There are two people you are guaranteed to meet in every creative writing class you take. Now, it’s important to note that I’m not talking about MFA programs – I’ve never attended one and dislike the implicit “workshop everything to a middle common denominator” I fear may be contained therein. (Like everyone who writes who doesn’t have an MFA I suffer from a strange kind of pride/inferiority complex in regards to MFA’s because no one would ever lend me that kind of tuition money to spend eleven years writing a shitty novel I’ll never finish while working days for minimum wage in an insurance company call-center.) No – I’m talking about evening non-credit courses offered by your local institution of higher learning. Take one of these (or two, or even three or four) and you will meet A) “Johnny Greatness” and B) “Jenny Book Club”.
Johnny is recognizable by his excessive output, both written and verbal, and his feverish need to take over the class and point it towards … himself. His cheerful willingness to offer suggestion/critique/blah-blah-blah that will somehow, always reference his own work. ‘Well, what I do in my writing … ” prefaces a lot of what comes out of him after his hand shoots up. Johnny is usually under twenty-five, can’t do five push-ups, and has staked his entire (inflated) sense of self-worth as being the guy in his social group who is absolutely convinced that he’s the most creative of them all. His ambition? To write something Lord of the Ring-ish meets Blood Meridian-ish. His Achilles heel? Incoherence – a lot of it written in the second person. Johnny doesn’t edit or brook suggestions of any sort. He doesn’t need that kind of negativity in his life.
What I most admire about Johnny Greatness? I wish I had that kind of confidence.
Jenny is almost always a middle-aged woman with limited output but a whole lot of opinions – almost all of which are negative. Her catch phrase is “I’m sorry but … ” i.e “I’m sorry but some of Hemingway’s stuff is shit. I’m sorry but it is.” One of Jenny’s hallmarks is her unwillingness to present her own materiel for workshopping, discussion. It’s beneath her and she fears reprisal. If she has to present something it’ll be: A) incomplete, and B) she’ll attempt to limit critique by saying things like “I don’t want line edits” or “I just want to know if the main character is interesting enough to proceed with.” She’s not there to participate, she’s there to kvetch about other writers, especially if you like them. You can bait Jenny by tossing out random writer’s names to hear her passive aggressive take-downs. “She’s OK but I didn’t like …” she’ll say or something like that. You can sometimes bait Jenny by making up a fake author name just to watch her say “Meh” and shrug her shoulders dismissively. Her ambition? To be agreed with. This is why she’s been uninvited from more than a few book clubs she’s joined after three meetings. She doesn’t actually write and may not actually read. Not her thing.
What I most admire about Jenny? I wish I had that kind of confidence.
What they both have in common is that they think of writer as “destination” i.e. Declare yourself “a writer” and watch the checks roll in and the interview requests pile up. They like their “ideas” praised but don’t have any actual work to show.
I’d like to declare myself a “lottery winner” and I think I will. We’ll see how that goes.
Stay salty comrades, I’l be back with more sassy-ass back-sass when I feel like it.