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Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Loudmouth Novice

January 17, 2018

(image via wikimedia)

“I’m sorry about what happened,” the writer’s group leader said to me at the end of the group meeting.  My excerpt had just been ridiculed and tossed aside by the new guy in our group.  He had cursed at it and said there was nothing worthwhile about what I had written ( you can get more details here ).  It would have been different if I had known the guy or was familiar with his writing.  But the blunt guy was new.  He hadn’t earned the right to insult my prose yet.

Ed, the group leader, was a sincere white-haired guy in his late 50s, and he lived in a small house in the old, maintained part of the city with a wife 20 years younger.  I’m not sure what he had done before he retired, but he was a decent writer and a good critic and his wife was nice-looking, so I always listened to his advice.

Ed spoke quietly, like me, but I could always hear him the first time he said anything.  “He’s not used to critiquing the way we do.”

I knew what Ed was talking about.  The new blunt guy was from a local university’s prestigious writing program, where students butchered each other’s work in groups.    Our writing group intentionally approached criticism more gently.  It allowed me to experiment more, knowing that nobody would just say “You suck.”

I understood why the blunt guy had said what he’d said (it was how he had been taught), but I was still pissed.  I really wanted to massacre the blunt guy’s manuscript.  He had just given us an excerpt from his novel for the next writer’s group meeting, and we had the week to read it and make perceptive comments.  I really wanted to be negative.  I hoped that the excerpt wasn’t any good.  I hoped that it sucked so that I’d have every reason to criticize it, mock it, cast it aside just like he had done with mine.  I mean, I knew this wasn’t the right approach, but I was in my 20s, so I give myself a little slack when I look back on this.

A few days after the writer’s group debacle, I had calmed down and I found some spare time over the weekend to look over the blunt guy’s excerpt.  It was okay, but really boring.  It seemed like the blunt guy was putting together a legal thriller, but there was nothing exciting about it.  The main character was a lawyer, and he talked to other lawyers, and there was a bunch of legal jargon I didn’t understand, and everybody talked the same way, except one guy used a lot of profanity, and the main character saw everybody else as incompetent and never seemed to make mistakes.

I could tell that the writer’s group would gently pan this excerpt, and I felt a little sympathy for the blunt guy, so I decided to ease up and set aside my plan for revenge.  It wouldn’t be necessary to criticize his writing if everybody else did as well.  I didn’t want to gang up on him.

The next week’s meeting began peacefully enough.  The blunt guy read a portion of his excerpt out loud.  He read it dramatically, even though there wasn’t much drama in the excerpt.  He emphasized the profane character’s extreme language, and he used a quiet whispery voice for the one female lawyer character.  I suppressed a yawn and prepared my criticism.

There were eight of us in the group, so the blunt guy had to listen to seven critiques, but I was one of the last to offer my opinion, and the other participants, including Ed, had said the same stuff that I was thinking, and I didn’t want to repeat what everybody else had said.   The blunt guy wasn’t happy about the criticism (nobody is ever happy about it), and he frowned and nodded while they talked.  By the time my turn came, I had decided to go easy on him.

“I don’t have much new to offer,” I said.  “You could probably take it easy on the legal jargon.”

“They’re lawyers,” the blunt guy snapped.  “That’s how they talk.”

First of all, the blunt guy wasn’t supposed to respond to criticism until everybody had spoken.  Secondly, this guy was being a dick to me again.

“But I’m not a lawyer,” I said, trying not to get sucked into a stupid confrontation, “so I don’t understand everything the characters are talking about.”

“That’s not my problem,” he said.

“It is if you’re trying to sell this book, and readers don’t understand it.”

“You don’t understand it,” he said.  “You’re not every reader.”

“I think a lot of potential readers would have a tough time with this.”

“I don’t care what you think.”

That was it.  I could feel the back of my ears getting purple again.  My hands shook as I clutched his manuscript.  I wanted to be diplomatic, but I was running out of tactful responses.  I knew I was going to respond in one off three ways:

  1. “Why are you in a writer’s group if you don’t care what we think?”
  2. “Okay, Then I’m done with my critique.”

or my personal favorite…

  1. “Your story sucks, and you have bad breath too.”

I knew I was going to use one of those three responses, but I wasn’t sure which.

*****

To be continued!  In the meantime, here are two books that my writer’s group never saw.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!                  Now available on Amazon!

Now only 99 cents each on the Amazon Kindle!

From → Dysfunctileaks

One Comment
  1. I have responded with the first option (“Why are you here, if you don’t care what anyone has to say?”) more times than I can count. Fortunately, MOST of those situations didn’t occur in any in-person writers’ group.

    It’s probably some sort of rite of passage for writers’ groups: the new person who comes in, runs amok and makes a mess, declares him/herself a Better Writer Than All of You, and that he/she Doesn’t Care What You Amateurs Think, and leaves… eventually, if everyone else is lucky.

    I don’t think all feedback on a piece of writing is useful for improving the writing itself, but it is still useful for understanding the potential audience: If you write historical suspense, knowing how readers who’ve never read historical suspense before are likely to respond to such stories is useful information, even if they have nothing to say about how to make your story better.

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