About our guest blogger:
Peter Crowe’s stories have been rejected by publications as diverse as Versal and the official newsletter of the school he works at as an English Teacher. The same stories have inhabited the attachments of emails ignored by some of his best friends. He lives in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and has a wife and a young son.
Why I Quit My Writers’ Group
In the ultimate scene of Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway (1994), the protagonist-playwright David Shayne finally faces a truth dodged throughout the tortuous efforts to stage his latest production. “I’m not a writer. There, I said it, and I’m free.” He walks off into the night with his fiancé Ellen, having cast off the vestiges of artistic vanity in order to live a life of humility. It’s a scene within whose shadow I’ve been weeping ever since.
I first saw the film when I was fourteen-years-old, an age when every cultural encounter becomes a burdensome piece of mental furniture. To this day Cheech, the mob hit man with an untutored flair for drama, and David, the conceited, erudite artist who can create nothing but stilted artifice, are gathering dust in my drafty mental attic. A writer of non-fiction might disregard the term ‘furniture’ in favor of ‘paradigms’, which I’ve heard are even harder to shift. The question all writers have to address is: am I a Cheech, a born artist, or am I a David, more taken with the idea of being an artist than the mechanics of producing good work? And if I’m a David, should I give up now?
The issue is complicated for me because I’m English and saddled by right of primogeniture with a class-consciousness so heavy my owners are considering turning me into glue (as if the mental furniture weren’t burdensome enough!). A certain process of reasoning follows from this. If I’m of working-class stock (depending on whether you determine class by the level of parents’ education, their jobs or the individual’s), went to a comprehensive school (if you don’t know much about the British education system, insert ironic quotation marks around ‘comprehensive’), and can’t rely on the persuasive force of an old school tie (because I burned it on the last day), I must be a Cheech! It’s a miracle I can write legibly and with so few spelling and grammatical errors, having been comprehensively schooled (a private education might even have addressed my irritating parenthesis-habit).
Unfortunately, the analysis does not end there. I’ve been to university. I’ve studied English literature and teaching at three of Europe’s most prestigious institutions. I’ve never even held a real gun, let alone used it to pistol-whip anyone. And do I try hard? Yes, I do try hard. There’s no doubt about it: I’m a David, caught in a web of sterile self-reflection. I wouldn’t know an engaging story if it came along and shat in my mental toilet.
So far, so abstract. In practice, what does it matter if I’m a Cheech or a David? Can’t I just continue writing and pretend no one has noticed? I suppose it depends on why you want to write. All over the internet you can find blog posts from aspiring writers entitled things like, ‘I AM a writer!’ containing bold admissions along the lines of: ‘There, I said it: I’m a writer. A person who writes’ (find your own examples – they’re too tedious for me to revisit). These people are David Shayne before the fall, not hungry enough even to stretch out a hand for an apple from the tree of self-knowledge. Because writing is the means to an end, or so it should be, and the word ‘writer’ is more than a rusting halo to be worn to impress all the other would-be angels.
In other words, I’ve quit my writers group because I’m not a writer. I’m a writer of no-fiction. Quitting was necessary to address the vain enjoyment I derived from telling people I was in a writer’s group, the orgasmic thrill of having something concrete to write on Facebook next to ‘Activities’ (‘Writing’), the _________ of __________ on _____________ (fill in the blanks for a tricolon). It’s a shame because I liked the group, the critique was useful and they could cook. Boy, could they cook. But when you’re thirty years old with a kid and a job and a wife and you spend two nights of a busy week reading and talking about other people’s stories and the other five telling people what you do on the other two nights and hoping beyond hope that it is enough to be involved in the activities surrounding writing to call yourself a ‘writer’, you know it’s time to stop pretending and grow up. I’m not a writer. There, I said it, and I’m free.