That Writer

June 7, 2017 § 26 Comments

Dorothy Parker showed a lot of wtf smilies to fellow members of the Algonquin Round Table.

That Writer. Every writing group or class has one. The person who talks more than everyone else combined. 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—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 (That Writer has their usefulness!).

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 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 1.5-spaced, 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 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 and one additional backup pen, leaving your pen-bag aside. Check your manicure. Once in class, open your writing notebook. Every time you think of something to say, write it down. Make a tick mark by anything you thought 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.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

Tagged: , , , , ,

§ 26 Responses to That Writer

  • “This just puts me in mind of Wittgenstein…” LMAO right now. Thank you.

  • Sarah B. says:

    OMG YES. brilliantly done. and thank you.

  • Jan Priddy says:

    Allison, you know I love you, right?

    I know that person.

    “Have you come to a class where the guideline is five pages and indicated that your twelve pages of 1.5-spaced, 10-point sans-serif is ‘really a pretty quick read’ ” The person who reads what they wrote last night (“I know we’re not supposed to read raw work, but . . . “), the work that is way too long for the 5-minute slot so the author reads it super-fast to get through it all (every single word, instead of editing), the work with an incestuous edge that no one wants to talk about (all those animals breeding, all that eating and tongues and guns, the way the father . . . ).

    That said, I fear I talk too much, once I get started, and I am always afraid that “the person” will be me. But one pen, no clunky jewelry, no nail-clipping, no handouts, and I always abide by rules of length and content. Sometimes I open my mouth to speak and then close it without making a sound. I have gotten better at that as I age.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      OMG Yes – I once had a professor in undergrad ask me to stop talking in class so much…which I could not appreciate at the time, but now, oh boy!

  • Jessica Cross says:

    LOVEit. There was definitely a writer like that in one of my introductory Creative Writing classes. She was a genuinely nice person who just happened to unfortunately emcompass just a few too many of these stereotypes. Class was always super awkward because it was really hard to DISlike her, but man, she really needed to tone it down a notch or twenty.

  • Bahhah. But why Wittgenstein, of all people, this at least I know who is. 😀

  • This also applies to book clubs. One member insisted we should analyse the mental health of each character. The book she chose was so hard going that I needed professional help myself.

  • John Hoag says:

    Would that every instructor I have ever had would read this and take it to heart. They are the only ones who have the power to stifle That Writer. Please!

  • dennyho says:

    Laughing, remembering one such person in a long ago class!

  • Joanne says:

    Too funny! My friend and I were just talking about “that writer” a couple of weeks ago. So on point!

  • C Joanne Grabinski says:

    Perfect timing as I’m about to go off to a writers retreat next week. I don’t think I’m guilty of any of Allison’s no-no’s, but I will be working very hard to not become guilty of any of them next week.


  • Diann Martin says:

    Allison, we must be in the same writing groups, your piece is amazing and so funny -you rock !

  • Talent is a good excuse for driving the smurfs crazy. Ask Bukowski.

  • […] via That Writer — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • Anna says:

    Oh, yes. Thanks! And then there’s The Writer in a group discussion of an early draft who ignores content but corrects all the punctuation, line by line.

  • […] can really suck. Even writing groups, where we’re all there voluntarily…but so is That Writer. Plus the people who read too long, or ask for professional-level editorial feedback for free, or […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading That Writer at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.


%d bloggers like this: