Writing workshops can be a blessing. They can also be a curse. The good thing is you get to hear your work read aloud in all its wondrousness. On the other hand, the problem with workshops is that you have to listen to other people’s work which invariably fails miserably by comparison with your own. Even worse, you then have to interact, even socialize, with these inferior wannabes who rob you of valuable time that could be better spent contemplating the inspired greatness of your creation.
Yeah, that guy. You know him. Every group has one. . .or two. The online forums are rife with them. The person with no credentials to speak of but knows everything you need to know to be successful – and is more than willing to tell you in the most caustic of terms of their superiority.
Online encounters with this type of 'knowledge bully' are remedied with a simple click of a block button, but real life meet-ups can be a little trickier. Either way, it’s best not to engage with them. You will never convince that there may be more than one way to skin a cat, and you will never, ever, get them to admit to the possibility that they may, in fact, be wrong. It’s wasted energy. Just nod, smile and go on your way.
Case in point: Brian. Brian joined the Rewrites Writer’s Workshop several months ago. He brought in a mildly entertaining genre script and a massive ego inflated with self-worth and a toxic dismissiveness for all things not Brian. His sense of superiority was evident to me on his first visit to the group. I got the distinct sense that he was slumming with us, but if it got his words read aloud, he would hold his nose to block the stench.
As I stated above, his script was mildly entertaining. It was a spoofy homage to grindhouse horror that failed to go far enough in either homage or spoof choosing a middle ground between bland and yawn instead. It did have its moments with some great visuals, but the one time I pointed out a plot issue, I was dismissed out of hand with the comment, “You obviously don’t know genre films. Story doesn’t matter.”
Story doesn’t matter. Think about that for a moment.
I stepped back after that comment and didn’t offer any further critique He had his story the way he wanted it, and that was that. Brian seemed more interested in hearing his words come alive than accepting advice. He loved the compliments, but was scornful of the critiques and even more so of those who offered any criticism. It’s a nifty trick to pull off - if you’re deluded enough - because you end up silencing anyone who might offer a suggestion that would improve your work while encouraging those who offer only platitudes.
After a couple of readings, you’ve trained your audience to give you nothing but raves, and you leave thinking everyone feels the way you do – that your writing rocks and you are a gift to these people. They should be honored to be in your presence. Such, I believe, was Brian’s problem.
Often, Brian only came when he had pages to read and was miffed if he didn’t get a slot. And he didn’t come when he had nothing prepared. Brian also had a habit of leaving right after presenting his work instead of staying until the end. In short, he didn’t support his fellow writers who supported him when they had nothing to read of their own. The give and take of a workshop should be to advance the writing of the group, not the individual.
Lately, the group has grown to the point that there are often more writers in attendance than there are slots available to read. Anyone who shows up with pages and doesn’t get to read is automatically given priority the following week. The remaining slots are filled on a first come first serve basis. Rewrites has six slots available each week. Tonight we had two carryovers from last week leaving four slots open. Brian showed up fourth and received the last slot. His name was added to the sign-up board.
Whether Brian realized he was going to get to read or was dismayed that he would have to wait until the end is a matter of debate. What followed, however, was an act of unbridled unprofessionalism and petty snark.
The first writer asked Brian to read the narration. Brian did not try to hide his disdain and downright contempt for the writer’s work as he read. He rolled his eyes, rushed through the narration and often interrupted himself to denounce the work. He would read a line then turn to the writer and say things like “I can’t believe you wrote that” or “That doesn’t make any sense.” He made a concerted effort at pointing out minor typos during the reading. The situation was made all the worse by the fact that he was sitting next to the writer in question.
At the conclusion of the read, Brian turned to his companion and said “I’m done. I’m ready to get the fuck out of here.” His colleague, a lady friend, said she would like to stay for one more read. Brian rolled his eyes, stood up and crossed to the sign-up board where he removed his name from the list. Following the next read, Brian and his friend stormed out of the meeting without so much as a goodbye. It was an awkward moment, but you let these things slide off your back. It takes too much energy to worry about such things.
And that’s where it would have stayed except everyone’s cell phones began to buzz about 10 minutes later. Brian had made a post on the group’s Facebook page. He told us he was done with us. He didn’t want to be a part of an ensemble run by a woman who treated the group as her personal fiefdom and prevented his work from being heard. The woman in question, Larissa, is one of Rewrite’s moderators who keeps track of the available reading slots.
I’m not sure what Brian was referring to in not being allowed to present his work. He was on the list to read, and he removed himself. Larissa had no part in that decision. I found out later that Larissa has received private communication from Brian that apparently contained language that even a sailor would find salty, complaining that Larissa had it out for him and was denying him the opportunity to hear his work. Paranoia and delusion can be a powerful and dangerous combination.
Shortly thereafter, Brian began posting on his own Facebook page, searching for a new writers group that was more advanced than Rewrites, one up to his level of expertise and professionalism that didn’t require him to critique someone’s formatting skills - another explicit dig at our first reader of the night.
So did Brian leave because he was being persecuted or did he believe his degree of competence was beyond the writers of Rewrites? Probably a little of both, but only Brian can answer that. . .if he can be honest with himself. What I do know is that he behaved in the worst possible manner and left a decidedly negative impression on those he abandoned. It is an impression that will not soon be forgotten. While it is not likely that his behavior in our group will have any adverse reaction on his career, the industry is small, but its memory long. It would have been best if Brian had quietly left – without the eye rolling or snarky comments – and moved on to the greener pastures he sought.
However, it appears not to be in his nature, and such conduct is probably par for the course. Be that as it may, there are only so many bridges you can burn before you have nowhere left to go. It is expected that creative minds will clash in this industry, but it is also a business built on collaboration and compromise, as are so many things in life. If a small writer’s collective brings out the worst in you, perhaps it’s time for some self-evaluation. In that regard, my parting advice to Brian – and for all writers – is to keep it classy, or the scorpion’s sting you feel may, ultimately, be your own.