Sunday, May 25, 2008

When Writers Attack!

My job as a moderator for three of the four Morningside Writers Workshops can be fraught with anxiety and walking on eggshells. Recently an older writer who had been auditing the Memoir Workshop, and wanted to transfer into the Fiction Workshop because he felt he'd be better suited to make believe rather than pen truthful, realistic creative nonfiction lashed out via e-mail because I explained to him why our workshops have been successful.

I present this only to show the hazards in dealing with volatile people within an intimate workshop setting. His name and expletives will not be included -- it would serve no purpose.

The exchange began with my submitting an essay draft that I wanted feedback on, and he fired back that, "
It is unprofessional to submit first or rough drafts."

It was obvious in reading this that he wanted to impose his countless years as a newspaper journeyman onto a workshop that encourages experimentation and nurturing over harsh criticism and magazine or newspaper editorial deadlines.

My reply:
Each writer chooses what to submit and when, and it’s our job to meet the writer where they are on the page and offer our constructive feedback.

We are submitting work that we want to develop and eventually publish. Each writer sets a personal and professional standard, and one of the goals of the fellow workshop members is to hold the writer to that standard. No one knows how many drafts have gone into a piece before a writer has submitted.

My stating my previous submission is a first draft is that I feel it’s a culmination of all the thoughts and revisions to a point that I was ready to have it read and commented upon. No one likes to be constantly taken out the woodshed or feel they need to be perfect. Morningside is a workshop where writers gather to share, experiment, laugh, enjoy each other’s company, and above all else, improve their writing through successive drafts. Everyone in the various workshops seeks publication and representation.

If you feel the methods and practice in place are not to your liking, I accept that, and would wish you every success in finding others who share your beliefs.

He apparently didn't like my reply:
"Christ, are you ever a pompous asshole! Hold on to your little realm of petty power for dear life, pal. **** you."

I opted not to be cheeky or outraged with a follow-up response telling him that he shouldn't take the Lord's name in vain, and that I appreciate his showing his true colors and removing the wooden stick that seem to cause him discomfort.

A moderator's job is to lead the workshop, maintain order, motivate workshop members, and carve out time to write and submit. I'm not power hungry, and I don't strive to sit on an ornately decorated dictatorial throne. Writing groups aren't for everyone, and Morningside, as it turns out, wasn't right for this guy. I wish him well in his continued journeys.

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