This past Sunday I rented the comedy Author Anonymous because the premise intrigued me. Here we have six wanna-be writers in a writers group. Each a stereo-type of the worst type of critique group participant. The movie is a tongue-in-cheek documentary with scenes ranging from funny to ridiculous.
Cast of characters
Alan, a dentist, started the group because his wife Colette has a passion to get published. He admits he isn’t really a writer, but rather an idea guy. He records ideas for plots and character names on his hand-held recorder as the thoughts come. He never finishes anything. As the founder he leads the group with no real ability of his own.
Colette, a full-time stay at home writer. She has no kids, no responsibilities and it appears no real writing talent. Writing flowery, ridiculous erotic love scenes that book publishers keep rejecting. These rejection letters give her a neuroses of self-abasement that leads her to do foolish things to get agents attention.
John, a retiree is very opinionated and self-absorbed. He considers himself the next Tom Clancy. He too knows nothing about writing.
Henry suffers from writer’s block. He is a gifted writer but is often distracted by life and the newest member of the group Hannah. Henry reads extensively and can quote lines from Hemingway and the like.
William keeps bringing the same three pages. He is unemployed and always borrowing money from the group. Sleazy best describes him.
Hannah is the newbie. She took writing classes but has no college degree and feels inferior to the others in the group. She also is not a reader.
Check out Author Anonymous trailer: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/video/download/00051273/
What these characters teach us
Other than William, who is truly the most undesirable member, we can learn from the other characters.
Let’s start with Alan. His heart is in the right place. He pursues writing because he loves his wife. Being supportive does not mean you have to join a group together. It takes a special grace to accept critiques from your spouse. Starting a group to benefit someone you love is honorable but not really helpful. Leaders need to have a passion for the craft that propels them to a higher level. This passion encourages those in the group to grow as well.
Wanna-be Colette thrives on compliments. She wants to be the first published. And she breaks all the rules of networking and meeting publishers and agents. The results of her actions hurt her marriage and her credibility. We all start out as wanna-bes. It’s how we follow the road to success that can make or break us. Follow the example of successful writers who have gone before you. Don’t worry about whether you are the first to be published in your group or the last. Enjoy the journey.
Henry decorated his walls with rejection letters. Because of his writers block he comes to meeting after meeting with no pages. The group feels cheated because of the one-sided participation of Henry. Once he gets his priorities straight the words flow, and he eventually gets a publishing contract. Rejections and writers block are part of a writer’s life. How we handle it is the key. Write no matter what. Even uninspired words get us moving in the right direction. Take those uninspired pages to your group. Their input can unlock inspiration. Rejection letters are better than no response at all. If you are lucky, there may even be helpful advice or edits included in one of those letters.
Hannah is the most unrealistic character of all. She writes but does not read. She gets an agent and a contract right out the gate. To add insult to injury for the rest of the group, she gets a movie rights contract and a best-selling author to mentor her. And still she does not read. Writers who do not read are not the best writers. Ask any best-selling author what he reads and his list is extensive and varied. Writers can glean so much reading others works. Whether it is old classics or the latest top ten.
Attitude is everything
The reaction of the group to Hannah’s success can sadly be true. The other group members put on fake smiles and celebrate her good fortune. But walls come up. Everyone becomes jealous of Hannah, refusing to critique her work. They no longer want to help her improve her writing. (Getting a contract is only one rung on the ladder to success. Don’t be small about helping with needed editing.)
John, the guy with the giant ego becomes so jealous he goes the vanity publication route. No way is he going to let the newbie get published first. His book is printed in China and is available in a few weeks. The back cover is written in Chinese and the front cover of his novel Roaring Lion features a barking Chuhuahua. Although vanity publishing isn’t quite this bad, it can be pretty awful. Full of typos and lacking professional editing with odd covers and incorrect back cover information. (Let me clarify, I am not referring to self-publishing which is becoming an accepted route if done properly, i.e., well-written and edited manuscripts.) John’s book is published prematurely with no real marketing plan or network leads. His home is full of boxes of unsold books. He becomes bitter.
Jealousy makes the group toxic and ends with its demise. Critique members need to guard their hearts and seek to encourage each other to do their best and reach their goals. Giving sincere praise and encouragement when others are successful.
Critique groups fail or succeed based on the attitude of the group. Leaders should have a passion about writing and helping other writers. Their feet should be doing a happy dance for every success in the group. Newbies should feel nurtured but challenged to improve their skills. Sleazy people should be ejected from the group. And those who are only playing around as writers will leave on their own as the group continues to challenge one another.
I have been part of a wonderful critique group Word Weavers for almost four years. Click here to learn more about them.
Tell me what you love about your critique group?