Having done a couple of workshops, classes, and even (briefly) been a member of a writers group, there is one thing that I’m reminded of time and time again, at every single class and meeting.
I hate other writers.
Ok, fine. Hate is a strong word. And this isn’t necessarily true.
It’s like when I was a teacher and my students, all of whom I loved, would do something questionable/obnoxious/immature/gross. I loved them, but I didn’t love their behavior.
This is how I feel about the other writers I’ve met. Now I don’t know these writers well enough to love or to hate, but sometimes their actions, words, and general disposition drive me nuts. Like bang-my-head-on-the antique-writers-table nuts.
Before I get on my high horse, I should say some of the people I’ve met in workshop, especially the one I’m currently in, I actually like. They are smart, interesting people who love writing, have fascinating backgrounds and ideas, and are respectful with their feedback. It’s also pretty shallow of me to say I hate them when I don’t really know them. Also not very fair. They may not even like me, after all. I can be pretty annoying, too (I also don’t really care, but that’s a different topic).
And I do have writing friends (i.e. my writing friend Katherine) who are awesome, smart, and lovely and friends who write that are talented (hi Newswire alums!), so I’m not a total hater on other writers. That would be beyond stupid. It’s just those certain writer behaviors….*twitches*
So if you are going into a workshop, class, or writing group, here are three things not to do unless you want people to secretly plot your death.
1. Don’t be a Debbie-Downer
I was in a writers group and sat in on some when I was in Cincinnati and though it’s meant to be a helpful experience of critiquing, it left me feeling pretty depressed about writing. The people in these groups are downtrodden and exhausted. I can’t blame them. Writing is hard and getting published is even harder. It requires plowing through lots of depressing and frustrating things, the biggest and ugliest of them being rejection. A lot of published authors preach the simple ‘just keep working hard and it will all be ok!’ and they do because it worked for them. But, when you’re the unpublished author, it’s beyond frustrating. To think the baby you made and birthed on your computer was a total waste of time? Well, that’s heartbreaking.
But if you focus on all the negatives, they prevent you from going anywhere. They just hold you back. I know well enough that misery loves company and it’s pretty easy to slide into commiserating with people who understand exactly where you’re coming from, but PLEASE STOP. Dwelling and wallowing gets you nowhere, it freaks everyone else out, and it makes you look like you’re just plain giving up, when no one likes a quitter. Or someone who’s complaining constantly. When I hear the whining I want to stop the whiner in the middle of their sentence and ask them, “so why are you doing this again?”
No sane person tries to write and publish a novel thinking that it’s going to be the easiest thing in the world. We sympathize and understand the frustrations from first hand experience, and we don’t need to be reminded of it. It’s not exciting or productive. What is good for you is to discuss new opportunities, ideas, and tips to keep going.
It never hurts to be optimistic. My writing friend Katherine once said in an email that “one day our book will be on a shelf next to theirs” when referencing some things that we enjoyed reading. I loved that sentence and obviously think about it a lot. It’s hopeful and yet not totally outrageous.
2. Be humble
This is a hard thing for writers to do, especially when we rely so heavily on ourselves for our livelihood. Humility is something that I think about a lot, especially in classes and in workshop. In my previous class one of my fellow classmates actually said the phrase, “well I am just so creative.” Rage boiled inside of me. No shit you’re creative, so is everyone else in this class or we wouldn’t be here! Also, I am a firm believer that everyone is creative in some way or another (there’s the former teacher coming out in me), or as my friend Brock puts it, everyone has an art. You being creative does not set you apart from the other nine people in the class.
To quote a sign that hung in the office of my college newspaper for years, “you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.”
There is no doubt in my mind that the other people in my workshop or former classes or groups were talented. They were! It’s just that we are not in class to stroke your ego. We’re in class to be better writers. Check your pretentiousness at the door, people.
I sort of sympathize with my classmate that spoke so highly of herself because she clearly was in search of validation, which I am guilty of searching for as well, but a class is not a place to get it. A class is a place to learn and get better as a writer because even though you may have that special spark of creativity, you shouldn’t go into a class thinking you know everything. That is a huge lie and you will get nothing out of the class if you think you are special because you can craft a sentence like Hemingway, or you have an agent, or you finished a novel, or anything like that. Go in with a blank slate, learn, and apply what you learn to the best of your abilities. If you are a willing learner and participant in class, validation will come along without having to search for it. I figured that one out on my own. Also the desire for that validation will get smaller, too.
3. Be respectful of the people in your workshop/class
This is one of those things where you lovely readers might say to yourself ‘really, Emily? You just spent a plethora of paragraphs venting about how you hate the people in the workshop and class. And you definitely used the word hate.‘ This is true, but I do not outwardly express my frustrations to my classmates. I keep my mouth shut like the polite lady I was raised to be.
But when someone in your class is disrespectful to you, then it will make you LIVID as I am right now.
What really blows my mind is that it’s very easy to be respectful in a writing class. Here are some things you can do to be nice to other writers.
- Listen to what they have to say, especially if it’s something they wrote! If you blow them off it makes you the biggest of A-holes
- Ask them questions about their work if you are unclear on it. Questions are totally ok!
- Offer suggestions if you have legit ideas
- Discuss something you have in common
- Offer them a recommendation of something they would like
Basically what I’ve learned from workshopping so far is this: it’s about you, but it’s also not about you. You’re there to improve your work and learn new things and get that wonderful varied feedback, but you’re also a part of the workshop as a reader, so you in turn must give that wonderful feedback to the other writers. You have to listen and question and comment and respond. It’s boils down to the Golden Rule, people! Treat other writers the way you want to be treated as a writer. For me, it’s ‘respectfully and with good feedback.’
I am not perfect though. I have to work on this, too, and I am trying. Sometimes I don’t want to pay attention to my fellow writers’ questions because it doesn’t apply to my novel, but when I force myself to, I actually can get something out of their question or get something out of the instructor’s response. Those cliched reasons your third grade teacher listed for listening to others people’s questions still apply when you’re a grown-ass adult in a writing workshop.
So that’s me, on my soapbox, complaining about my own kind. Typical.
Anyways, I should probably go keep my ego in check and get back to writing. I hope none of you think I am a completely terrible person. Trust me, I am only sometimes terrible.
Have a blessed Monday, everybody. I’m out.
*I can use colloquial/Internet slang in my titles. My blog, my rules. So calm yo’selves grammar geeks.