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I Hate My Writing Group
Papi, should I ditch these guys?
¡Hola Papi! is the preeminent deranged advice column from writer and author John Paul Brammer, now living on Substack! If you’ve ever wanted advice from a Twitter-addled gay Mexican with anxiety, here is your chance. Support this column by sharing it and subscribing below, or by upgrading to a paid subscription for access to more columns. Send Papi a letter at email@example.com
I'm exhausted by a writer's group that I'm in and I don't know if I should try to make it work or move on to something new.
I recently joined a local group of queer writers. People in this group keep pointing out things I could do better as a person, and I do my best to make changes even when they're not suggested in the most productive ways. But it's getting exhausting and they're starting to wear down my self-esteem.
For example, writing at home distracts me, so I go to coffee shops to write. The last time I met up with that group, I mentioned I had been at one of those coffee shops and got a snide remark about how I shouldn't be going there because the owners are racist transphobes. They pulled up some Instagram posts and showed them to me and it was pretty bad! I don't have an Instagram so I hadn't seen any of this, which I got plenty of grief for, but I obviously took the feedback and stopped going there because it's the right thing to do and it's not exactly a big ask.
At that same meeting, I shared some details about the story I'm writing. It’s a horror story, so some bad things happen to good people. Sometimes the nice intern is going to get murdered by the satanic cult at the office. That's just how it works. The feedback that I got was pretty weird, and a lot of it was about how I shouldn't write something that encourages people to do bad things and how writing about that reflects on me. It felt like I was getting dressed down from my mom again after the first time she saw me in all black with eyeliner on. I just nodded and took some notes and didn't share anything else.
This kind of thing seems to happen a lot with this group. I want to make sure I'm doing good and I'm a good person, and some of what they bring up is very valid, but a lot of it doesn't feel like it's offered with helpful intent. The uncharitable part of me wants to say that it's because they're all muscular cis gym gays who write mediocre poetry and personal essays and I'm the fat nonbinary gay who writes horror stories, but I don't know if that's just because I'm as bad a person as they seem to think I am!
It took time to find this group, and I don't know how I would go about finding another group of local queer writers to try to be in community with, so ghosting them feels like a big exhausting choice. Sticking with it and trying to make it work, however, feels equally exhausting.
How do I decide if I should stay or go? And how do I know what criticism to take to heart, and what criticism to disregard?
Hey there, TM!
First of all, and I apologize for this, but I’m cracking myself up imagining this writing club of muscle gays who do broetry and look down on the horror genre. I am imagining Matt Bomer sitting in a circle of chairs reading from a poem titled “Gym Rat” (heavy weights, heavier thoughts) while Brandon Flynn tears up and starts clapping or something. Colton Haynes does some appreciative snaps.
What was your question?
Ah, yes. Contrary to popular belief, being gay doesn’t automatically grant you good taste. A cursory glance at Twitter proves this. Indeed, gays are hard at work in the lab right now cooking up the worst tank tops, movies, and hot takes you’ve ever seen. To be clear, I appreciate this. Gay tackiness is a unique and noble craft, a legacy I’m proud to contribute to.
But I think the phenomenon you’re describing extends beyond gay people, and it seems to be the thing you’re angling to get my take on because, I don’t know, you want me to get crucified by some terminally online Young Adult author with a book called Bruno and Desmond Briefly Defy the Laws of Physics. If this is what you want for me, I guess you’re going to get it, so congratulations. I’m about to yell at some people to get off my lawn.
Incuriosity is thriving at the moment. People seem incredibly proud of publicly renouncing critical thinking in favor of asserting a frustratingly simplistic “thing good or thing bad” mindset. I think this is due to a confluence of factors, many of them corporate. Identity has been so totally enmeshed with consumer habits that we’ve arrived at the misguided belief that the media we consume should perfectly align with our good politics, or else it is evil and an endorsement of our enemies.
This is how you end up with conclusions like, “a character in this show did something homophobic, and therefore the show itself is homophobic.” We’ve been so thoroughly conditioned, in the ubiquity and loneliness of capitalism, to think of media properties as our friends, and when our friends do a bad thing, it feels like a betrayal.
Worse yet, we’ve come to think of art—all art—as commercial goods that warrant this calculation of the “Moral Nutrition Facts” to ensure we’re not feeding anything “bad” to our brains. So we arrive at a place where art is constantly screaming its own virtues at us. All the rough edges get sanded away, and the lines between “good person” and “bad person” are boldly drawn with one of those ridiculously large Sharpies in mass-produced, infantilizing literature that reassures us that we are good people for putting it on our shelves.
Okay, my lawn has been cleared. Back to you, I guess. It’s funny you say you’re worried about finding a new writing community when it’s not entirely clear you have a writing community right now. It sounds like you have an annoying, voluntary group project. I understand loneliness is rough, but mediocre personal essays are rougher, and you couldn’t pay me enough money to sit around and get called a bad person because Kevin hasn’t brushed up on the genre touchstones of horror.
Well, yes you could. I really need new shoes.
But anyway, it’s up to you, of course. Think about what you’re getting out of this group dynamic. Do you feel your writing is improving? Are you getting any positive feedback mixed in with the critical? Does critical feedback frighten you in general? Do you feel like you’re cultivating bonds? Were they right about the coffee shop?
Maybe they were. But you need to determine if the self-flagellation is worth it. Ask yourself, “is this better than writing alone in my house?”
If not, then maybe you could dip and write a fun A24-style horror story about being trapped in a writers’ group with a bunch of gay TikTok influencers. I’d maybe read that. I’d definitely at least skim it.
Con mucho amor,