I received an email message from an aspiring writer who wishes to remain anonymous, but who asked for my ever-so-stellar advice with the following problem:
Dear Smart Bitch Sarah:
You gave some damn-sharp advice the last time someone wrote to you, so I wanted to ask your help with my problem. I’m part of a critique group of four writers, and while one of them, let’s call her “Ann,” is amazing and so helpful when she reads my work, the other two are less helpful. “Beth” gives comments and critiques that are very minimal, so I’ve learned to take her with a grain of salt. But “Carrie” is my problem. She doesn’t pull her share at all. She never meets our deadlines and has some excuse every time, and she doesn’t give our work half the attention she seems to expect for her own writing. I get nothing but frustration out of dealing with her and I seem to be the only one who finds her to be a flake. But I was invited to join the group by Ann, and I’m the newest member so I don’t want to cause trouble. Plus, Ann’s critique of my work in progress has helped me so much, I’m unwilling to leave and lose her excellent advice. What would you do?
There are two important and vital truths to your problem. First, the only person who you can change in this situation is you. I’m not saying you should let Carrie slide when she misses a deadline that everyone else has worked hard to meet. Missing deadlines is one of my mega huge honking behemoth pet peeves, and it’s insulting when you’ve busted your ass only to see her to hand over an excuse every time. So speak up – you have every right as a member of the group to say that you’ve set aside time to read Carrie’s work, and if she’s repeatedly late and missing deadlines, you can’t devote as much time as you’d like to your share of the process. Particularly, if she doesn’t like what you’ve said or thinks you’ve done or said too little, point out again that she’s creating the situation by not respecting the agreed-upon deadlines.
But really, the only person you can change is yourself – meaning Carrie isn’t going to change. Clearly she’s not entirely serious about her writing, and it’s not a top priority for her as it is for you. So you have to change your reaction to her if you want to stay in the group – and it sounds like you do for the sake of Ann’s contributions to your work. You’ve already learned from her errors – deadlines, clearly, are important. Now you have to manage to take Carrie’s flakiness less personally. It’s not about you – it’s probably more about Carrie getting attention. Focus less on the things that bug you about the group, and more on the things you value. Perhaps Carrie is the price you pay for working with Ann – unless Ann would like to work with you one on one. Never hurts to ask, and it could do wonders for both of you.
Which brings me to point two: that anger you get when dealing with her, rising like reflux after too much puttanesca? Inspiration, baby! Every time flake girl misses her deadline and offers some dumb excuse, channel that anger into your writing. Base a character on her, and enact your happy revenge on her sorry ass.
Flaky people drive me batshit, but they are part of life. Not everyone respects a deadline but your dedication and attention to your work will pay off. Good luck.