Lessons from “Authors Anonymous”

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authors anonymous movie poster
Authors Anonymous (2014)

If you haven’t heard of this film, it came out earlier this year and essentially, it’s in a mockumentary style chronicling the members of a writer’s group in Los Angeles, California.

Anyone who’s been in a writer’s group has met some version of all of the “types” the characters represent–the retired guy who thinks he’s the next Tom Clancy, the shy college grad who feels like he can’t live up to the masters of literature, and even the Jackie Collins wannabe whose rich husband finances her full time writer status. In this movie, the husband of said Jackie Collins wannabe is hilarious, because he’s an “idea” guy, as in he never writes anything. He spends his days calling himself a writer while dictating one terrible idea after another into his recorder.

Kaley Cuoco from The Big Bang Theory stars as Hannah, whose character can’t name her favourite author even by the end of the film. She gets a book deal, agent, movie deal, etc, which leads to tensions in the group and huge fights.

Hannah’s character seems to be sending the message to aspiring writers that it doesn’t matter if you’re not well-read, because she still got her book deal anyway. The message seems to be that even though Henry (Chris Klein) is smarter and, as Hannah puts it, more talented, Hannah ends up with the bigger better deal (although he conveniently gets an agent by the end, too).
The viewer never hears the group’s feedback on Hannah’s work, although we do see her consistent output.

There are quite a few obvious self-publishing jokes that are meant to be funny but come off as a cheap shot at indie authors.

You may see yourself or others you’ve encountered over the years with in-person critique groups if you’ve gone to those. It also depicts most of the writers in the group as a whiny, self-serving entitled bunch, all of whom expect book deals to fall into their laps.

Collette, the Jackie Collins wannabe, rants at Hannah in one scene about how her success is so “unfair” as if Hannah didn’t work for it, or as if Hannah must have known a “secret handshake” or something else equally ridiculous that embittered writers tell themselves to justify their hard-on for hating a fellow scribe who succeeds.

While it’s human to experience those kinds of emotions, Collette’s character is a great example of the very kind of writer other writers try to avoid. Essentially, she’s a vapid narcissist who, if she spent as much time writing as she did whining about how “unfair” the success is of other writers, would have produced a hell of a lot more writing.

Even though it’s in a movie, the trouble is that I know too many writers like this.
We’ve all been like this at some point, including me. It’s a bad habit we must all learn to break if we want to move forward with our own writing.

I may not know everything there is to know about the writing world (indeed, who does?) but the one thing I do know for sure? Spending time hating and resenting other writers for their success only hurts one person: you. The only thing it ensures is you getting caught in a vicious cycle of doubt, resentment, fear, regret, and a whole host of other negative emotions that will interfere with your ability to write well and to focus on your own writing success. I would say that the film also tries to remind us that having an ego is also a detriment to any writer, but we already knew that 😉 If you’ve seen the movie, what did you think? What have some of your experiences been with in-person or online critique groups? Sound off below.

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