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Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Tough Crowd

February 15, 2019

(image via wikimedia)

Being the new guy in an established writer’s group isn’t easy.  Writers who are comfortable with each other can talk about their works of progress but are less likely to be so forthcoming with the new guy.  Nobody in the writer’s group knows if the new guy is a true aspiring writer or just another wannabe who’ll drop out after learning how frustrating the writing process can be.  Plus, a lot of writers are introverts, and putting introverts together in a social situation can lead to lots of silence.

I was the new guy.  I had walked into an established writer’s group on a weeknight in the back of a library (You can get more details here).   When I saw the circle of about twenty writers sitting in folding chairs and no table, I noticed that I was the only writer who had brought copies of his/her work in progress (we called them manuscripts back then).   At first, nobody paid attention to me, but then somebody said “Look!  An enthusiastic new writer!” and then everybody turned in my direction.  I was the only person standing up, and I had a bunch of manuscripts.

I didn’t know what to do or say, so I introduced myself.

“My name is Jimmy, and I…”

“This isn’t Alcoholics Anonymous,” some grizzled old guy with a thick grey beard said.  He looked like he’d be familiar with AA, but I kept that to myself.  Half the group laughed at his comment.  I had a feeling they’d laugh even if he hadn’t earned it.

“Umm… I thought it would be helpful if I brought copies,” I said.

“Are they free?” somebody else said.  More laughter.

“I had to pay for them,” I said.  “But I’m not charging you.”

“We wouldn’t pay anyway.”  That was a middle aged woman calling out, and even she got a laugh.

That last line ticked me off because everybody should have known that I’d been joking.  Of course, I wasn’t going to charge anybody.  It was ridiculous that anybody would take that statement seriously.  These were writers, I thought.  How could writers take my banter so literally?

“You’ll have to wait your turn,” some other guy with glasses said.

I nodded and sat down, fuming.  I had walked in knowing that I’d wait for my turn.  The new guy doesn’t just walk in to an established writer’s group and read his stuff right away.  Did it really look like I was that eager?  Or were they just being old jerks?  As I looked around, still ticked, my initial observation had been correct.  Nobody else had made copies of their manuscripts, at least not as far as I could tell.

“Alright,” the guy with glasses said.  “Who didn’t get a chance to read last week?”

About ten hands went up.  I calculated.  Between five minutes of reading (at least) and five minutes of critiquing (at least), that was almost two hours gone right there, and that was the whole meeting.  I inwardly sighed.

Some other old guy started reading dramatically from his manuscript, and I can’t even tell you what it was about.  My mind wandered.  It wouldn’t be so bad sitting through so many readings on my first night, I thought.  It would give me a chance to meet people before they read my stuff.  I had sensed a little hostility from the group, so I’d have a chance to mend that.  Most people liked me alright after they got to know me.

After a couple minutes, I slowly shifted my stack of copies underneath my chair.  I settled in and relaxed.  Whatever the guy was reading, it seemed to be interesting to everybody.  People nodded and grunted a bit at his dramatic pauses.  If there was any fidgeting, I didn’t see it, and I’m the type to notice fidgeting.  I missed having a copy, though.  It was a lot easier to follow a passage if I could see the words in front of me.  Plus, I can go back and reread something (or read ahead) if I wanted to.  Instead, I was at the mercy of the reader’s pace.

The guy took his five minutes, and then six and seven.  Yeah, I thought, I’m not reading anything tonight.  That was okay.  There’d be no pressure.  Since I hadn’t made the best first impression, I could use that extra week for them to get to know me.  The chairs were pretty hard, though, and I knew my butt was going to hurt.  Crap, even back then, I hated sitting for long periods of time.  This was going to suck even worse than I thought.

The guy finished, and nobody applauded or anything.  It was silent.  That was good.  If we applauded his reading, then we’d have to applaud even for the writers who sucked.  And every writer’s group has somebody whose excerpt sucks.  That’s no insult.  Even great writers can put together a draft that sucks.

“Okay,” the guy with glasses said.  “Nice job.  Who wants to start off?”

I looked around to see who’d raise a hand, but the guy with glasses kept talking.

“Jimmy,” he said.  “What do you think?”

“What?” I said, startled.  I felt my face turn red instantly.  I hadn’t been expecting the attention.

“We like everybody to be involved in the discussion,” he said.  “What do you think?”

Usually, when I read something, I form an instant opinion, just like everybody else, but not this time.  This time, I had no opinion.  After all, I hadn’t listened to a single word the writer had read.

To be continued!


In the meantime you can start another Writer’s Group Horror Story at the beginning with Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Vulgar Guy.

From → Dysfunctileaks

  1. S.C. Jensen permalink

    Well, I want to know what happened! Lol. I hate cliffhangers…

    • Thank you! That’s the challenge about writing these stories on a blog. I don’t want to make the episodes too long, and I have to figure out where to end them.

      • S.C. Jensen permalink

        I’ll just have to come back for the next instalment!

  2. What I can say about writing groups, is getting the quick realization about people who are capable and those you come because they want company. If a work being considered is mostly finished, you can conduct IQ tests as well as judge the literary abilities of fellow attendees.
    There will be differences in philosophy of writing.e.g.some people believe writing should resemble conversation, whereas writing is writing. Use the medium to its best advantage. Don’t jack up a five page piece with words and make it eight pages. Ask yourself, how many extra words did Shakespeare use?

    • “What I can say about writing groups, is getting the quick realization about people who are capable and those who come because they want company. “-

      Yeah, when I saw that no other writers brought extra copies, I suspected most of them weren’t serious about their writing, but you never know.

  3. Caught not listening. Tsk, tsk… just like my students. 🙂

    • Haha! This happened maybe a year after I’d graduated from college. I felt like I’d been busted daydreaming during a lecture (which also had happened to me).

      I’m a decent reader, but not a great listener.

  4. Oh, man. This does sound awkward! And I’m not sure how much benefit a writer can get from just five minutes of verbal critiques.

    I think I’d skip this.

    • I agree. Later on, I found a really good writer’s group, but it’s not as interesting to write about that one. I probably should, just so people know what a good writer’s group can be like.

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