Remember that time I got kicked out of the writing group?

    I confess, Dear Reader, that I am a writing group reject. Yes, I have been unceremoniously booted forth from a writing workshop led by an eeevil dictator. It didn’t start that way…but the honeymoon was short. We were together nearly a year and we had some good times. It was a messy sordid affair.

     Occasionally, I email my favorite creative writing professor from my MA program and ask if there is anybody in his classes he could set me up with to get a group together. The only time he said yes was to point me toward a man we’ll call Joe but to whom I privately refer as “Captain Crazyman.” Our first meeting was dinner at a favorite restaurant and we talked about writing. He seemed interesting and said he had a group of five or six people he was getting together for a writing workshop. They were a group of talented writers and I was excited to join them.    

     Things went sour quickly. The first few months I found I truly disliked his writing. Also, he would IM me at work with odes to my breasts and once said he loved me. He knew I was married, but persisted in throwing lavish compliments my way. I was more interested in getting to the business of writing. I deflected his faux woo and tried to focus on literary pursuits.

    Over time in the writing group, he became dictatorial, chastizing and admonishing behind their backs those who he felt were not up to his standards, praising my efforts within the group. He had invited my friend C to come to meetings which she did, but when she could not keep up with his rigorous demands for commentary and critique, he dropped her out of the group.  Others were threatened with the same.

     On a personal note, he was invited with C to come to my birthday party that year and proceeded to frighten the guests with his belligerence, obscure references to history and literature, and intrusive opinions on such things as the military. When he met a woman he married a few months later, he insisted that he and I were such good friends that my husband and I should meet her and share our opinion. He dominated the evening with inappropriate comments on their sex life, rude comments toward me and Husband, and more obscure references that none at the table understood. I was getting more unhappy with this “friendship.” 

     (Also, he ends his name with “Esquire.” He is neither an attorney nor a gentleman. According to wikipedia, here’s what the term means: Esquire (abbreviated Esq.) is a term denoting social status. Within the U.S., its use as a postnominal honorific is to indicate licensed attorneys. The term carries little social distinction today outside of the United States. The term is British in origin. Ultimately deriving from the medieval squires who assisted knights, the term came to be used automatically by men of gentle birth. The social rank of Esquire is that above gentleman.)

    Though I enjoyed some of the work from other  writing group participants, I found Joe’s writing boring and bad. Critiques of his work provoked him to loud defensiveness and belligerence, yet he insisted we mark up the paper as much as possible. He wrote impossibly long chapters of a complicated militaristic spaceship novel that drew on his history in the military and love of the sci-fi genre. I love sci-fi, too, but this was nearly unreadable. HIs behavior in the meetings and out was off-putting. I was coming home from our monthly meetings unhappy and resistant, where other writing workshops have energized me.

    The end was swift and ridiculous. I had submitted a piece to the workshop, providing the caveat that this was a first draft and not ready for line-editing or deep analysis. “Please just look at the bigger picture right now,” I wrote in my email. “I need to fix the plot before I can work on the spelling!”

    Joe sent it back to me a few days later, having used Word’s track changes feature. I am not exaggerating when I say that almost every line of the 12 page story had something that had been commented on. There were no more margins left, having been used for comments such as, “This name clearly refers to the Byzantine pope who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Muslims. Reconsider this character’s name.”  Comments pointed to obscure references or focused on exactly what I had requested they all ignore.  He wanted to use this “as an example of how people should be marking up others’ manuscripts,” he said.

     Actually, he wrote a three page treatise on why this is how the group should mark up work, and the various shortcomings of the other group members in this department.

    I said no. I said no, you cannot show this to the group. This isn’t what I wanted, this isn’t right, and it’s my work so I get to say how it’s used.

    Things got ugly and in a series of emails. He insisted that since it was his group, he should be able to do whatever he liked and it was only through this example that we would all gain the benefit of his wisdom. He pitched a grand old hissy fit which ended in “See you in the funny papers.” I was subsequently bumped off the group listserv and have not seen or heard from a single member of the group since.

    Wha happened???  I don’t know, really, considering I was a strong member of the group. I was a published author, had an MA with a creative writing focus, and read everyone’s work every time we met – I can’t say that for all involved. I’m certainly better off without him in my life, and what good was it to be forced to read his drivel month after month?

    I’m still looking for a good writing group.

1 Comment

  1. I had a bad experience with a writing group that was organized by a retired man who scheduled meetings at his home. His wife who was not a group member often interrupted discussions with her input. She also bustled around us serving food. It was his group, and his comments were always right. Every session, we lost a person and he introduced another person to the group.

    There were no guidelines and the sessions became grammar workshops and critiques of proper writing.

    I really want the energy of participating in a writing group, but it is so difficult to find people with the same level of commitment,

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