“You’re Not a Writer”

I have a writer’s group on Facebook with a very narrow focus. I say right up front in the description: “This is a discussion group for the sole purpose of sharing writing tips and techniques so that we can improve our writing.” Nothing but discussions about the process of writing are allowed in the group — no promos, no links to blogs, no sharing regardless of how inspiring the shared photo/article might be, no pleas for “likes”, no discussions of how to self-publish or how to get published or how to sell books. Just writing.

bookAs people try to change the focus of the group to meet their own agendas, the list of “no”s gets longer to keep the basic intent, but there really aren’t rules. Just that single focus — sharing writing tips and techniques so we can improve our writing.

I really hate policing the group — deleting inappropriate posts and remarks. Actually, no I don’t. Since this is a group for writers, one would think they also know how to read — specifically, read the description of the group — so I do feel righteous about banning those who post promos or indulge in self-aggrandizement. Also, since this isn’t a typical online forum but my personal group, a group I’ve kept going for more than seven years, I don’t see any reason to retain discussions that have outlasted their use — for example, when someone asks a question related to their work or when the comments get personal or too repetitious. I don’t particularly like deleting these discussions, but I consider such culling good for the group — keeps it focused on what matters. Writing.

What I do hate, however, is when someone who has interesting ideas tries to subvert the group in ways that are too subtle for me to point out without my coming across as a termagant.

One such writer recently joined, and although the discussions he started were lively, his comments were geared toward his writing career. I deleted one discussion that talked about his achievements, agent, and publisher, more out of irony than anything else. He had posted a nasty comment about a promo that I hadn’t deleted fast enough to suit him (I have a life, folks! Well, dancing), and his discussion itself was a barely concealed promo.

He emailed me, demanding to know where his discussion went. I explained that this was a group to discuss writing, not the business side of publishing. I mentioned that many discussions were left up only a short time, and that in fact, I often deleted my own discussions in the interest of fairness. Things settled down for a while until I noticed an appalling response he left for someone else. Another member asked for help in finding the motivation he needed, and this fellow wrote: “If you can’t sit down and write, it’s because you’re not a writer.” Oh, my. That sure got my dander up.

So I posted a new rule to the group:

I’m adding a new rule, which should have been able to have gone unstated: any member who discourages or tries to discourage another member from writing will be removed. This is a group for all writers, from the wildly prolific to those who struggle for words, from professionals to those who are still dreaming of writing.

He commented: “That’s one more rule than I can keep up with.” His parting remark to me was that my group was like “free speech day in Red China.”

I responded: In the world out there, people may be free to say anything they want, but in here, we are kind, even if it kills us. And if it does kill us, well, there are thousands of writers here who could write a book using kindness as a weapon.

I just checked the group membership list. He’s removed himself from the group. Can you tell I’m relieved?

It’s funny that I have such a strict policy about being kind to other writers because I’ve lost respect for writers as a group. It was different for me when books seemed to be an organic thing that just appeared out of nowhere, but this whole “author as entrepreneur” movement has destroyed that illusion. I get to where the sight of book promos turns my stomach. Making matters worse is the issue of the poor editing I so often encounter regardless of who publishes the books, authors or major publishers.

And yet, and yet . . .

The process of writing is available to all, regardless of what I or anyone else thinks. No one has the right to discourage someone from writing. Besides, by keeping the focus of the group tightly on the craft of writing, I am doing what I can to improve the quality of writing in today’s books.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

5 Responses to ““You’re Not a Writer””

  1. robthepen Says:

    Again, another great post. I don’t comment often, but I receive every one in my e-mail. And as a member of said writing group, I’m thankful for your diligent oversight.

    Pat Bertram, you’re the best!

    Rob M. Miller

  2. Larry Kahaner Says:

    Great post. As someone who has been a professional writer for 30 years, I never discourage anyone from writing. On the other hand, not everyone has the talent, persistence and thick skin needed to be a writer and we all need to be honest about it. Why do so many people even want to be writers if it makes them so unhappy and frustrated? Is it because it’s too easy to self publish and promote your books on the web despite their worth?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I think you’re right about it being too easy. Computers make it easy, too. People used to say, “I can’t write because I can’t spell, but then spellcheck came along and suddenly everyone is a writer. They think the whole process is simple and get frustrated when it isn’t. And then there are those who find the process simple but they are so bad they should never be allowed around a keyboard.

  3. 22pamela Says:

    Go you! I would like to belong to such a group.

  4. rami ungar the writer Says:

    We’re probably better off without this guy.

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