How to Lose Your Writing Community Without Even Trying

A Writers Blok poster on a telephone pole. Text reads: “Like strippers in their prime, we look good on a pole.”
A story in three parts: Part 1

Long story short: I sent a private DM on Instagram about a joke and got kicked out of Writers Blok, my [former] writing community. I thought about titling this: “It Happened to Me: I Got Cancelled Because of Social Media” xoJane style, but didn’t. I was tempted though — I mean, can you blame me.

If you don’t know Writers Blok, it’s a co-writing space in Los Angeles. Basically, writers show up and write with other writers with the goal of making writing a habit like going to the gym or yoga.

I would say that Writers Blok helped me build a writing routine, but, uh, Writers Blok was my writing routine, so…WE CAN’T ALL BE LEBRON JAMES OKAY. Some of us are the Darko Miličić of writing — sloppy, undisciplined, disorganized, wildly arrogant AND painfully insecure, and just all around a hot mess. Why do you think I went to Writers Blok? It’s called structure and without it I procrastinate and die.

And then it hits me — I’ll use everything I learned at Writers Blok to write this. I once got the advice to strive to write the worst possible first draft that you can. Challenge accepted.

For accountability, I tell my sister that I am writing this today. For a reward, I bought these English toffee pieces at Trader Joe’s that were calling my name.

Step one, set a clear and measurable goal. Break the task ahead of you down into something you know you can accomplish in a short amount of time. I set the timer on my phone for 22 minutes. Five hundred words. I got this.

So, what happened? Writers Blok posted a joke on their Instagram stories that made me go, huh?

I originally responded with a single word, “Bruh.” [Note to self: Calling someone “bruh” will not get you fired.] But it bothered me so much I sent a follow-up DM that made my feelings clear:

Instagram DM: “The strippers on a pole joke really bothered me. It felt sexist and objectifying.”
Part 2: My DM

Less than five hours after sending the DM, I received the following email:

Part 3: The email

Hi Maylin -

I am very sorry that our joke didn’t land for you and that this has caused you such discomfort. To ensure that this doesn’t happen again, I’m refunding your most recent payment and canceling your membership.

Here are a couple of writing spaces you might find safer:

The Hatchery
The Metaphor Club

Good luck with your writing journey!

God, this is hard, but I’m gonna keep writing, only 17 minutes and 36 seconds left.

When I got the email, I didn’t feel angry or sad. Instead, I was…stunned. What do you do when something happens that confirms your worst fears about yourself?

Hi, my name is Maylin, and I have abandonment issues. My worst fear is being rejected and/or abandoned by a group of people. How do I know this? You see, a few months ago I went to this networking event and ended up around a table with a group of strangers. And because apparently this is the kind of thing that happens to awkward introverts at networking events, we all ended going around saying what our greatest fear was. And this was mine:

I’m afraid of being rejected by a group of people after they get to know me really well. Boom. You know what, life, sometimes you’re so on the nose it’s just embarrassing. Try harder.

But here’s the twist: I don’t know how to say this, but Writers Blok worked for me. That whole “Words with friends” thing is real. I know it just sounds like a cute tagline, but it’s not. Because my friends were there for me, and here’s where I can’t write about this without getting choked up. When you’ve built your entire life around this expectation that you’ll never really belong — 12 minutes and 15 seconds.

I’m pretty open about my past trauma. At least, I feel like I am. I definitely feel like I write about it. Too much. In my TRAUMA trauma, I lost my sense of safety. And in my worst moments, I’m afraid that I will never get it back.

Here’s another twist: I actually agree with this email. I don’t think Writers Blok is a safe place for me anymore and I appreciate the clarity. There’s no sign quite like getting kicked out to know that you are not welcome. But the hardest reality for me to face is that maybe I was never safe at all. Maybe I just had this illusion of safety that allowed me to write — because to write without a sense of safety feels impossible.

Okay, 8 minutes and 57 seconds, I can do this.

I wrote some tough things at Writers Blok. I cried, a lot, and everyone must’ve pretended that they couldn’t see me crying, because AWKWARD. I felt like I could be myself. Even now, I can’t seem to let go of this idea that I was safe, or at least safe enough. Maybe I don’t yet know how to process this loss.

3 minutes and 38 seconds.

I want to be transparent about my own trauma here.

Getting cancelled brought up a question for me that maybe I’ve always had: What makes you think you deserve to feel safe in the first place? Like, what could’ve possibly given you that impression? Because if I go even deeper into my own trauma, somehow I’ve inherited this idea that I don’t even deserve to exist, to take up space in the world. Oh my god, the timer finally went off! 552 words, fuck yeah. It’s not perfect, but this isn’t elementary school.

With Writers Blok maybe it was all the clean, bright lines, or my friends, or the staff, or the goal-setting, or all the hot coffee and all the almonds you could eat (Oh my god, I ate so many almonds!) that convinced me I was safe. Maybe it was the promise of community or all the breakout conversations we had about reading, writing and life and habits and routines. And if you had to rate your week in writing from 1–10, what would you rate it? What about on a binary scale? What about as a bowling score? Please perform a two minute interpretive dance that represents how you feel about your week. This will be graded. Thank you.

But here’s the funny thing about believing that something is wrong with you and then having someone literally tell you (or simply imply) that something is wrong with you — it demystifies the message. There’s a sense of relief in making something that’s been so internalized, external. Finally — it’s not just this sense in the deepest part of me that I am wrong — it’s words on a fucking page! Talk about a writer’s dream.

The truth is, I didn’t want to write about this because part of me knew that writing about it means facing the reality that it’s really over. I never thought I would have a community like Writers Blok. Truly, genuinely, it was something I didn’t expect to find in Los Angeles, the city where everyone’s coming and going all of the time, chasing their dreams down the 405.

But here’s something else that I learned at Writers Blok: it’s okay to feel happy about what you’ve accomplished and perfectionism is shit. No matter how big or small the goal, no matter how many words you wrote, you fucking showed up and you put words on the page. And that’s all that matters. Who cares if they’re good or bad? Why do you feel this need to judge yourself, even now?

So here’s an incomplete list of things I’ve accomplished (since last November):

I wrote two drafts of a feature length screenplay (my first!).
I wrote my first TV pilot.
I blogged more than I have in the past three years.
I pitched and published an article in an online magazine.
I applied for the PEN America fellowship.
I applied for a writing residency in NY.
I won second place in a flash non-fiction contest (The same week I got fired! I know! The irony isn’t lost on me.)
And most of all, I made the kind of friends who fought harder than I did for me to stay.

This time, unlike all the other times, I actually do the thing I’ve resisted for so long. Instead of rolling my eyes, I close them. I take several deep, cleansing breaths. I think about everything I’ve accomplished in the last 10 months for the next nine seconds. I let myself feel like I have done enough. I let myself feel joy in everything, every last thing, all of it.

Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four…

And then I open my eyes.