I attend a couple of writers’ groups and I really enjoy them both. The other writers are interesting and it’s fun to be with people who talk the same peculiar language I do. Like in any collection of writers, some are better at their craft than others.
In one of the groups, we have monthly writing prompts and we read our work aloud. We’re also free to bring other work and ask for critiques or any other form of help we need. It’s a friendly group. One of the men—I’ll call him Ted—attends with his wife—let’s name her Susan—and they are a joy to watch as they interact together. Ted has written at least two books. I think he’s self-published them. Susan writes lovely poetry. Since the poetic gene passed me by, I’m unabashedly jealous of this, but that’s neither here nor there.
In October, Susan read Ted’s essay aloud because his throat hurt. It was well-written and entertaining. We all enjoyed it. But there was this one part…
Where he was at a garage sale and looking at books on a shelf and referred to the “row of cheap romances.”
Susan read that part, meeting my eyes quickly and looking back at what she was reading. Ted chuckled and said in a jolly, gravelly voice, “Sorry, Liz.”
“It’s okay. I’m used to it,” I said, and everyone else chuckled a little, too, relieved that I was fine with it.
Fine with it? Really? No, I’m not fine with it! I’m ticked off. I don’t know that I’ll ever come back here. I doubt that I’ll ever consider you a writer again, Ted you Idiot.
I didn’t say any of that, though when I went to the other writers’ meeting I delivered a lecture (which none of them needed, probably) about respect and professionalism.
Because those things are important. I don’t like a lot of the books that are out there today. I don’t read certain genres or even sub-genres in my own particular line of writing work. But my respect for the writers of what I don’t like is as absolute as it is for the other Wranglers, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Carla Kelly, and my other literary heroines. (I was going to put “heroes” in that sentence, but sexist though it may sound, my favorite writers are all girls.)
Snark is a big thing right now, and I have to admit I think some of the snarky reviews are funny. But the truth is that even while I’m laughing, I’m cringing because someone’s feelings are being hurt. I know that by putting ourselves “out there,” we invite any kind of criticism in reviews. But not from our peers, not from the guy sitting at the same table as we are. That particular criticism needs to be constructive—that’s the professional way to do it. And it needs to be respectful.