I know this is a blog on writing, but I’m going to talk this week about Marxism: Groucho Marxism.
The Groucho Marxist manifesto is, to paraphrase the great Julius Henry Marx himself—
“I DO NOT CARE TO READ A BOOK WRITTEN BY A PERSON WHO WOULD ACCEPT ME AS A FRIEND.”
Groucho Marxists are your family members and so-called buddies who won’t read your work and assume it’s terrible, just because it was written by somebody they know.
I’m not talking about those helpful beta readers who comb through your unpublished manuscript looking for flaws to be fixed before you submit. These are the folks who refuse to read your work—and often feel compelled to ridicule it—even after it’s been vetted and edited by professional publishing persons.
Again to quote Mr. Marx: “FROM THE MOMENT I PICKED UP YOUR BOOK UNTIL I LAID IT DOWN, I WAS CONVULSED WITH LAUGHTER. SOME DAY I INTEND READING IT.”
They don’t, of course, intend reading it. You’ll hear amazing excuses, like “I’m dying to read your book, but I’m so busy, I can never get to a bookstore. Some of us have real jobs, you know.”
After three years, this one gets a little frail, especially from your former college roommate, who works at the Starbucks counter in her local Barnes and Noble.
And there’s the pal who says, “I tried to get through your story in Another Realm, but it just didn't interest me.” You wince and say—“But you love zombies. Didn’t you like it when the heroine walked into the schoolroom full of zombie first-graders?” Your friend gets huffy and says “I couldn’t get that far…”
The zombie 6-year-olds are in paragraph one.
And how many people do you know who endlessly email you silly poems, cartoons and videos—accompanied by dire threats to your karma if you don’t pass these treasures on to 150 of your closest friends? But when you tell them you’ve just posted a great joke on your blog they say—“I never read blogs. They’re such a waste of time.”
Or how about this one: “I never read fiction. I can’t waste my time reading frivolous stuff. I want to learn something when I read.” I had a boyfriend who loved to say this—until I caught him reading that great fiction publication, the National Enquirer. Novels are still with me. He isn’t.
And there’s my personal favorite: somebody who hasn’t read any of your work recommends something by another author in your genre—“so you can see how a pro does it.”
And these people are so surprised when you’re annoyed.
So where does this nastiness come from?
1) Stifled creativity. In her classic creativity manual, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about “crazymakers”—friends and family who actively thwart your creative process. She says the most common reason for this is their own fear: crazymakers are desperate to create something themselves, but they’re scared. So instead they make life miserable for those who do.
Try encouraging your stifled friend to take a pottery class, or try his hand at jewelry making.
2) Fear you think you’re better than they are. Even though you’re both still waiting tables at Applebees, you’re a WRITER now. She’s still a waitress.
Time to remind her how much you’re in awe of her bowling skills. And maybe educate her in the realities of the writing life. Let her know your advance is already gone, paying off the bills you racked up while you were learning to write.
3) Narcissism. Some people simply can’t share the spotlight. This type is probably in your life because you so often sit quietly in the corner not saying much. He thought this was because you were admiring his wonderfulness. Now he realizes you were taking notes for your novel.
It might be best to let these people drift out of your life. There will always be more, if you need novel-fodder.
4) They miss you. You’ve been working on that book for five years, plus doing the rewrites and pre-launch networking, then planning your big publicity campaign, and of course, starting your next opus.
It might be time to take your friend to dinner and reassure him that writing isn’t the only important thing in your life.
And we need to remember that some people really don’t like to read. Feel sad for them. Very sad.