Writers Block – Part 3

The first full day of the conference began with breakfast at 8:30. Breakfast at the conference was “catered” by the local chain supermarket, meaning that Gadfly would order it in advance and then go pick it up. I found this was also the case for lunch. Since my room was in the conference’s main building, I was usually around to help set the meals up, and unfortunately, usually around to clean up afterwards. Gadfly worked alone and as nearly as I could tell, rarely washed a dish. Some of the other writers helped out on occasion, but as the week wore on I found myself spending the morning washing the previous day’s dishes and cleaning up the kitchen in preparation for the day ahead. Gadfly always thanked me, but I really wished that some kind of provision had been made for housekeeping instead of leaving the chores to chance (and the writer with the least tolerance for a dirty kitchen).

Texas was still in an unsettled mood as the writers gathered for our first session. She had talked to Gadfly a little bit and was willing to give the conference another shot. However, as the session began it was more of the same unpleasantness: each writer would pitch their novel and Gadfly, with varying degrees of hostility, would rip it to shreds. Of the thirteen writers, four were men and once again, it seemed to me that Gadfly went easier on them, or at least toned down the sneering and sighing and eye-rolling. Gadfly seemed particularly intolerant of the “women’s fiction” genre, and as three writers had novels in this vein (including Texas), it made for some uncomfortable moments. In addition, Gadfly would rarely let a writer get more than a few words into a pitch before interrupting and peppering the writer with questions.

I could see Texas getting angrier and angrier. She was actually sitting with her back to Gadfly, so I could watch her face. We were meeting in the common area of the main building – a small space for fourteen, including laptops and other paraphernalia, and since there were not enough chairs some people stood or plopped on the floor. After the session had gone on for a couple of hours one of the women begged for a smoke break and Gadfly grudging granted it (later on Gadfly refused to allow general breaks, and we were brusquely informed that if we needed a break, to “just take it”). A couple of the other writers went back to their own buildings and returned with more chairs, and I found myself wondering why Gadfly hadn’t arranged sufficient seating. I’d gotten one of my bed pillows to cushion the back of my own chair; I was sitting at the dining table, and the chairs were not conducive to hours of sitting and sitting.

When we broke for lunch, many of the writers looked a little shell-shocked. Little clumps would gather to murmur, and I started hearing Gadfly’s credentials questioned, usually with “Did you read Gadfly’s book?” as the opening gambit (I had struggled to finish it, and over the course of the conference, discovered that the vast majority of the writers had given up on it midway through). Texas told me she was pretty sure she was going to leave that evening; that the conference was not at all what she expected and that she could not tolerate more of Gadfly’s hectoring.

After lunch we reconvened, and any hopes I’d harbored about being excused from a repeat performance of the previous night’s cudgeling were in vain. I had to give my pitch again and suffer through the same criticisms, this time in front of everyone. I was able to shrug it off (been there, done that), but by the time a gentle, grandmotherly mystery writer was trying to make her pitch over Gadfly’s interruptions and interjections of disdain, many of us were wincing and muttering protests, and it was clear Texas was at the end of her patience. I had realized earlier that Gadfly would not accept any disagreement; I’d gently challenged Gadfly’s statement that the Harry Potter books were written in multiple third-person narrative voice (it’s third person limited – we only get Harry’s point of view), but rather than admit a potential mistake, Gadfly got hostile. I tried to keep the discussion light and bet Gadfly $20 that I was right, but it was clear that I’d stepped over the line.

Texas, however, wasn’t in a mood to pull punches. She was on her feet and facing Gadfly for the first time that day, and the verbal fray began. There was no winner; Gadfly met Texas’ cold anger with a snotty hauteur of his own while the rest of us squirmed and Grandma protested that she didn’t need defending. Fortunately the day was just about over and we were all on our own for dinner. As we adjourned, I had a quiet conversation with Texas, who told me she was packed and would be headed home as soon as everyone had gone. She told me she thought maybe writing wasn’t for her, and that made me cry. I told her that I supported her decision to leave, but that she could not, could NOT let Gadfly kill her writing. I gave her a hug goodbye and went to change clothes; when I came back Gadfly was the only one in the common area and he asked me how Texas was doing. I said, “she’s leaving,” and Gadfly made noises of disappointment. “Oh, come on,” I said. “You must have known that was going to happen.” Then I got up and left.

I went to dinner with the remaining two “chick lit” writers, whom I’ll call Saratoga and Oz. I liked them both immediately; Oz was scrappy and determined and Saratoga was a wellspring of information. We had a nice waiter and the food was good, and my spirits were somewhat restored by the time we got back. But I found the bedroom across the hall from mine empty. The rumpled bedding and a single towel draped across the doorknob were the only evidence that the room had ever been occupied. Texas was gone.


  1. Alice

    I commented on your earlier post, but forgot to confirm that I wasn't a robot and lost all my comments. I'm so glad you're reflecting on the experience because I'm still not sure what I think of it. I think the word workshop in the title made me think that it would be more collaborative with a facilitator guiding us. – Which might have been why I initially gave too many opinions of people's work. I did sincerely get excited about everyone's work though so I hope I wasn't a total ass. I'm also still sorting out what to make of the Gadfly's 'insight' into my work. So I'm hoping to understand it all a bit better by seeing it through your eyes.

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