Well, you’re just an editor, and like the old adage, those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. I hear this hum of noise about how rigidity doesn’t allow for the free flow of creativity, that somehow, the true beauty of the written word exists inside us, and the method for how to deliver it has nothing to do with greatness. I stumble upon that thought, because it’s an indictment, not against the editor within me, but the writer, and the insult of that thought strikes all the more passionately since I consider myself an accomplished writer. It’s also a thought I don’t hear from accomplished writers, but rather writers who have incredible desire, so much so, they forgo the conventional path of study for an all-on assault of penning the page with myriad thoughts of grand design. They attack the mission with reckless abandon, toil in verbal jousting with their inner self, “How does this sound?”
But writing has a name and that name is fickle beast. Just as you think you’ve caught the shadow, you discover a point you hadn’t considered. It might be a barista at your local coffee shop who fancies himself as a writer, no, just an English lit grad, but he might say, “Let me see your work.” That look upon his face. Oh well, what does he know? He politely hands it back and says, “Have you ever heard of a dangling participle?” or maybe he says, “hmm, passive construction can be hard to solve sometimes.” Congenial, but he sounds like a jealous Nelly, after all, you’re the real writer and he’s just a wannabe. Those things he mentioned have no importance if you set the trend for a unique new writing style. You gather your work; you don’t want him reading it anyway. He has nothing invested in you. Your family knows how you pore over your work. They have weighed and measured you and not found you wanting.
One day, any day, you discover on the inside glass door of your favorite mom and pop bookstore a notice for a Wednesday night critique group. That could be fun. The sign reads, ‘bring a sample of your work, we will see if you fit in with our purpose.’ Hmm, they must want to make sure your genre fits theirs. What a fantastic idea. You gather your work, all the best stuff. Some of it is from one genre, another from across the spectrum. You’d find a match and shine in that critique group.
Wednesday comes and all week long, you had thought about nothing else but that group. You arrive early and burst through the door, wave your hand, sit with confidence, a leader among this group, ready to offer your work for display of how to write a great story. Calm down, the moderator hasn’t arrived yet. Moderator? Idle chit chat, one writer yaps about her kids, another, his job. They know each other and you feel at a disadvantage. Your foot taps to the school room clock whose second hand blips in jerky clicks around the pie. You sync your watch. Behind you the bell above the door rings in tintinnabulation, a peal of arrival. The sound of a dozen keys rattle as someone is securing the door. You crane your neck to see a man turn the sign from open to closed. You are one of the patrons in an after hour event. He enters the circle and smiles. He asks your name, and then politely apologizes that you are in his seat. Of course, you should have figured, it’s the leather armchair at the head of an egg shaped oval. Bastard already trips on power. You smile but hope he sees your disdain.
He hands everyone a note pad and says, “I have an exercise for you.”
Everyone lights up but you. Exercise? What sort of fucking group is this? You thought everyone would read your work aloud, each person handling a paragraph, with wads of applause afterward. You sigh and work hard to smile. You click your pen, a four color fat bic, clicking it blue, then red, then green, then black, over and over waiting to hear what this man sitting in your chair is going to ask of you. Maybe he wants your ideas? Maybe this asshole is using the group to pad his own resume.
“You have ten minutes to give me a paragraph using no adjectives or adverbs.”
What the hell? You look for support from the other four members but they are so nose deep into this jack off’s Kool Aid, that they don’t even notice your perplexed look. Okay, adjectives, those are the thingy mabobs that say something about nouns. Adverbs, don’t they add to verbs? Oh boy, this has nothing to do with how good your work is though. Clearly, this group will write nothing but second hand technical shit for vacation brochures in Cancun. You fumble through with your ten minute project and reluctantly tear the sheet from the pad and hand it over to the group’s Nazi leader. He shuffles through the work and hesitates at one. You can’t see it but as he peers up at you from the words and then back again, you know it’s yours. He shuffles it underneath and then points out to someone named Betty, that ‘every’ is an adverb. That’s it? That goodie two shoe only had one adverb? Oh Lord, this woman must write like shit.
The man with the Jesus complex goes through everyone’s assignments but says that since it was your first time, you get a pass. Somehow, that actually makes you feel grateful. Not that it worried you, but grateful nonetheless.
The Man God allows you to watch how the group critiques. Everyone had copies of everyone else’s work. The self proclaimed know-it-all started reading one of the works and would stop and ask if everyone caught the error. A series of nods and a few hands raised, a chuckle from the writer of the work, “Yeah, yeah, I know, passive construction.”
WAIT! You heard that recently. That punk ass barista mentioned it. Of course, these aren’t real writers. These are geeky wannabes. Fueled by rage you want to stand up and waltz out of the place right now. You want to give them a piece of your mind. They would try to ruin your work, turn it into something boring and just like everyone else. You brew, seething that the next two hours will be spent waiting to run the hell out. After the supreme ruler reads the three pages of work, he suggests some changes and offers to read how it might read better. You are ready to plug your ears and chant “la, la, la, la, la, la,” over and over; however, when he starts with his changes, you are caught by the words. They draw something from you and you can’t help but listen. The clarity and rhythm, the cadence and timing are spotless. How can that be? These people can’t be as good as you.
When the two hours finish, you rethink your position. Maybe outside of your superior work, good work can be created from rules. You have decided you will give this group another week. As everyone stands to leave, the moderator pulls you aside and says, “Can we speak?” he has your pieces politely held in his hands. You scoot away from the ears of others and he holds your work up and releases them to you. You smile because you know this group is going to fit nicely, seeing your work as your family does. He asks, “How long have you been writing?”
You boast, “All my life.”
He nods. “I see.” Behind him someone interrupts with a, “I’ve got to hurry and pick up the kids.”
The moderator raises his hand in a salute but keeps his focus on you. He’s going to want to focus the group’s attention on you; you are going to be the golden child.
“I’m sorry but you aren’t ready for this group.”
You can’t digest the words, ‘aren’t ready.’ What the…? “Excuse me, didn’t you read my work?”
“I did, but there is a lot you don’t know, and it’s apparent from your work.”
“But I write beautifully.”
He smiles but doesn’t respond.
He hesitates, you can see he wants to respond but he hesitates. “Nonetheless, we won’t be accepting your entry.”
It dawns on you these jokers aren’t ready for your talent. You walk out with your head held high, knowing very few people will ever get you; you are so far above their understanding.
You are grateful to the moderator for not wasting your time.
Randall ‘Jay’ Andrews is a studio writer and editor for a major studio in Los Angeles. Raised in the Pacific Northwest by a Northwest mother and a Midwestern military father, their home sat on a street everyone in the community called truly Americana, very Rockwellian. Born in the sixties but raised in the seventies and educated in the eighties and nineties, with an education that included fifteen years of college and a whole lot of trial and error in the real world, he enjoyed an untraditional path. He would marry someone he probably shouldn’t have and had a wonderful son with her, then married again, a lot later, and had four more sons.
He instructs method at the studio and has a physical critique group, as well as an online room critique group (Writers World) he shares his critiques with.
Although he picks up anything to read, he loves the classics, and considers Sinclair Lewis, O’Conner, Poe, O. Henry, near the top. Anything from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ to ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ can be found in his collection of reference material he teaches writing with. He is a consummate writer. For over 35 years he hasn’t failed to produce at least 1,000 words a day. Along with his commercial work in television, he currently has 7 books on the market and three with his publisher in edit.