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Criticism, Fiction, The Writer's Life, Writing Group

Death by Writers Group

Warning: Some passages of this blog may not be suitable for gentle writers. Discretion is advised. Names have been withheld to protect the innocent—and the guilty.

It’s the morning after having returned from one of my writers’ group meetings, and I am still thinking about what happened.

If you’re a writer, you know that writers’ groups are formed mainly for support and encouragement, and a little constructive criticism. The group I’m referring to was too, but we also have a low tolerance for “pretend” writers.

Since we meet in a local coffee shop, and our group is listed on Meetup, it’s not uncommon for a new writer to just “show up” without contacting us first and submitting a sample of their work (even though we ask that they do so on our web page). And if said interloper is a newbie, wannabe, neophyte writer, that person may set him/herself up for a rude literary awakening.

Our group has a small core of writers who take the craft very, very seriously (although our meetings are often a guffaw-fest, which often happens when you get a group of intensely creative and similarly focused people together). We are dedicated to improving our writing and getting it published, not so much because we crave the spotlight, but because we love writing so much we’d like to do it all the time and make our livings from it.

So frankly, we get a little offended when someone waltzes into our meeting, tells us s/he likes to read Stephen King and Dan Brown novels, thought it would be fun to be a writer, and plops a few opening chapters down for us to gush over. Sure, and next week I’m going to become a concert violinist, because I’ve always liked symphonic music and think I’d be pretty darn good at it.

And so we read. In this last case, the writing was so weak, and we’d had several such submissions in the previous month, that the cork came out of the bottle of ill-will. As the critiques went around the table, they grew increasingly harsh. The submitter began to wither under the pressure. Finally, we came to our most vocal critic (not me, btw). This is someone who studies literary theory with a passion and isn’t shy about holding bad or lazy writers accountable. He has made pretenders leave and never return; reduced others to tears. In his defense I will say he backs up every point he makes with theory and logic. He’s just not very nice about it.

My critic friend could not hold back. He attacked every weakness in the writing, going on for close to twenty minutes. And at the end, he folded his hands in front of him, leaned across the table, looked the submitter in the eye, and said, “Do you really want to be a writer?”

The answer: “I don’t know.”

Then you’re not.

Vicious? Yes. Vindictive? You bet. Justified? Let the jury decide. I do feel bad for the victim of the criticism, but remorse is not a defense.

Since the incident we’ve removed the group’s meeting location from our web page and reinforced our membership application procedure. We’ve talked about how to find and keep strong members, but the truth is that where we live, there is not much of a professional writing community. Short of us moving en masse to a literary Mecca, we’re stuck with what we’ve got.

We’ll do our best to be clear about who we are and what we expect from applicants, but I believe there’s another aspect to this issue, and that’s the responsibility of writers to learn a little craft before taking their game public. Sure, you don’t need a degree to write, but perhaps a little respect is due to writers who’ve spent the time (and often the money) to understand the history and trends, the details and nuances of what we do.

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About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.

Discussion

41 thoughts on “Death by Writers Group

  1. It was a cross between an exoricsm, a castration ceremony, and an Aztec sacrifice. Except that the person in question hadn’t volunteered for the job. He came for milk and cookies and got blood and bone.
    I (and I was not the executioner in this case) believe in the quick, clean kill. I don’t play with my food.
    “Not only is this piece unacceptable, it is irredeemable. The best I can say? Nice margins. Next.”

    Posted by Jon Zech | July 28, 2012, 1:57 PM
  2. I’m all about being firm, not pulling punches, being respectful, but I’m not about trouncing individuals (uh, if I can help it). I’d like to think that the facts can speak for themselves without the need for “unnecessary roughness.” I like to say: “Dazzle em with the facts.” Now, I wasn’t there and didn’t experience this individual, so I really can’t speak for the need for the concerted attack upon him or her, but I can certainly sympathize with the emotion that can be generated from such situations. I’ve seen sooo much of people getting hammered, though usually when I saw it they didn’t (did NOT) deserve it, the “critiquers” IMHExp were just showing off how much more they knew about “craft” and writing than the target, or maybe were finally able to “GIVE” so much of what THEY got, or any of a host of other psychological issues. So, maybe this guy had it coming. Dunno. But it sounded kinda rough, sorry. :-\

    I feel we can all give constructive critique to individuals without being mean about it. Sure, it’s not always gonna be what people want to hear, may even be tough on those giving the critique to “take the High Road.” but I truly feel this can be done. Scaring people away from writing is not the answer. Proving whether or not one has the “thick skin” to be a writer is NOT the answer. Being respectful to fellow human beings IS the answer.

    My two cents, before you forever block me from ever commenting on your posts again….

    Posted by fpdorchak | July 28, 2012, 4:34 PM
    • It was rough. Probably too rough. Could have been done with a finer instrument than a hammer. BUT…in defence, on more than one occasion, a simple rebuff has not been enough. Had I been ahead of the tough stuff, I probably would have said, “This really isn’t the standard to which we hold ourselves. Take a few classes and try us again next year.” I save my vitriol (and I am generally among the kinder of our group) for folks I know pretty well, and whom I know can take it.

      Posted by Jon Zech | July 28, 2012, 5:59 PM
      • OK, but when you say “not enough,” how so?

        And I mean all the following with the utmost respect (to give you pespective on myself: I’ve been writing *seriously* for some 26 years, and have been in many critique groups and public sessions, by the Big Guns and the Little Guns; have been at both the pointy and blunt end of [s]words), but you know how words can be:

        You folks make the rules for your group. You can ask them to leave, end of story, and if not, fine, stay–we’re not reviewing your work, cause you didn’t follow the rules, or whatever (or change the rules if need be). If you’re also a submission organization, you just don’t take it, based upon whatever was said. And your opinions–professional or otherwise–people do not have to follow. We all filter our lives as we, individually, see fit. So, the person doesn’t agree with any of you, and submits [elsewhere, I’m assuming]–where’s the harm? Who cares if they follow your advice? If their work has merit on ANY level, it’ll be given due consideration, and if not, they’ll continue to live in their delusional lives parallel to yours, and never the twain shall meet. Or they’ll get better and find you later and thank and apologize. Or they’ll be the same as they are now. I just do not see where the issue is in “not enough,” so please clarify.

        Namaste.

        Posted by fpdorchak | July 28, 2012, 6:19 PM
    • FPD, I would never ban someone from commenting just because we have a difference of opinion. Please feel to speak your mind at all times.

      I think part of what happened is that our group has been too accommodating to new applicants. There have been several occasions–in this group and another several of us are involved in–where we’ve allowed people to join even though we don’t feel they have the writing skill and experience to participate at our level. (Remember, we are not exactly located in a hotbed of writing activity.) We hoped they would improve, but it doesn’t always happen.

      Ultimately, the tension created when we extend membership to someone who just isn’t ready continues to grow. As Jon points out in another response, the writer in question ignored our posted request to contact us first, or to submit some writing for jury evaluation, and just showed up. He was not ready for us. Another writer who also “just showed up” for a meeting a couple of months before was quite compatible with our members.

      We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We could turn people away at the start, or give them a chance to prove themselves and have to turn them away later. I don’t know which path is more harsh. Based on the feedback we get on Meetup, it seems about the same. I suppose we’ll have to be tough right from the gate from now on.

      Posted by jpon | July 29, 2012, 1:11 AM
      • Ha, my “ban” comment was “hopefully” meant lighthearted, so good to hear about differing opinions allowed–but of course they are, from what I’ve read of your site. In any event, thank you, sir! :-]

        Ok, I understand the dilemma. Guess your group has to come to terms with its mission…and that whatever is its mission, realize you can’t be everything to everybody. As you said elsewhere, have these individuals start up their own groups. CREATE a new “hotbed” of critique groups. :-] No all groups are equal, and if you don’t follow the rules, you’re gonna get burned. Having had a history of that obviously doesn’t sit well with all of you, and it’s totally understandable. IMHO, just based on these transactions, today, your group needs to define–or uphold–its mission and stand firm. Polite, respectful, but firm. And insist these others create their own groups.

        Thanks for taking the time and effort–and being open–to discuss this!

        FPD: exit stage left….

        Posted by fpdorchak | July 29, 2012, 4:23 AM
      • Perhaps our group has reached a point where the core group can no longer relate to beginning writers. A tough thing to say because writing is supposed to be all inclusive and unquestionably encouraging. (In fact a complete stranger on Twitter excoriated me for this week’s blog for that reason.) You’re right about stating our mission and upholding it too. The alternative is to do what another group I know of did when faced with a writer of similarly weak talents–they moved the meeting place and didn’t tell the writer!

        Posted by jpon | July 29, 2012, 12:16 PM
      • Whoops! Sorry, I didn’t mean to post twice. Had a problem logging in and thought my first response was lost. In any case, I think you can make the Meetup site private to members of the group or you can state that this group is not for inexperienced writers. I admit part of my ire is in being a newbie myself. Hope you all can resolve this with out laying waste again!

        Posted by jetepper | July 29, 2012, 1:05 PM
  3. This post comes at an interesting time for me, since my writing group is falling apart so I’ve just begun to look for another. It was so hard to find a group that, I must admit, was not ideal–in fact, only one other member was someone whose work I really enjoyed and admired and whose comments were always quite useful–but still, it was a group and it took years to find one and now it’s gone. You are lucky to have found such a tight-knit and serious group. Soon, I will be in the position of that newbie, hoping to find people who like what I do and vice-versa. It feels just like junior high school all over again.

    Posted by girl in the hat | July 28, 2012, 10:01 PM
    • Start your own. Seriously. Make a MeetUp page and see what happens.
      Part of the frustration with us is that we are a jurried group and this fellow skipped the process and just showed up. Then, rather than submitting a piece for review, he posted it to our Drop Box. He should have known better.

      Posted by jonzech | July 29, 2012, 1:24 AM
    • Yes, the core members of our group are lucky. Most of us bounced around writing groups for years before discovering this one. And I’m sorry to hear about your group, although based on what you’ve said, maybe it’s for the best.

      As Jon said, this could be an opportunity for you to create the kind of group that will be comfortable and productive, the kind that provides feedback that is actually helpful in improving one’s writing. Having been in several groups, I understand how rare it is to receive criticism that registers as accurate–where the members understand what the writing is trying to say and offer advice that is pertinent (as opposed to most writers’ group criticism, which, in my experience at least, is based on the reader’s personal preferences).

      I suspect there are many, many writers groups out there that have gone through similar travails, although because their members didn’t face a blogging deadline, they haven’t commented on the internal politics as I have.

      But whatever path you decide to take–finding an existing group to join or starting one of your own, I wish you luck. It’s definitely not easy.

      Posted by jpon | July 29, 2012, 1:54 AM
  4. Thanks for this thoughtful post and interesting discussion of a very difficult issue. I’ve been on both sides of this one. I’ve received an extremely negative and to my mind needlessly destructive critique in a peer writing group and I’ve been in a group where I’ve thought to myself ARE YOU KIDDING? WHY are you submitting this piece of crap?

    As infuriating as such a submission is, I do not believe that “killing” off a would-be writer is a useful thing to do. It teaches nothing, and it is destructive to the group dynamic IMHO. But I’m just one person and I wasn’t there, so perhaps there’s something in the dynamic that I’m not understanding. Or perhaps you’ve established ground rules that allow for certain Blow Ups of this kind. Those rules are crucial it seems to me. Thanks for sharing in any event!

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | July 29, 2012, 3:19 AM
    • I agree with Stephanie, I don’t think disparagement is a valid critique tool. I looked your group up on Meetup and the request to contact the organizers is in the third paragraph. If this is so important, you might want to lead with it. So some guy showed up unannounced and his writing was not to your standards, big deal. I wonder, are you really looking for new members? What do you hope to gain by adding new members? You say you want to help new writers develop, but your actions don’t show that. Based on your post above, it really doesn’t sound as if this group really is open to new writers. Knowing how far I have to go, I would be very hesitant to send anything to this group for critique. I write for the joy it gives me and the rush when I have a reader respond with “I get that!” I certainly don’t need ulcers.

      Posted by JTepper | July 29, 2012, 3:59 AM
    • I agree with Stephanie, disparagement is not a valid critique method. I checked out your Meetup posting and the request to contact the organizers is in the third paragraph and does not come across as a ‘must’. If the juried aspect of this group is so important, you might want to consider putting that information in the first paragraph. I also wonder, based on your post, if this group is really interested in 1) new members 2) bringing newer writers up. Frankly, the actions you describe do not illustrate a group that is open and happy to meet others or really has any interest in helping new writers. This is something you must decide as a group. There is no harm in not wanting new members if you are happy with the way things are. My vote is that the reaction was unjustified. No matter how frustrated you are that someone did not follow your “rules” there is no reason to tear him down. Can you really tell me the first piece you ever wrote was worthy of this group? What if you had gotten the same reaction when you were starting out? Where would you be now? My guess is that most of you had to make the leap from “I am a ….. (doctor, lawyer, marketing executive, Michigan State employee)” to “I am a writer.” And I can also guess that it wasn’t pretty for any of you at first. If you have any way of contacting that poor soul, an apology is in order along with a reference to another group that is better suited for him.

      Posted by jetepper | July 29, 2012, 4:56 AM
      • Actually, we did change the info on the Meetup site, but the intricacies of the Meetup system mixed us up (if you change your group’s “page,” it doesn’t change your group’s “description,” which apparently is a separate page even though it has the same info. Anyway, a more accurate description of our group now appears.)

        For the record, I did go through this myself, while I was still in college back in the 1980s. I was a student in creative writing, and my stories were apparently good enough for one of my instructors to invite me to join her personal writing group. The other members, if I recall, were accomplished writers, and when I submitted my first story they tore me to shreds. They were nicer about it, but the message was still the same–you don’t belong here. I didn’t write fiction for a long time after that. But in retrospect, they were correct. I came into the group with little more than dreams. Like the writer at our meeting, I thought all one needed to be a writer was a little imagination and good English skills. No wonder those other members let me have it–my beginner’s attempt was an insult to the years of study and work each of them had devoted to craft. Obviously my instructor didn’t assess my abilities very well, but I don’t blame her for giving me a shot. I just wasn’t ready.

        This time around, though, I’ve done my homework. I’ve read books and articles, I’ve studied craft like crazy, I’ve participated everywhere I can, and at whatever level I could. The result, I guess, is that I (and the other core members of our group) have lost touch with that beginning writer. We want to be helpful and accommodating, but it’s too difficult when faced with such a chasm of difference in our abilities. It’s not so much the arrogance you mention in your reply. It’s frustration felt over someone (make that a series of someones–we get similar applicants every week or so) who hasn’t realized the difficult effort that writing really is, and comes in with the attitude that it’s not that hard to master–that what we do is easy.

        The perception of writing by many people doesn’t match the requirements for success. Because no degree is required, no hard standards have been established, and virtually everyone can read and write, it seems a logical step to just sit down and do it. I’m not saying everyone should get a master’s or even attend writing classes (although I believe someone mentioned classes to the writer in question), but I do think anyone serious about writing needs to do more than read a few books and dream of the fame that awaits once s/he sits down at the keyboard. To approach writing with a Pollyanna attitude sets that person up for ridicule.

        Posted by jpon | July 29, 2012, 1:15 PM
      • I’m glad you were able to change the Meetup. You mention that you didn’t write fiction for a long time after your experience with your professors writing group. Do you think that made you a better writer? To lose that time? In retrospect was their criticism more about your being an interloper into their rarified air than about your writing? Whether you go to school for formal training, read books and articles, or just struggle on your own, writing is a learned craft. I guess you read between the lines in my reply (which I revised about 5 times to tone down). Although I am sure it is not deliberate, you and your group are sounding arrogant. I have friend who is an artist and we both laugh about how when we tell people our chosen professions, we get one of two reactions: “Oh, I want to write a novel/create art” or “I could never do that.” There is not much in between. The people who are so off hand about how easy it would be to do what we do are incredibly annoying, I agree. But if someone comes to you hat in hand and wants to start on that journey, don’t you believe that you have the responsibility to point them in the right direction? Is your joy of writing so wrapped up in the time and money that you have put in that you don’t want to share it by starting someone else on that journey? To me a new writer is like my daughter, the world is going to teach her all the necessary lessons, I don’t need to pile on. I still say regardless of your past experience, which could not possibly have helped you become a better writer, the group’s reaction to this person was not justified. And….Wow! I want to read the tweet that excoriated you in 140 characters! Now that is some awesome writing!

        Posted by jetepper | July 29, 2012, 1:37 PM
    • Yes, Stephanie, I think we’ve come to the point where our core members have difficulty relating to the needs and abilities of beginning writers. We have changed our guidelines (see my response to Jeanne, below), and will in future be much more up front about the public face we present. Being writers, we want to be helpful to new people, but we also want something ourselves–the kind of informed, thoughtful critiques that help us improve as writers too. Not getting it is as frustrating as rejection. Maybe we just have to draw a line now.

      Posted by jpon | July 29, 2012, 1:20 PM
      • Joe–I applaud your ability to brutally self-analyze and to be so open to all that has been said here! Maybe all this will help you and your group better define and carry out its mission. Thanks for allowing all of us to–intelligently–discuss this with you. :-]

        Posted by fpdorchak | July 29, 2012, 1:53 PM
  5. It should be mentioned that we are at least as harsh with each other as we were with the new fellow. But we are terrifically supportive too. And we’ve changed over the years. The group core is at least modestly published, occasionally awarded and/or are working writers. Other valued members are also fine writers who have chosen not to submit for publication, and are brilliant critics. It may sound elitist, but we know what we need.
    And to clarify, the new fellow was not treated cruelly, but he was the focus of deep, intelligent comment.
    “I an’t sayin’ you treated me unkind,
    you coulda done better, but I don’t mind,
    You just sorta wasted my precious time.
    But don’t think twice, it’s alright.”

    Posted by jonzech | July 29, 2012, 4:32 PM
    • With all due respect, you say he was NOT treated cruelly, but that is not the tone of the initiation of this post: “…grew increasingly harsh. The submitter began to wither under the pressure…,” “Vicious? Yes. Vindictive? You bet.” Et cetera. That does not sound like he was NOT treated cruelly, if you’ll beg my pardon. However, that said, I can understand what you might be trying to say, and you might very well believe it, but someone in your group obviously had “thoughts” enough about this to post about it.

      I’m not perfect, am myself continually learning and growing. But critique groups protocols and behavior or kinda a pet peeve of mine. I’ve been on both ends of “not being treated cruelly.” And being harsh with each other as you treat others is not justification for anything. Why treat ANYONE “harsh”? Just point out the facts, let them speak for themselves, and put away the attacks, the daggers, the intents of making someone see if they have a “thick enough skin” or bringing them to tears. Who are any of you (and I mean globally, not just this group) to so “beat” another into “their place”? This is what I’ve been trying to say. Life will take care of all that easily enough, and not having to be mean about it is NOT “enabling them” into thinking they good enough to delusionally continue. Be respectful to humans, that’s the point. What does “harsh” lend to any of this? Just because you can TAKE the kill shot does not mean you HAVE to. Firm, thorough, objective. THAT lends to discussion. “Thank you for consideration, but you you didn’t follow our rules, are not currently up to our standards, came here unbidden, and we firmly request you consider creating your own critique group. Please, do not come unbidden again.”

      If you know your mission, perhaps you should not stray from it. That’s not “elitist.” There is no “one critique group fits all,” and the gentleman clearly didn’t follow the rules.

      I use this greeting/closing a lot, because I really DO mean it, and like what it means:

      Namaste.

      Posted by fpdorchak | July 29, 2012, 5:15 PM
      • I’m appreciating this discussion, particularly because I’m thinking of starting my own group. I think however the group chooses to do its rules and articulate its mission is fine, if that’s the consensus. Perhaps though, it’s worth pointing all that out to “outsiders” so they know very clearly what they are getting themselves into. You all sound like you’re operating on the Iowa model- which a lot of people like, and a lot of people don’t. There are other models, of course, but I think the points that are being raised here suggest that you folks might want to clarify your mission statement and also front the “get in touch with us before you just show up” piece on the website. It sounds like you also have a procedural protocol in place. It might be interesting to write it down, if you haven’t, so that if you want to make changes, you’ve got a record of what you were doing, I’d that makes sense.

        Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | July 29, 2012, 5:41 PM
      • Perhaps my portrayal of the meeting leaned too far to the dramatic. Jon is right when he points out that the group members’ comments were intelligent, and based in good literary theory. They were presented factually and in a straightforward manner. They were not, however, sugar coated with the warm fuzzies so many people expect and which have become essentially meaningless in our society. Let me offer an example: I’ve been rejected by many journals. (Many, many many journals, which is about as discouraging as it can get.) Occasionally an editor will send along a nice note that says something like, We enjoyed your story even though we couldn’t use it, and urge you to try us again. It’s encouraging, for a while, until I submit to the same journal, and get the exact same note back. Suddenly, their sincerity is called into doubt. How many others get that note? Was the encouragement phony? Could it be they just want to keep the submission numbers up? Maybe entice subscriptions from their submitters?

        Personally, I’d rather hear the truth: Joe, your story was pretty good, but we didn’t like X.

        Our group told it like it was. Perhaps in time the writer in question will take the experience and decide to attend some classes, or try another group, or even try us again. Cold, hard reality v. a nurturing environment. Is only one right?

        Ultimately, though, the point of many of the commenters has been made: figure out what the group is about, and let potential new members know it up front. Visit our Meetup page now and hopefully you’ll agree we’ve done that. http://www.meetup.com/woodward-writers/

        Posted by jpon | July 29, 2012, 9:54 PM
  6. Oh, Joe, what have you done?

    Posted by jonzech | July 29, 2012, 10:42 PM
    • Oh, I think it’s okay. There was obviously an area of concern to that evening, Joe was open, honest, and forthright in all discussion–as were all the commentors (that I saw)–and a lot of good has come out of it. It was…a learning experience. Personally, I hold nothing against anyone, and really appreciate the respectful dialogue that went on here, this weekend! :-]

      Thanks for posting the link, I’ll take a look!

      Posted by fpdorchak | July 29, 2012, 11:14 PM
  7. I think the new/ revised description looks clear.

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé HammerS | July 30, 2012, 12:02 AM
  8. Looks good to me, however for the following, “You may attend a meeting as a guest, to see what we’re about. To continue to attend, however, you will be asked to submit a writing sample for jury evaluation.”, do you mean that as a guest they do not submit nor critique, merely observe? If so, I’d spell that out.

    Posted by fpdorchak | July 30, 2012, 1:10 AM
  9. I attended this group as a guest once. Joe forewarned me that it could be a crucible of criticism. When it comes to fiction writing I qualify as a complete newbie. Luckily, I had nothing for the group to dissect, so I got to play fly on the wall and watch the discourse. I could imagine each group member as they played their role in Joe’s story above.

    I for one appreciate tough love in criticism. The less time wasted with nuance and subtle hints the better. Cut to the chase quickly. Authors have to develop thick skins as part of their training. A writing group can do that.

    Posted by Richard Stiennon (@stiennon) | August 2, 2012, 12:38 PM
    • Thanks Richard. Sometimes I wonder what the difference is between a harsh group critique and rejection from a literary journal. The thoughts are probably about the same, only in group you get to hear it in person.

      Posted by jpon | August 2, 2012, 12:44 PM
  10. Maybe it’s because I’ve workshopped for too many years, but I don’t find a single thing wrong with how this went. This writing world is a stream of tough-love and rejection. Best to get used to it right up front and see if (1) you really have something to offer, and (b) if you can take loads of people telling you your baby is ugly.

    Good for you all.

    One of the worst things, frankly, to hear in a workshop is, “This is really good, I liked it.” Anytime somebody says that I think, “You’re no help! If it was good it would be published already. Help me!!”

    Posted by Teri | August 3, 2012, 5:33 PM
    • You must be psychic, Teri. That’s exactly what happened at group last night. Everyone liked the story I submitted, and I’ve had it floating out there for several years. Are writers that disconnected from editors?

      Fortunately some group members had suggestions that might help.

      Posted by jpon | August 3, 2012, 7:57 PM
      • I’ve been in many, many groups over the last twenty years, and had nearly given up on them. It’s nice to hear other writers say pleasant things about your work, until it becomes cloying and clearly uncritical. Then what’s the point? This group and one other I belong to are not that way. Not at all. Sometimes I’ve heard, “Seriously? You’re bringing something like that here? It’s banal, unfinished word soup. Cut it out!” But when I bring something and the same person says, “This is good,” that means something.
        New members, particularly new writers are often like puppies. One might wander in and piss in the corner, but I prefer to let them out so they can crap in the back yard, rather than whack them with a two by four. Probably best not to pet them in the first place.

        Posted by jonzech | August 3, 2012, 8:48 PM
  11. I’ve been following subsequent comments with interest. I can relate with Jon’s comments above. I am frustrated by feedback I am currently getting and would like more honest assessment so I can improve. I guess I will be in search of a group that can provide it and from what Jon says, this could take a while! The problem I had with the event in Joe’s initial post was that the gentleman in question was not expecting this type of critical assessment. He had the misfortune of being the guy who finally set off the rules/new writer bomb and he ended up being on the receiving end of pent up anger and frustration that was not necessarily of his making. Although I am sure it was not consciously done, it seemed like the feeling behind one of the critiques was to “teach him a lesson” so he would know “where his place was.” There is a difference. The question is not whether writers groups should give honest, open, even painful feedback. The question is whether this particular group was out of line in respect to the gentleman who showed up unannounced. I think the changes Joe has made to the website are very positive. The group must focus on their primary mission and be clear about it with the people who want to join. Then all should be well. All I can say is “Write On, Dudes and Dudettes!”

    Posted by jetepper | August 3, 2012, 10:41 PM
    • Yes, in retrospect the writer was blindsided by the criticism received at the meeting. As they say in the weather business, it was a 500-year flood, with many unique occurrences happening simultaneously. He was not ready, nor were we, and things deteriorated form there. I’m glad you think the new descriptions we’ve posted are more clear about who we are and what we do. Time, as you said, to write on.

      Posted by jpon | August 4, 2012, 2:05 AM
  12. After writing the following private e-mail to Jon and Joe, I revisited this blog and saw the latest comments. With this said, I now post what I wrote them this morning.

    We’ll see how long this response stays on the board…

    ——-

    Joe and Jon,

    At first I thought not to respond to the email from Jon and the blog post by Joe.

    On my part, I wrongly assumed this would be a group of decent people. I give the analogy of a man showing up for the open church basketball night, only to find that the leaders deluded themselves into thinking it was a tryout for a NBA team.

    On my part, I did show up uninvited to the first session. I did sign up and waited two days with no response, so I thought “I’ll just show up and see what it is about.”

    For your part, you asked me to submit something for the ENTIRE group to review at the next meeting. You gave no private vetting session. You gave no feedback prior to the meeting. You could have easily contacted me prior to the second session and state the shortcomings of my writing and politely ask me not to attend.

    Joe, in your post, you write as if you actually attended that meeting. That is disingenuous.

    Jon, you write me to inform me of what was going on, but you did so one week after the Joe made his post. Why the delay? You could have not told me anything at all. By informing me now, you give me the grief of reading this blog about me, but without the ability to make a timely reply. So I chose to write you both privately, as I see no point in defending myself on a blog post that is aged and the topic has moved to other subjects.

    Joe, you write so many things that are without fact, that I am surprised by your humanity. Dan Brown and Steven King? I’ve never listed them as writers that I admire. You insult my intelligence by inferring on me a certain persona and motive. You also degrade my character by making statements regarding my intentions of seeking out this group.

    “So frankly, we get a little offended when someone waltzes into our meeting, tells us s/he likes to read Stephen King and Dan Brown novels, thought it would be fun to be a writer, and plops a few opening chapters down for us to gush over. Sure, and next week I’m going to become a concert violinist, because I’ve always liked symphonic music and think I’d be pretty darn good at”

    I am not sure what I did to deserve such vitriol by both you and Stewart. For the record, all three women stated that although I definitely need work, they enjoyed what they read. Steward himself stated that “I have the potential for being a very good writer.”

    Regarding your disgust at my posing to be a writer, I ask you the question. What do you expect in a person who writes? Or wants to attend a meeting / group of writers. Did you consider that I am just a man, husband, father of 3, manager of an OEM company, and that I write because it is an outlet for my busy life.

    Did you ever wonder what a person like me thinks when he wanders into a room full of new people? My impression of you and your group?

    My first impression was seeing Stewart laying on a counter top (both meetings), with his belly hanging out of his shirt. Talking about being published from some obscure company in Australia? His “published work” ranked +2 million in sales on Amazon. I really don’t care about any of these things, because many wonderful writers struggle to get published or recognized in the marketplace. When Steward gave his feedback, I recognized his experience and wisdom. But he relished it – “time for the bleeding!!” Steward didn’t even finish 2 pages of what I wrote because he was “so disgusted with grammar, pov and style”. Didn’t even finish it? And yet he gives a 45 minute diatribe (not 20 minutes as you state in your post). What kind of humanity is this?

    You three remind me of the leaders of so many religious groups out there. Convinced into thinking what they do is important, they spend all their time “guarding the gates”, all the while their children find comfort in the arms of another. At last, they are gray haired, wondering why their group gets smaller every year.

    Perhaps you are content. If so, I am sorry to intrude. You could actually be a nurturing group; teaching others to write, coaching and encouraging. Instead, I am unworthy of consideration and some how, a threat to the sacred art of writing and writers.

    So, protect your group. Vet all writers carefully.

    In closing, I read a number of submissions in Drop Box. Unjaded at the time, I looked carefully to find a genuine, and soulful story that would move me, inspire me.

    I found none. How do you give a grade, or judge THAT?

    Soul is something that one can never learn, no matter how many classes you have taken, or degrees you have pinned on you wall.

    I know my heart. My family knows and loves my heart. With my heart, I write.

    Start there, at the beginning, and you too may become a writer of worth.

    Jim Ratajski

    p.s. You have my permission to post THIS on you blog (though I doubt you will).

    p.s.s. How many grammar and POV errors did you find with THIS submission? Probably many…

    Posted by Jim Ratajski | August 6, 2012, 3:35 PM
    • Jim,
      You were at ground zero and took the full blast. It should never have been a personal attack, and largley it wasn’t. To the extent that it was, I apologize.
      Jon

      Posted by Jon Zech | August 6, 2012, 6:45 PM
    • Jim:

      I didn’t witness the writers’ group meetings in question, so I can’t comment about any of the participants’ social grace and writing ability (or lack thereof). However, as far as I can piece together the happenings, your post seems like a dead-on analysis of the group’s dysfunction.

      Consider this: The ringleader asked you if you wanted to be a writer, then proceeded to launch on some sort of personal attack. What strikes me here is his wording. He did not ask you whether or not you want to learn to write. In other words, his focus is on the trappings of “being a writer” – the supposed authority that the identity grants – rather than self-expression or communication.

      So, no matter how frustrating the experience must have been, comfort yourself in the knowledge that you’re already a step ahead of this pack: you’ve seen that the emperor is naked, if you will.

      Best of luck,
      La tigresa

      Posted by La Tigresa | August 20, 2012, 4:40 PM

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