Losing a Pack Member: What Happens When Writers Leave?

A few years ago, agent Dan Lazar was a speaker at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. I wanted to take down everything he said and inscribe it in gold because he was my dream agent. But, aside from his emphasis on having a strong voice, the only ting I really remember is him saying, “Great writers write in packs.”

From what I’ve studied in college, I believe this to be true and I’ve said it early and often on this blog. I talked about it with Kerouac here and here, with Virginia Woolf here (where my introductory paragraph is almost identical to this one…) and here, and there’ve been lots of posts about my writers group — UGWP is my pack.

For a decade, I’ve shared my work with them and read their words. I’ve spent endless hours asking questions about their characters, spent lifetimes in worlds they’ve built, gotten to know their quirks. I hear their voices in my head — and I don’t consider that a bad thing. Once a month we meet up and, to me, it feels like coming home.

So it’s hard — very hard — for me whenever I lose one of my pack.

They go for an infinite number of reasons. Someone gets married. Someone’s husband gets stationed to faraway lands. Someone dies. And that one hurts the most.

Some of them leave for artistic reasons. They’re hearing the group’s voice too much. The critiques are too hard to take emotionally. They leave because they aren’t quite getting what they need or want anymore. These are legitimate reasons that I understand intellectually and as an artist. Each of us has our own trail.

That doesn’t mean it makes it any easier for those who choose to stay.

It hurts me to know that, when I lay down a chapter or a short story, the voice I was hoping, expecting, to be there is gone. There are insights that won’t be coming. There is an exchange of ideas that is not going to happen.

Sure, I read work from pack members who have gone on and they’ve read my work, but it feels different. A dynamic changes.

There’s all kinds of advice on how to form a writers group. Endless articles on how to find your own pack members. There’s precious little on how to deal emotionally with the loss of a pack member, how to deal with the foreign silence as you go around the circle. I feel an infinite space deep in my throat and I want to howl.

Collaboration Dan Lazar emotions writing groups

jenny maloney View All →

Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. I've lost some pack members — partially. I have some valued beta readers who have quit writing for a variety of reasons. Life. Lack of support from family members or lack of validation from publishing professionals. If I ask, I believe these people would still read and respond to my work. But it hurts that they no longer have work for me to read. I miss them and their writing.

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