Writing Group Therapy

The writer’s best resources are the silence, the space to think, and the brass to put aside the need for coddling and constructive criticism. Meeting with other writers? Good idea, right? Not when it devolves into forcible agony of niceness, curling up in little balls, and coming out of the shell only when someone “plays nice” to you with your sorry writing. What should be a session of iron warring against iron becomes a farce, with many instead buying expensive light coffees, presenting mindless compliments, and tying cute little bows on pellets of turd.

This is how writing groups make you weak, your craft anemic.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Hi Mr. All Wrong,

What do you suggest by way of writing groups? I make it a point to share my writing snippets with fellow authors, but I have a hard time telling whether its productive or not. It’s like we don’t see eye to eye on much. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fun, but how do you get the most out of writing groups?

—Lauren Worley, Tigard, Ore.

Writing groups are like packs of dogs, wolves, or other assorted canids (like the flying blacktooth wilburfox). You have a ragtag group of followers under one alpha dog. But in writing groups, the alpha dog sticks his tail between his or her legs and starts acting like the omega dog, placating others and conceding far too much authority (“Oh, I love how your hero marries the heroine in the end! So romantic!”), shelving what needs to be said for what people want to hear.

Writing groups exist because most writers feel the need for validation and attention by leeching off of others who are just as needy for the same. Weak cycle is weak. In nature, your bad writing doesn’t deserve to be validated. Its jugular would be bitten, broken, shaken, torn out, and spat upon with bloody spittle. If your group is nothing but a therapy session, break out the wolf and make necessary edits as nature intended.

For starters, sniff out the natural alpha dog. This will be the person people look up to as the “most helpful writer,” probably the only one who forces a smile when he says, “That pioneer romance is a splendid idea! The saloon scene is so realistic and gritty.” They probably don’t have glaring errors in their writing, but if they’re letting this group continue, then you need to assert your dominance for the good of the pack.

Next, press the paw down on some throats:

“That story sucks. The narrative is trite, the characters wooden, and you use more clichés than would gag a whale shark. And you with the medieval fantasy? Can it. Fill up the moat with dirt and ransack that castle. That insipid mage bores me, and he’s going to put a sleeping spell on your reader if your reader was dumb enough to read this in the first place.”

Dominance acquired. If the pack leader moves to defend his mediocre sicklings, strike down his spineless writing and equally spineless leadership. Doesn’t matter if the people in Starbucks stare at you. You’re part of a revolution here. Defending the weak by keeping them weak is weak. That’s got to go. It might take a dozen well-placed stabs to their trachea with your No-Fat Chai Tea Skinny Latte straw, but it must be done.

As pack leader, you mustn’t tolerate this weak writing business. Either shape them up, or shape them out. Those who remain weak, discard. No more No-Milk Light Mocha Crappés at your table. Those who toughen up, embrace with firmness. They’ve submitted, but they must follow you in strength, forsaking needless coddling, striving to be better writers in their own right.

A cycle of strength to strength. That’s what you want in a group. Writers who go on to make other packs of strength. Writers who challenge your dominance. Writers who won’t object to punching holes in your throat when you start saying that someone’s flaccid noodle of a derivative mystery narrative is “ok.” Writers who will be violently honest.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and spotted in a forest leading a feared pack of writing wolves.

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