writers are up to and wanting to meet them. This is why writer's groups exist. It doesn't matter if the group is just for public reading, for critique, for lectures, for learning, for interactive activities, or just for socializing, it all comes down to the same thing - we want to improve our art and meet like minds. However it's not always as tame as all this. A friend once said, "Writer's groups can be real freak shows."
I should mention I have been to a lot of writers groups and have met many wonderful people and listened to some pretty amazing pieces being read but on the flip side of that coin I have also attended meetings where I wanted to literally melt out of my chair and onto the floor where I'd find some way of slinking under the crack of the door to escape. So whether you want to start your own group or just want to poke around someone else's here are some real doozies to look out for.
The Critic is at every meeting you'll ever attend. He's everywhere and when you first sit down he might even impress you a bit. He'll make sure to correct any obscure grammar anyone has gotten wrong, suggest better words for sentences, and wax and wane with reflective questions that are designed to get you, the writer, thinking about what you're trying to say. At first you might think, "Wow, this guy really knows his stuff!" (And it's almost always a guy, mind you.) However a few minutes later when he gets up to read his piece you'll be startled at just how bad it is. You'll realize pretty quick that knowing obscure grammar rules is not what makes a good writer. And then eventually he'll go too far, make a mention of something that's not even writing related that should be corrected, and you'll want to punch him in the face. It happens. You'll read your piece and grin and bear it as he takes note of every meticulous detail you have gotten wrong and when you get home you won't change your writing, even if you know it's wrong, just out of spite for who corrected it.
The Overly Enthusiastic Youngun'
Another common face at any writer's meeting is The Overly Enthusiastic Youngun'. Most of the time these are freshmen college students trying for an English major, in the first few months of their schooling before their zest for writing is sucked out of their bones by academia. At other times they might be a gifted high school student. Either way they are always super happy to be attending a writers meeting with real writers! They cannot wait to read their piece and they love giving superfluous amounts of encouragement to whoever else reads. They're delighted when you give them the headway to discuss something they've been debating in class. Part of you admires their youthful energy and doesn't want to be the person that ultimately kills it. The other part of you wants to yell, "OK! We get it, this is the best experience of your life. Can we tone it down a bit now?" These writers never stay this way, it is a phase, and eventually life itself will kick the rose-tinted glasses right off their head.
The Terrible Poet
I have been to some writers meetings where I have been absolutely floored by the most amazing poetry - the sort of thing that makes you sit up and listen no matter who or what you are. But with that being said I have had to endure far more terrible poets than profound ones. They seem to show up at every meeting and no one really knows what to do with them because poetry is so different from fiction and nonfiction writing you're not even sure if they should be allowed in the group in the first place. This indecision quickly becomes a concrete no in your mind after they stand up and read something. The whole audience will look up and politely listen as they clench their teeth and try to get the gist of the poem. The poet thinks themselves to be brave troubadours, heroes in their own right, and the audience is always far too sweet to bust their bubble on this one. They say things like, "That was... interesting" but they don't get a word of it. Case in point I had to listen to a poet, a man mind you, that decided to write a poem about abortion through the eyes of a woman getting one. I'm not saying as a man you can't do this, I'm saying you really must have a set of brass ones if you try to then read it to an audience containing women. There were over twenty people at that meeting, only one figured out it was about abortion and after she raised that red flag everyone was quick to comment how brave he was to write it and how they knew it was about abortion too. LIARS. If they knew it they wouldn't have taken fifteen minutes to come up with the word! The second poem he read I believed was about a seven year old boy being molested but no one dared ask if this was really what it was about. What if it wasn't? Then how pervy are you for asking?! Everyone said, "Your poems are getting better! You should keep going!" I sat in a corner silent and shocked. I find it morally reprehensible to encourage someone who has no talent or possibility of talent. It's like telling that awkward kid with the leg braces that he's going to make a great basketball player one day.
The Potential Serial Killer
The Potential Serial Killer is always a fun one. They always write in the horror genre, occasionally guest starring in science fiction. They like to write gore, hardcore gore. They will describe in visceral detail every gruesome sadistic act their characters do to other human characters, making sure that you can see every drop of blood and every anguished scream in your mind until all you want to do is excuse yourself to the parking lot to barf. They can be so convincing in their genre that people around you will be whispering, "Is this a true account? Is this guy a serial killer?" No one will dare point out how dastardly and socially awkward this move is because no one wants this writer tracking them down and slaughtering them. I've seen several movies and sitcoms that have even starred The Potential Serial Killer in a skit that involves people trying to figure out if his story is real or made up. As with most things this scenario doesn't come from nowhere! He's out there... lurking at many writers meetings so beware.
The Networker is someone who likes being around writers. Sometimes they are a writer who is merely seeking opportunity by networking with every writer, editor, and media owner they can find. Other times they are more like a groupie - someone who has no real talent of their own but likes to bask in the glow of other people's talents. That's OK. We can all use a bit of flattery, which is probably why no one is too harsh on the writing of The Networker even though they're usually harsh and technical sounding.
The Mother Desperately Trying to Regain a Social Life
The Mother Trying Desperately to Regain her Social Life is a very sweet woman. You're bound to like her because she's just so earnest to be doing something, anything, that doesn't involve laundry and picking up toys. She is so happy just to meet you that you can find her slight psychosis kind of charming in a way. Her biggest issue is that even though she's trying desperately to get a little escape from the daily rigors of motherhood (which by all means she's deserving of) she is still in fact knee-deep in smelly diapers. She thinks her experiences as a mother will be interesting so all she writes about is her kids and how hard it is to take care of them, which it really is, but the people in the audience don't really care. Most of them are either childless or have grown children and really don't want to be reminded of the constant screaming and crying of wee ones. She'd do much better if she stepped out onto a limb and tried to write something completely and utterly outside her own bubble. We all might be surprised what she comes up with!
The Alcoholic and/or Addict
The relationship between writers and alcohol is a touchy subject. Suffice to say that for whatever reason a great many writers also like to hit the bottle and sometimes other things pretty hard. A lot them are journalists and who can really blame them? Journalism in the past ten years has turned into an absolute joke and if they were witness to real trauma and tragedy they are likely to have one of these alcoholic break downs, especially when their editors don't let them run the stories they feel are important. The world is just that depressing. Gifted minds also like to flirt with disaster so you'll also find some addicts in here too. On one hand you won't see them often at meetings - as alcoholics and addicts are usually pretty bad at showing up to anything. On the other hand you'll know them when you see them! I saw some woman who was three sheets to the wind, likely on sedatives or some other prescription drug, read with such reckless abandon that I didn't care her poem was absolute shit, it was entertaining enough just watching her!
Eddie Izzard, Star Wars, and Legos
The Guy No One Can Understand AT ALL
The Guy No One Can Understand AT ALL comes in a few subcategories. The most common is The Abstract Humor Writer. Now there's nothing wrong with abstract humor writing, it just takes a very special person to pull it off. Think, a totally nonsensical plotless book that still makes me laugh when I envision a depressed robot. That was a popular book, so popular that the number 42 appears as a pun in almost every science fiction show on TV. However I am at a loss of coming up with anyone else that can pull off such whimsical Gibberish and god knows I have had to listen to quite a few at these writers meetings... What are you to do when you're sitting there listening to a random excerpt of an already written 200,000 word manuscript about Godzilla and his affection for Starbucks coffee? It's not as if you can say, "Gee nice try, better luck next time..." A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The other Guy No One Can Understand AT ALL is someone who can't read or can't speak but tries to anyway. This is super frustrating to the audience listening. I once had to listen to a guy read three poems that took him 45 minutes because he couldn't speak any better than a stroke patient, and also had some sort of muscular problem which made holding a piece of paper and switching to another page virtually impossible. All these things could have been remedied if he allowed for anyone to help him with anything. That's 45 agonizing minutes watching a dude in a wheelchair flail around helplessly and try to read a 50 word poem which he couldn't enunciate if you gave him a million dollars. Now I am sympathetic to people with disabilities and illnesses but if no one can understand you that also means no one can give a valuable suggestion, critique, or even compliment. All you are doing is holding people hostage and making them severely uncomfortable for your own shits and giggles. It's like a friend said to me, "Just because you're in a wheelchair doesn't mean you can't also be a jerk."
The Self-Help Aficionado
A friend of mine has been urging me to start my own writers group, partially because she has her own and it's apparently wonderful and everything I have ever wanted out of a writers group (save for the 1,000 mile drive to get there.) She did however give me a very strange bit of advice - ask for writing samples and don't ever let a self-help author in. Why? Because apparently those writing about self-help are the ones in the most dire need of help. Apparently one self-help author came in one day promising just to be an observer but ended up spending the entire hour relating in great detail how she was raped numerous times as a child until everyone wanted to crawl under the table and die. Thanks for the advice! I have taken it to heart!
The Amazing Go-Nowhere Author
The Amazing Go-Nowhere Author is both the most fascinating person you'll ever meet and the most frustrating. He or she will write the most profound thing you have ever heard being read. It will capture your attention so fiercely you will be sitting there just begging for them to continue the story you're now deeply immersed in but they won't go on. Either they have yet to write the rest or they are too shy to go on. These people have the most stunning talent and yet they are always the ones who have the least confidence and self esteem. They are never published authors and probably never will be which is an absolute tragedy and why these people, although not as common as some of the other types listed, are the most dauntingly frustrating.
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