A former writing student of mine emailed me recently with an all too common conundrum. She said, “Our writer’s group has a new member that is not being respectful of everyone in the group. How do we end the relationship without causing a feud?”
Writers’ groups are wonderful things. With the right mix of people, authors can find support and encouragement, as well as constructive feedback that can help them improve their skills and stories. Turning your work over to a critical audience can be scary, so creating a trusting atmosphere is important.
It’s disappointing when an individual doesn’t grasp or respect the true spirit of the group. Unfortunately, these people cause tension among other members and threaten to destroy the relationships you’ve worked hard to nurture. Ideally, you’ll have found ways to bring up specific issues with the person in private before you decide to oust him or her, but sometimes the bad behavior continues regardless. Sometimes there’s no particular problem to point to, just a general mismatch of personalities that makes everyone feel awkward.
When confronted with a situation where you have to “excuse” a member, start by writing a polite note telling the person that you don’t feel it’s a good fit. Include comments explaining how groups need the right chemistry and that you’re sure he or she can find another group that is a better fit and thus will be of more benefit. At the end, wish the person much success. You could follow a similar outline if you opt to have the discussion in person. Which route you take will depend on the situation—it may be easier to email an antagonistic person, while it might feel better for both of you to speak one-on-one with a wayward member who’s nice but just isn’t meshing with the group.
The key is to be as warm as possible and emphasize the “not a good fit” angle as opposed to “we hate you and want you outta here.” Essentially, you are rejecting this person no matter how you word it, so remember to be kind. Even big jerks have feelings, and it doesn’t feel good to get rejected.
If he or she responds asking for more details, expand on the notion that keeping the right mix of personalities and writing styles is important to keeping the group productive. You might also mention that, as the group leader(s), you are responsible for maintaining a delicate balance, and that the group as a whole feels that it’s just not going to work out. If the person seems receptive to it, let them know (gently) what kind of behavior has disturbed other members or felt inappropriate for your group. It may be a useful learning experience they can use to become a better member in their next group.
If the individual reacts badly, just ignore it, no matter how much you may want to lash out in return. Antagonists are by nature argumentative. Don’t get sucked into a flame war or a middle-school-style throw down. It’s your group and your responsibility to keep it healthy; your members have given you the power to make decisions to fulfill that responsibility. You don’t need to explain yourself any more than you have.
Which brings me to an important caveat: Before taking this determinative step, make absolutely certain you have the group’s full support and that they are aware of when you’re sending the letter or meeting with the soon-to-be-ex member. Remind them that this person may try to reach out to other members, especially if he or she is a divisive personality, and ask that everyone respond with kindness but not engage in extended arguments or justifications.
It’s tough dealing with difficult personalities, but a straightforward, polite response will get the point across. Ultimately, you want to protect your group’s creativity and constructive nature, or the other members will stop coming, and your group will fade away. By addressing the issue with tact and confidence, you can eliminate the negative energy and restore your group’s mission to encourage and inspire fellow writers.
Have you ever been faced with a situation like this? Tell us about it!
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.