We recently published Frances Klein’s searing “At the Writer’s Workshop.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I love the tongue-in-cheek voice here — the line about the men wanting to “use the word fuck in every fucking sentence” makes me laugh every time. But at the same time, this kind of behavior infuriates me! Do you think it’s important to keep a sense of humor about things like this?
This story is based on a local writing group that I stopped attending because of the exact dynamic I describe. For me, the tongue-in-cheek tone comes naturally out of the inherent ridiculousness of the situation, namely men with no more credentials or authority than anyone else asserting dominance for the sake of their egos. I also found the whole environment infuriating, which is why I opted to preserve my peace and stop going. In situations like this, the only immediate options are to get mad or to laugh about it. However, I think it depends on what you want the outcome to be, and what your role is in the group. If you want to improve and diversify the group, the anger is necessary to fuel any changes that would make the group more hospitable to writers that aren’t straight men. If you don’t have a stake in the group, however, I’ve found that humor is more soul soothing.
2) In this story, there’s a line that breaks my heart: ” All the women bring just a little something they scribbled down, nothing very good, needs a lot of work….” It’s so hard to see the women belittle their own work like this! Does this stem from a place of inferiority, do you think? Or are they merely trying to placate the men?
To me, the sense of deprecation or belittlement that a lot of women bring to their own writing is an act of self-preservation. (Believe me, I’ve been that person!). The line of reasoning goes something like, “if I say that my writing isn’t very good, then my feelings won’t be hurt when the other people in the writing group give feedback that implies–or says straight out–that my writing isn’t very good.” There’s also an expectation in a lot of writing circles that people will have thick skin when it comes to receiving feedback, and it seems to me that some people use this approach to project a nonchalance about their own writing that they may not feel. I do think that there is some gendered socialization happening here, especially in writing groups that are either male-led or male-dominated (or both!)