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That Writer

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Mar. 11th, 2016 | 03:42 pm

That Writer. Every writing group or class has one. The person who talks too much. Who comes in stoned, or just high on life. Who interrupts the teacher we’ve all paid big bucks/gone through a tedious application process to hear. Who comments as if they themselves are the teacher. Who says things like “Well, you know what Flannery O’Connor said” as if we all know exactly what Flannery O’Conner said, and it wasn’t “Nobody cares, shut up.”

Look around the table. Do you see That Writer? No no, don’t point—pointing is rude. Instead, draw a smiley face expressing pain and show it to the writer next to you by turning your notebook on the table.

If you can clearly identify That Writer, I’m sorry, there’s nothing you can do. Practice your expressive smileys, and how to say “could you unpack that a little more?” with respectful seriousness for the days you haven’t done the assignment and are trying to run out the clock.

Wait—what? You don’t see That Writer? Oh dear. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you carry a bag of pens? Do you rummage in this bag more than once per class?

Have you ever cut your nails in class, you know, just that once when you had a bad hangnail and it was under the table and really quiet, not at all like it might be additional punctuation in the story of whoever was reading out loud at the time?

Does your jewelry make a delightful collection of wooden and metallic sounds?

Have you ever entered the room prior to class to find a previously arrived fellow-writer typing vigorously, earbuds in, and signaled that you need their attention? When they remove one earbud and say “yes?” in a sharpish tone, have you then courteously let them know you just need to use the printer and will that be OK? Did you then sing quietly to yourself while printing?

Have you written a chapbook of poetry, not self-published by any means but issued by the small independent press you own that has published several of your chapbooks and those of two other writers? Would you like to give a copy of that chapbook to every member of the class, and a few days later discuss it over coffee?

Do you often have a different interpretation of the work being discussed, possibly rooted in Freudian theory or any other psychology named after a dead Slav?

Do you make sounds that people think indicate you are about to speak, but you are in fact just signaling agreement or a blocked sinus?

Have you ever started a comment with, “Well, this may be a little far afield, but this just puts me in mind of Wittgenstein, when he says…” and ended that comment four hundred words later with “does anyone else get that?” Were you discussing a humorous parenting memoir?

Have you come to a class where the guideline is five pages and indicated that your twelve pages of 10-point sans-serif is “really a pretty quick read”? Is there an explicit sex scene on page 9? Does it have anal? Do you need to discuss how anal sex symbolically represents your relationship with the patriarchy/your creative muse/your mother?

Look at the body language of the person on your right: is that writer scooted to the extreme other edge of their chair, tilting toward the teacher as far as possible without falling off? Are you sure the chair-legs are uneven?

Have you ever said, “I know we’re not really workshopping today but perhaps we could just talk through my pages sentence-by-sentence?”

Are you disturbed by the number of questions you’re answering yes to? Are you really just trying to help? Have you noticed other writers angling their notebooks towards each other, scribbling what can only be pictographs of the deep emotional reaction they can barely contain in response to your work? All is not lost!

First, take your pages for today’s reading. When you get to page six, rip it off and any following pages and throw them in the recycle bin. Trust that your lengthy story summary prior to reading will cover it. If there are any chapbooks in your bag, remove them. Have you smoked pot yet today? Skip it. If that horse is already out of the barn, maybe consider taking a sick day and coming to class next week instead. Or smoking later today, especially if it’s a 10AM class. Now remove your jewelry. Select a single pen. Check your manicure, and if necessary, make a quick bathroom trip—really, no-one will mind. Take your writing notebook. Every time you think of something to say in class, write it down. Make a tick mark by anything that anyone else says. Now you don’t have to say it. Of every five remaining un-ticked comments, speak one of them. Then bask in your Buddha-like silence and smile wisely.

And don’t ever quote Wittgenstein again.




____________________________
It's my last day of writing residency and my classmates are delightful. I truly wouldn't call any of them That Writer. Uh-oh...




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Comments {23}

drwex

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from: drwex
date: Mar. 11th, 2016 08:55 pm (UTC)
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You mean you don't have a version of That Writer bingo?

Once upon a time I was in a writing workshop where we all sat in a circle and That Writer was on my left. On the lunch break I was chatting with other students and couldn't remember That Writer's name so instead I made a violent punching motion to my left. Everyone knew who I meant.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Mar. 12th, 2016 02:22 am (UTC)
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Ahahaha! Not in class, but I've definitely played Student Reading Bingo, including squares for 'breathy poet voice,' 'thanks every student in workshop,' and 'child abuse.'

Your gesture makes me laugh and laugh....

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notodette

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from: notodette
date: Mar. 11th, 2016 09:33 pm (UTC)
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"lol"

--Nietsche

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Mar. 12th, 2016 02:23 am (UTC)
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I was to exchange anguished smileys with you.

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Jenn

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from: kickthehobbit
date: Mar. 12th, 2016 12:12 am (UTC)
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OH GOD. YES.

We had one of these in the first fiction-writing workshop I ever participated in. We called him "hipster scarf douche".

This is a perfect description of him.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Mar. 12th, 2016 02:23 am (UTC)
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You know, just that name and I can SEE him. And sadly, hear him, too.

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favoritebean

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from: favoritebean
date: Mar. 12th, 2016 02:32 am (UTC)
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Oh, this makes me want to enroll in a writers workshop again. I know I could benefit from it.

Of all of the questions you asked, I'm definitely guilty of the hangnail bit. Oops.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Mar. 13th, 2016 08:48 pm (UTC)
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I totally sometimes trim off my cuticles in class!!! And I love workshop - even when we're all at different levels, everyone's got something they notice that no-one else does :)

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Pika the Brazen Ninja

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from: porn_this_way
date: Mar. 12th, 2016 02:55 am (UTC)
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I've never even been in a writer workshop, and I want to punch this hypothetical person! But damn this had me LMAO.

Have you come to a class where the guideline is five pages and indicated that your twelve pages of 10-point sans-serif is “really a pretty quick read”? Is there an explicit sex scene on page 9? Does it have anal? Do you need to discuss how anal sex symbolically represents your relationship with the patriarchy/your creative muse/your mother?

I...just...I am laughing so hard but wincing OMG because this SAME DAMN SHIT happens in all sorts of creative fandom comms and it's just like - mofo, PLEASE. You're writing dirty fanfic about Mulder and Scully screwing on Skinner's desk. It is not some complicated allegory for the corruption of the American government and its metaphorical role in screwing people.

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Didn't want to be

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from: anyonesghost
date: Mar. 12th, 2016 01:08 pm (UTC)
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I read that as "Mulder and Sculley screwing Skinner." I think that's because of my relationship to the patriarchy. Excuse me: phallicocracy.

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Pika the Brazen Ninja

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from: porn_this_way
date: Mar. 13th, 2016 02:49 am (UTC)
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Hahahahaha. Well, there are those fanfics too...
(And seriously. SERIOUSLY. Phallicocracy...it is now my goal to take that word and *ahem* slip it in whenever I can.)

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Didn't want to be

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from: anyonesghost
date: Mar. 13th, 2016 03:26 am (UTC)
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Don't worry, those opportunities pop up all the time. Whether you want them to or not.

(And if I contributed anything to this mini season, I figure I could do worse than a useful new word!)

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Raised by Wolves

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from: sinnamongirl
date: Mar. 12th, 2016 05:41 am (UTC)
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This is hilarious :) I haven't taken many writing classes myself but have what I call a Vicarious MFA through some friends, (which... might actually make me That Writer automatically?), and some of the people in their program were hilarious. I almost launched into a big gossipy comment about them, but I shouldn't, really.

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Murielle

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from: murielle
date: Mar. 12th, 2016 08:25 am (UTC)
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I cannot tell you how relieved I am that my story ended on page six, right at the very end of the page, but still page six.

This was an absolutely great read, and while I suspect that I may very well be that writer and it is too late for me I will commit to memory, such as it is, every word of that second-to-last paragraph.

Brilliant! (But a little scary.)

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Didn't want to be

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from: anyonesghost
date: Mar. 12th, 2016 01:13 pm (UTC)
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That's why I don't workshop. Out of consideration for everyone else. ;-) "When you stare into the abyss ... well, you become something of a jackass." (Oscar Wilde.)

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tonithegreat

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from: tonithegreat
date: Mar. 12th, 2016 02:04 pm (UTC)
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I really like the way second person worked out for this! I think it intensified engagement without being overbearing. And it made me want to take a class. And made me hyper aware of trying to craft this comment in a non-scarf-wearing manner.

Edited at 2016-03-12 02:04 pm (UTC)

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tijuanagringo

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from: tijuanagringo
date: Mar. 13th, 2016 01:27 am (UTC)
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.
OMG this is so true. Ha hahahahaaha oh yeahhhhhhh. (Good thing I'm not wearing jewelry) but...
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my hangnail.................. bite bite bite rippppp.
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alycewilson

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from: alycewilson
date: Mar. 13th, 2016 02:02 am (UTC)
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Don't worry. Something tells me you're not "That Writer" either. Nice tag, though. I like those sort of "parenthetical asides."

I actually never encountered too many of these behaviors in the poetry workshops I took for my MFA in English (Poetry). However, I did take the fiction workshop one semester and thought I noticed some of those behaviors. Either it was something about the genre or just that I felt like more of an outsider there and was hyper sensitive to every little thing that the rest of the class did.

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dmousey

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from: dmousey
date: Mar. 13th, 2016 04:38 pm (UTC)
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I'd be the one with too many pens... ;-) :o)

Peace and hug~~~D

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rayaso

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from: rayaso
date: Mar. 13th, 2016 06:16 pm (UTC)
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I have never had the pleasure of a writing class, but you had me laughing at your description of That Writer, especially the Wittgenstein part. The fun part is that no one ever sees themselves as That Writer.

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

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from: halfshellvenus
date: Mar. 14th, 2016 06:52 pm (UTC)
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Hahahaha! The quiz was especially perfect, because "That annoying person is never me! Of course not!"

In many group settings, there often seems to be that person who wants to 1) appear smarter and more insightful than everyone else, and 2) ultimately hijack all the attention and make everything about them and Their Work.

I'm just sorry you paid money, and that still happened to you. :O

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Laura, aka "Ro Arwen"

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from: roina_arwen
date: Mar. 14th, 2016 07:12 pm (UTC)
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Fortunately I've never encountered nor been That Writer, but I feel your pain!

Did you have a good flight?

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prog_schlock

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from: prog_schlock
date: Mar. 14th, 2016 11:17 pm (UTC)
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The worse news is that every graduate program in the country has somebody just like the Writer. The Physicist. The Mathematician. The Dancer. The Botanist. etc. etc.

Its almost like they're more interested in performing the role of the thing they are studying instead of doing the thing they are allegedly learning to do. It can be maddening. Its bad enough when they can't actually do the thing they're studying, but its even worse when they're actually pretty good at it.

Ah, this brought me back to my grad school years. :D

I'm reminded a bit of this song...

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