Part 4: When to Fire Someone or Yourself From Your Writers’ Group
It would be fabulous if you found or formed a writers’ group that meshed wonderfully. You’re home. You’ve found your peeps. But sadly, it doesn’t always happen that way. Here are some telltale signs that you might not have found the right fit for you:
- Do you find yourself discounting the opinions or advice of the other members, because you don’t think they’re valid?
- Does your heart sink when you open up a submission to critique, because you suspect your feedback will be ignored, and you’re probably wasting your time?
- Do you dread going to meetings?
- Do your suggestions for discussion topics, writing exercises, or excursions get dismissed or ignored?
- Are the demands placed on you by the group taking up too much of your time? Is your writers’ group cutting into your writing time?
If any of these things are the case, you may want to break up with your writers’ group. I’ve had friends (and I’ve done one or two of these myself) leave their groups for the following reasons:
- The group wanted me to edit their sloppy first drafts like I would edit an accepted manuscript for a publishing house.
- I’d outgrown my group—wasn’t getting valuable feedback or discussion from it to improve my writing any further.
- The group took up too much of my free time.
- There was a member (or members) who monopolized the conversation/talked over everyone else/provided no feedback and discounted other viewpoints/made the group a living hell.
If it’s time to leave your group, it’s okay to break up with them. I’ve had writers leave my group, and I never resented it. I don’t want someone to feel obligated to attend meetings if they’re not getting what they need out of it. It is polite, however, to let them know you’re not coming back. A simple e-mail is fine: Dear folks, thank you for letting me be a part of Spectacular Scribes. Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in the group going forward. I wish you all well. Sincerely, John Writer. If you want to get specific, that’s up to you, but don’t be mean about it. I’m looking for a group that is willing to provide honest, hard feedback, which I don’t feel I’m getting from the Scribes is fine. You’re all a bunch of talentless hacks is not.
But what if the problem lies within the group? Sometimes, the problem lies within one member who is ruining things for everyone. What determines bad behavior is different for everyone, but here are some examples of things you might find problematic:
- Getting drunk at meetings
- Disregarding critique and feedback or arguing with the person offering it that their opinion is wrong
- Turning in sloppy drafts
- Not meeting deadlines
- Being antagonistic toward another member
- Unwillingness to change/improve/grow
This can be especially hard to handle properly if your problem writer is also a friend. But if you’re losing valuable contributors because of one difficult member, you must address the issue:
- If you are not the leader of the group, tell the leader your concerns. “I feel like John Writer is just here to brag. He ignores my suggestions and critique, and talks right over Jane Author every time she tries to speak. I’m thinking about leaving the group because of him.” If the leader acknowledges the issue and promises to deal with it, great. If they don’t deal with it, or if your concerns are dismissed, find a new group.
- If you are the leader, you must address the issue. Take steps to correct the behavior:
- When the bad behavior is occurring, call him out on it. “John, it’s Jane’s turn to speak. You’ve had your turn; pay her the same respect.” Or, “John, there’s concern within the group that you’ve completely ignored our feedback. Editor Jane has pointed out several times that sentences should have a subject and a verb, yet your structure hasn’t changed or improved. How can we help with that?”
- If the bad behavior continues, give him a warning. “John, I’ve asked you several times not to speak over Jane when she’s offering feedback. If you can’t do that, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the group.” Or, “John, I still see you haven’t fully embraced the concept of including a verb in your sentences. I don’t think this group can provide you any further advice. It’s time for you to look for a new group that will embrace your non-verb sentence structure, because this one isn’t it.”
- Ask him to leave. It isn’t pretty, but sometimes, it has to be done. “John, I’ve asked you several times to stop disrespecting Jane, yet you continue to talk over her. Your behavior is unacceptable. You are no longer welcome at this writers’ group.”
- If he refuses, take action. You’ve asked John to leave. You’ve told him to leave. Yet he still shows up, insistent that you all need to bask in his brilliance. Time to change things up: pick a different night to meet, or a different venue. He can’t show up if he doesn’t know where you are.
While having a sour grape in the bunch can be disheartening, don’t be discouraged. I’ve found that the people who aren’t meshing well tend to weed themselves out. Eventually, you’ll be left with a group of writers with similar goals and ambitions, who are willing to contribute, learn, and teach. When that happens—and it will—you’ll all be better and happier writers for it. And isn’t that why you wanted to be in a writers’ group in the first place?
Stacey Longo is the author of Ordinary Boy (nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and Secret Things: Twelve Tales to Terrify. Most recently, her novella “Brando and Bad Choices” appeared in Triplicity: The Terror Project, Volume 1. Her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Shroud, Shock Totem, and the Litchfield Literary Review.
She is a past Hiram Award winner, and was a featured author on the 2014 Connecticut Authors Trail. A former humor columnist for the Block Island Times, she maintains a weekly humor blog at www.staceylongo.com.