From the beginning, I had a major problem with him.
You know the type, the guy who dominates meetings because he thinks his words are more valuable than anyone else’s. He’s the guy who makes you feel small so he can feel bigger. He’s more important than everyone in the room and lets you know it in the most obnoxious of ways. I can’t stand that type of guy.
I started going to the writer’s group meetings about six months ago after finding it online. Each member of the group brings a work of 1000 words or less and reads it to everyone, and the others offer helpful critiques on how to improve your writing. It sounded like a great way to get help with the memoir I’ve been working on for three years.
It actually was great, except for that guy.
He didn’t like me from the beginning, excluding me from group conversations and tossing out sharp comments whenever I spoke. I didn’t understand why he chose me to pick on because at first I barely spoke at meetings, still feeling too shy and inadequate as a writer to share my work with “real” writers.
The guy called me out on it, asking in front of everyone why I was the only one who never brought in writing to share with the group. At that point, I hadn’t been invited to share yet by the group leader, an older, graceful and beautiful woman named Lucille. She told me nicely I would have to wait until a spot opened up for me within the association before I could contribute, but I was welcome to come to meetings and listen to everybody else.
I thought I’d lucked out. Just being around other writers was enough to inspire me to go to every meeting they held, and I soaked up all the information about writing they had to share. It didn’t matter to me that I couldn’t bring my own work. I was happy just to sit there for the two hours and learn everything I could about the writing business.
That wasn’t enough for the guy though. When he asked why I didn’t share, I told him I hadn’t been invited yet.
“Well, that’s just wrong,” he declared. “I’ll make sure I talk to Lucille and you get a chance to read your stuff. Let me speak up for you at the next gathering.”
The next meeting, I brought my writing to share. I was nervous as hell, but so excited to hear what people thought of it and the advice they would give me to make my work better. Best of all, it would mean I was a real writer like the rest of them, no longer just an observer. I had to force myself to eat dinner that night before I left. My nerves were a jumbled mess. My husband and daughter were encouraging, telling me they were sure I would be great.
The meeting came and went, and the guy didn’t speak up for me as promised. After the meeting was over, I approached him with my folder of work in my hand.
“I brought my writing tonight.” I’m sure I sounded as sad as I felt.
The guy looked at me or pretty much over me as he answered and walked away. “Oh, well.”
When I got home that night, I emailed Lucille and asked her directly if I could start contributing, and she wrote back and said yes. I forgot all about the guy and his broken promise. Next meeting, I would get to share my writing, and I couldn’t think of anything more in the world I wanted to do.
The guy seemed to target me more often once I started sharing my writing with the group, making nasty comments about it and about me personally. He already dominated every meeting with snide comments and jokes he thought were funny, but now it seemed he was laser-focused on what I was doing. I tried to be nice to him and form some sort of connection, but he never had time for that.
After a while, I started to feel less than. I thought my work was decent, but the guy made me feel like everything I wrote was garbage. Instead of being excited about meetings, I dreaded them solely because of him. I simply wasn’t having fun.
I wrote to Lucille and let her know I couldn’t be part of the group anymore because one of the people in it was making me miserable. I didn’t give his name or even suggest it was a “he.” There didn’t seem to be a point to it. Even if I said something, it wasn’t like he would be kicked out or reprimanded. The last thing I wanted to do was cause trouble. I wanted to leave quietly and not make a big deal out of it.
Lucille’s response shocked me. She told me she could tell from hearing my writing in the group that I was overly “sensitive,” and I probably just misinterpreted body language I’d picked up on from whoever it was. She also suggested a writer’s group across town, but she warned that I’d probably find someone else there I wouldn’t like.
My heart sank. Lucille was one of my greatest supporters, and it hurt me that she thought I was making the whole thing up. When she said I was “sensitive,” it wasn’t a compliment. The way she described it made it sound like a flaw or some kind of defect.
I thought a lot about that word, “sensitive.” Was it true that I was overreacting? I usually trust my instincts, but I doubted myself and my intentions. Was being a sensitive person a bad thing? Should I have a thicker skin at my age and not be so concerned about somebody picking on me?
As a writer, I notice things a lot. I pick up on verbal and physical cues from other people all the time and even sometimes from myself. How could I explain that to Lucille without sounding too fragile? I never thought of being sensitive as a bad thing, but she made it sound like a character deficiency.
I decided not to write her back. There was nothing left to say. She already made up her mind about me, and it wasn’t my job to change her thinking. Just because I might be more sensitive than most doesn’t change the fact that the guy was a total jerk. I knew I wasn’t imagining that part. He was a bully, and I’ve had enough bullies in my life already. I wouldn’t willingly spend my time with a guy like that.
I’ll miss the group. I learned a lot while I was there and enjoyed everyone else’s company. It was an opportunity to pick the brains of real writers and feel like I was part of them. Even if I soured on the experience, being there helped my self-confidence and gave me the little push I needed to get going with my writing for the future.
I’ve decided I’m going to accept that fact that I’m sensitive. In fact, I won’t just accept it, but I’ll fully embrace it. I always write directly from my heart. Without that sensitivity, the words wouldn’t come across the same way. If I’m overly emotional, it can only help me in the stories I create. Some people won‘t like it, but I can’t control what they think of me.
I’m not defective after all, just someone trying to be a writer who is honest and real. Yes, I may be too sensitive, but I can work with it.