What Sort of Writer Do You Want to Be?
I run a writing group, and I have for a number of years now. It wasn’t an easy decision to start one, wasn’t something that I really wanted to do. I did however realize that I had to do it.
See, the problem is that most writing groups you visit are homes to ego and self-inflation, first and foremost.
I call them ‘Golf-Clap-Groups’.
Imagine a group of people watching golf. The putt is made, it slides into the hole and, quietly, respectably, people clap in soft, pretend amazement.
Writers can be like that.
Well, bad writers can be like that.
See these golf-clappers show up once a month, dutifully wait their turn and then step up to the podium or microphone. The beret is tilted jauntily, the black scarf tossed over the shoulder, ok, maybe they are not wearing either but you get my drift, and then they begin.
“Little ducky, walking along the road, your yellowy,yellowness worn like an orchids trousers….”
They read….I suffer.
At this point I want to throw myself through a window, run screaming from the room, buy an unabridged OED and throw it at them, anything. Most of all I want to ask what their plan is to proceed, to improve as a writer. I want to start a round table critique where everyone can explain, nicely but truthfully what the problems and potentials are.
You see, writing is not just about putting words on paper. Writing is about putting good words on paper, on improving your style and abilities. Writing is about getting critiqued and cut up. It is about seeing how terribly you did something and realizing that you can do it so much better.
Writing is not about the first draft, it is about the final copy.
And this brings me back to my own group.
I have 112 members, we meet weekly, everyone brings their current work in progress, everyone shares.
Now you may be doing some quick math in your head and thinking,
“By Zeus’s nipples! The meeting must go on for hours, days even!”
But it doesn’t. Most nights we are gone by eleven or so. Everyone has participated, everyone has commented both on the good and the bad. Everyone, by and large is happy with the evenings progress.
See, I have a secret, dastardly thing I do whenever a new member arrives.
They are welcomed, they get to sit and watch and listen. They can read and comment and joke as we all do. There is no room for pretension, no room for the posing artist, this is a writers group, for real writers.
Sure your mom or spouse or bestie might have told you that you are wonderful and amazing. Maybe you won Miss Kowalski’s eighth grade story contest. I still know the one phrase that keeps my one-hundred-and-twelve member group down to a manageable level.
And I use this phrase. All the time. I use it and they smile and nod and blanch and leave and never come back. I mutter it and the icy tendrils of yellowy ducks march down their spines. These few words, this incantation from a darker place tells them the one thing they never, ever want to know, and never ever want to do.
I look up, smiling, friendly. I look them straight in the eyes and I say….
“You know, writing is a lot of hard work. Rewarding, amazing when it comes together, but a lot of hard work. You may be years and years writing a story before you have it right.”
They don’t want that. They want an easy answer, a quick and polite golf clap that tells them they are wonderful.
Your decision is what sort of writer do you want to be.
What sort of writer do I want to be? The one I am; always learning, growing and starting over. Never truly satisfied or discouraged. Loving the challenge.
You have to be totally dedicated Craig.
I suspect, although I can’t prove it, that most if not all of the trolls on Goodreads and Amazon come from your golf clap scenario. You know the folk I am on about, those who believe they must destroy a successful book’s reputation despite all of the praise it may have received. Why do they do it? Jealousy pure and simple.
Great article by the way. 😉
Ah Linda that is the road to greatness, the lack of satisfaction. Thank you for your comment.
Jack, totally agree. There are two types I think. The jealous and the pointless. The jealous we all know about. The pointless, well they are trolls seeking naught but an opportunity to attack a person from the safety of their computer.
I think that there is a difference between a mean criticism – out of jealousy or just to show superiority – and a criticism meant to improve a story. The first type of criticism should be ignored; the second one should be taken seriously by anyone who wants to write better. There is always room for improvment, so if someone cares enough about your story to give you comments in order to improve it, you should thank this person and try to learn out of your errors. This is true not only for writers, but for all those who do something they love – you can always do better and you should be grateful to those who help you improve your skills.
Well said Sissy
This made me chuckle, because I can envision the response of the want to be writers! Who waddle in like ducks going to the pond. All of them, expecting to be safe because everyone and his dog has told them, polite little lies about how good they are. When Craig tells the truth, the ducks either sink weighted down by their own egos or they learn to swim much better by growing and listening. There is always room for growth and honing ones skills. To resent and not listen to those who seek to help and improve us, is failure to ourselves. Any one can write and throw words on a page, but it takes hard work to be a brilliant writer and make those words talk, emote and paint a clear vision in the reader’s mind. Criticism, out of malice and jealousy should be never be taken seriously or to heart.. But honest critiquing of ones efforts in writing should be meant with an open mind wanting to become better and the ego checked at the door . The goal is be the best you can be, why be mediocre. Well said!
Thank you all
First, Sissy, I try to differentiate the two types by considering them ‘criticism’ and ‘critique’ – one negative, one positive, by definition.
Second, Craig, I have struggled to establish a writers’ group in my local area. I have had a modicum of success in that there is now such a group, but I am not part of it. Why? They only want to work on their one ms, claiming they don’t have time to do writing exercises or try other types of writing. My opinion is, if you don’t go out of your comfort zone, how will you ever improve? I have found that, struggling to write essays, for example, improves my writing for my novels. Short stories help develop plot for longer works. Even poetry helps with the ability to find powerful verbs and nouns for use elsewhere. In fact, an exercise I did at a previous writers group (in Tasmania, too far for me to visit now) was the first thing I ever had published.
I really miss having a small group of like-minded writers to meet with monthly and test ourselves. However, at least we have Angie’s diary ;-).