Four members every good writers’ group should avoid

image If you are at this very moment digging between the couch cushions for coins, or replacing the Tooth Fairy change under your child’s pillow for an “IOU,” then you already know it’s time for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing.

OK, sure. It could also mean you’re short on cash for a Starbuck’s, or trying to scrounge up gas money for your morning commute. Whatever the reason, please stop immediately because this week’s NWOW is on the house.

That’s right! You can save your nickel towards that next mocha Grande!

I realize some of you are looking at me as if to say:

Is this going to be like the time I “won” a free getaway weekend and ended up buying a time share in Rotgut, Alabama?

No. I assure you this week’s Nickel’s Worth is absolutely free. So don’t bother taping that nickel to a post card and sending it in. Why? Because last week many of you were left standing nickel-in-hand after I failed to get my post up. This has never happened to me before. Although many of you told me it’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and that it happens to everyone from time to time, it’s never happened to me — and I felt the least I could do is offer an apology with a complementary look at my NWOW.

For anyone who might be visiting here for the first time, my weekly nickel’s worth of writing advice, culled from 15 years as a columnist, has been referred to by some of today’s most successful authors as:

…the first place I go to when I turn on my computer, at least until I figure out how to change the default settings…


“…the kind of advice every writer needs if they are serious about a career in plumbing.”

I could go on, but I think the accolades speak for themselves.

Which brings us to this week’s NWOW.

I have been involved in a few writers’ groups over the years, from Atlanta, Ga. to Portland, Ore. I also have several blogger friends who are heavily involved in their local writers groups. They receive constructive feedback and continued support from their fellow writers on a regular basis. Clearly, collaborating openly with other writers on a regular basis is beneficial. Especially if everyone pitches in for appetizers and alcohol.

That said, I have to say my experience with writers groups — based on the five or six I have attended over the years — has been hit-and-miss. Each time, I went in with an open mind, hoping for a true exchange of ideas and constructive feedback.

And on three different occasions, I found myself sneaking out the back door on my hands and knees under a veil of cigarette and pipe smoke. In each of those instances, one or more of the following members were present:

1) The Be Honest, But Only If It Means I’m Brilliant member: This person always arrives early so they can explain their brilliance ahead of time, thus ensuring everyone agrees with their brilliance before they read their passage — which is usually five to 10 pages beyond the allotted amount. But who cares when it’s that brilliant! Once this person is finished reading, they sit back with satisfaction and look into the confused expression of their listeners and ask, “Please be honest — what did you think?” They don’t ask this question because they really want to hear constructive criticism; they ask because they are expecting praise. Nothing more. They don’t want collaboration; they want validation. These writers will never expand their skill because they are more concerned with rationalizing their brilliance than they are with learning how to wield the tools needed to actually be brilliant. Plus they usually drink all the wine.

2) The I’d Rather Offer Excuses For My Writing Than Set Expectations member: These writers are the first to criticize their work, usually upon arrival. Though they have the least amount of pages to read aloud, it takes twice as long because they also offer a running commentary on why it’s terrible — sort of like Mystery Science Theater 3000, with the author sitting in the front row pointing out how the space ship looks more like a flying bed pan. In the same way being blind to your shortcomings is detrimental to your growth as a writer, so is having an instinctive need to make sure you point out your faults before anyone else can. Again, like the “Brilliant” writer, the “Excuses” writer stops growing because they are so busy being the first to identify their failures that they completely overlook those times when their work is actually pretty brilliant. Plus, they almost always drop something into the cheese dip.

3) The Everyone’s Writing Is Super Fantastic member: For obvious reasons, this person is the “Brilliant” writer’s favorite member of the group. That’s because whether you are reading a passage from Steinbeck or the ingredients from a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, this person will say things like, “Marvelous,” or “Look at my goosebumps,” or “Someone get my agent,” when in fact what they are really thinking is “I should probably get more wine before that blowhard who thinks he’s so brilliant drinks it all.” The “Super Fantastic” writer tends to see writing as a social activity. They take praise and criticism equally well because, let’s face it: they don’t take either very seriously. Plus, since the Bunko group disbanded, they’re just glad to have a place to go on Sunday nights.

And lastly,

4) The My Completed Manuscript Means I’m Better member: In most cases, this member’s 1,100-page manuscript has been complete for at least three years — which, coincidently, happens to be how long it’s been since they started the group. This member has yet to submit their manuscript to anyone and is forever in the “final draft” phase because actually submitting it would mean risking rejection. They are content with their on-going identity as the group’s potential best selling author. In truth, this writer’s growth stopped the moment the final key was tapped on their novel. Plus, they never have their own highlighter.

So, does this mean I don’t encourage joining a writers’ group? Not at all. As I said in the beginning, collaborating with — and seeking feedback from — fellow writers can be a terrific experience that not only fosters your development as a writer, but weaves a support network for yourself and others.

But if you join a group and recognize one or more of the members I’ve mentioned, remember to stay low.

At least until you’re outside.

(Ned is a syndicated columnist for News Media Corporation. You can write to him at, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore.97439)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

47 thoughts on “Four members every good writers’ group should avoid”

  1. Hilarious stuff! I’ve never been a member of any writing groups, but I’m sure I’ve met people just like this all the same.

    What about people who say they’re writers but never actually get around to writing anything? :p

  2. I can’t believe you and I know the same people! I wonder if you know Please Don’t Offer Any Criticism Or I Will Cry?
    I like it when people encourage me to think, when they ask if the word I used conveys the intended meaning or if another word might be better suited to what I am describing.
    Happy Labor Day weekend!

    1. Lol! I know several people who apply that approach to life in general.

      And your willingness to be open minded when it comes to feedback is why you continue to grow in depth and perspective as a writer.

      (I swear I’m not the “Everyone’s Writing is Super Fantastic” member)

  3. Hey, I think I attended the same writer’s group! But in mine, the person that always dropped something in the cheese dip was the same person that drank all the wine, which then led to a round of Paula Abdul palm-clapping and “fantastics”….

  4. sounds like some of the characters from the book clubs i’ve been involved in over the years. you’ve got to know when to fold ’em, know when to fold ’em, i always say. (i think i said it before kenny rogers) p.s. i’d like to write you a personal check for my nickel’s worth of help today, but please do not cash it until november 26th after 4pm. thank you in advance.

  5. Ned! My friend! I am so incredibly sorry I have been away! But I am glad I am here to take advantage of my free Nickel’s worth this week 🙂 I have never been part of a writing group, but just the mention of these colorful characters makes me think that I should seek one out for the pure fact that I might be the one who always has alcohol in her purse lol.

    1. No worries! It’s always good to see you no matter how much time between. And I’m sure with your credentials — and alcohol — you’d be welcome in any writers group!

      1. I love that I’m just reading this after a night out with my girl friends in which I consumed large quantities of liquor and entertained them with my numerous follies 🙂 thank you for the kind words 🙂

          1. Hahaha 🙂 yes, I am now 30! I am officially an old maid (according to everyone) my boss told me I might as well be 50. Drinking these last two days has been a must for since I still don’t know how to adjust lol

            1. Well first off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! The 30s and 40s have been some of the best years of my life. I’m sure they’ll be the same for you. It’s when you start to figure things — and yourself — out. You’ve got so much going for you. Trust me, you won’t make it to Old Maid status 😉

                1. Lol! That’s the beautiful thing about aging; those who are older than you will ALWAYS be older than you! It’s like nature’s way of leveling the playing field. And being a woman, you have the added advantage of receiving a lot more passing attempts 😉

  6. So what about the “I write the best first three pages in the history of literature so I think I’ll start another book and write three more” guy? I can’ t believe I’ve been left out again….

      1. not sure if this is the place for it but since you brought up your living… I sent you a tweet. I’m gathering facts for a proposal and wanted an insider’s info.

No one is watching, I swear...

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