This is the last (for now) in a series of portraits of people who sometimes dominate writing groups. Come on in and meet...
This writer hasn’t quite mastered numbering pages in order
or actually bringing all of them to the meeting, so the reading will include
phrases like, “Oh wait---that part comes before the bit I just read,” “Just a
second, I can’t read my writing,” and “Oh no, this is from my other book.” It
can be entertaining if you consider it as performance art.
THE JEKYLL AND HYDE
This writer is the most pleasant person you can imagine.
He’s happy to share stories with you about how unfair agents and publishers are
to writers like you and him, who surely deserve to get published. No, put that
money away, he’s getting the drinks…until you get something published. Then
he’ll turn on you in an instant. If he still buys you a drink it’ll be only because
he’s slipped a little cyanide in it.
THE KNOWS BETTER
This writer will listen very carefully when you read. It’s
kind of gratifying the way he concentrates…until it’s time for feedback. Then
he’ll give you a comprehensive account of how he’d make your story better.
Nothing too drastic, just change the protagonist, the setting, the historical
period, the style, the punctuation, the beginning, the ending, and the middle.
Other than that, it’s fine.
(If you'd care to nominate any others, please leave a descirption in the comments and I'll add them to a future post.)
Recenty I shared with you a few types of writers who can make being part of a writing group an ordeal. Here are a few more to avoid if possble:
grandchildren love the stories she makes up for them, so this nice lady is convinced she
can be a great children’s book author. Of course her very talented grandson, age 5, should illustrate the books. ("He's brilliant and I'm not just saying that becasue I'm his grandmother!"--Yes, you are.) She has a whole series in mind, so get ready for the story of How Bunny Wunny Loses His Mittens, His Keys, His Favorite Shirt, and His Mind. No, wait, that's what we'll lose if we hear one more of these.
THE PARANOID ONE
This writer is convinced
everybody is out to steal his ideas. Who can blame him, when he’s working on
a thriller set in the tense world of stamp collecting? I can see it now: "Daniel Craig IS Franklin McGillicuddy in STAMP!" This writer’s title pages have a skull and crossbones on them and a
warning about the severe penalties for plagiarism. There are copyright symbols on
every page, and every night he locks the manuscript in his safe. Don’t look too
interested when he reads, it makes you a suspect.
Brown, this is the writer whose book is going to reveal it ALL: Stonehenge, the illuminati, Area 51,
who really killed Kennedy, what Hitler is up to these days (he runs a small
dry-cleaning establishment and ironically owes his longevity to eating a
portion of gefilte fish every day). This writer's book also will reveal the date of the
end of the world. Yes, 12/12 was a false alarm, this man knows the real
date--but he’s not telling. Here’s a hint: he says he has to finish his book by
This gentleman is
convinced his life story will be a best seller and he’s determined not to leave
out one minute of his career as an accountant for a paper clip company. Thrill
to the day in 1955 when, while still a young trainee accountant, he discovered
an error that saved the company $78! Sit on the edge of your chair wondering
whether he could, against all odds, complete the company’s 1973 tax return
before the deadline! And that doesn’t even take into account the inherent glamour of the
paper clip trade. If no publisher takes this book, at least it will be something he
can leave behind to torture his grandchildren.
This lady doesn't actually want to make a career of writing but there's one book inside of her, boiling to get out. It's an novel about a no-good scumbag of a husband who leaves his wife for a much younger woman and how both of them end up suffering a well-deserved agonizing death. Recently divorced, this writer has plenty of time to work on her book. When it's her turn to read she does sometimes hyperventilate, especially at the part where Alan, er, she means "Adam" runs off with that little bitch Leah, oops, she means "Lara."
As I advised last time, if you're organizing a writing group, show prospective members this post. If they laugh, they're in. If they turn defensive...
Another good test is whether they have bought and read "Your Creative Writing Masterclass," which contains writing advice from the best classic and modern writers, including Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway and many more. It's published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller. It has been read by writers of taste and discernment who make wonderful additions to any writing group.
Writers' groups can be great. It's helpful to get constructive feedback on your work and satisfying to give it. However, sometimes such groups are dominated by one or more of the following characters, in which case run for your life.
1. THE DEPRESSIVE
She writes poetry about death, suicide, ravens, Satan, rain, sadness, broken hearts, spiders and flies, and funerals. She's prone to bursting into tears while reading her latest creation. The group is afraid to criticize her poems in case it sends her over the edge, although they're tempted.
2. THE WRITER OF EPIC MULTI-VOLUME FANTASY NOVELS
Before he reads his work he has to explain to you the history, culture, geography, topography, language and customs of the people of the land of Fnarr, which he has been creating in his mind since he was five. That's Fnarr II, of course, because Fnarr I was destroyed by Zokitosh, second son of...hey, pay attention!
3. THE BITTER WRITER
This guy knows there's a conspiracy to keep talented newcomers like him out of the writing game. Agents are in on it, publishers are in on it, even the people who run Amazon are in on it, and he has the rejection slips and the zero Kindle sales to prove it. Sit down, he'll tell you all about it. There's a lot.
4. THE APOLOGIST
She spends the first 15 minutes of her reading slot telling you that what she's written really isn't any good, she probably shouldn't even be in this group because she's not as good as everybody else, and she needs to rewrite it. Once she does start reading her work, she interrupts herself to say "I need to rework this next bit" or "ignore this part, it really should be in a different chapter."
If you can't find a writing group that's not dominated by one of these characters, start your own. Show them this post. If they laugh, let them join.
(While you're at, make sure all prospective members of your new group have bought my book, "Your Writing Coach," published by Nicholas Brealey and purchased only by the nicest people.)