On Finding A Writing Community

In preparing for my presentation, Community, for the Flatiron Writers workshop, February 11, I thought about what community has meant to me over the years. I was surprised to find that, while community has always been important to me, the most important community turned out to be my writers’ community.
My early experiences with community were similar to most kids. I attended Sunday school and, through my church, joined the Girl Scouts. In high school, I joined a group of girls who called themselves a sorority. That, in turn, led me into a sorority in college.
My first job out of college was as a copy editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, BHGB (before Helen Gurley Brown). It was a small-staffed magazine that published excellent fiction and quasi-sensational articles (revelations by a wife and mother whose minister husband made her sleep in the hallway outside their bedroom door; the alarming rise of teenage suicides). Working there was like being part of a close-knit family. The editors handed off movie reviews to the copy department, which was my first taste of critical writing. I also was given the job of writing synopses of the articles in each issue for the publicity department. I left to become a free-lance writer, doing articles for the magazine—until HGB became editor—at which point I found a niche in reference book work where I wrote articles for encyclopedias on various subjects from world drama to mystery writers and subjects like (geographical) place names. But the pay was dreadful and I was unhappy with the isolation of the work, and I don’t mean loneliness. I’ve never been bothered by the loneliness of the writer’s life. What I wanted and needed was a community of other writers. So I left free-lance work and got a job as assistant to the editor of a small business magazine and eventually became managing editor. Once again, I had found a small community where co-workers became family. I wrote and edited articles, edited crossword puzzles, and created acrostics. I was there for some ten years when, once again, a change of editors made me rethink what I wanted. The answer was that I wanted to write fiction.
I returned to free-lance work, and started trying out various workshops. The turning point came when an ad in Poets and Writers listed openings in a fiction workshop to be given at something called the Writers’ Community. I couldn’t possibly resist that. I applied and was accepted, along with eleven other women who were starting out as writers. When the workshop was over, eight of us continued as a peer group that lasted almost ten years. Marriages and relocations ended the group. I joined other groups, but none was right for me. During that period, I had found writing space for rent at a small, private library. There I became friendly with another woman, who in turn introduced me to a writing workshop run by Philip Schultz—an award-winning poet and, at that time, head of the MFA program at New York University. In the forge of Phil’s stringent, at times acerbic, criticism, I became the writer I am today.
When my husband and I moved to Asheville in 1992, I looked for a group to join. I visited several, but didn’t find one that was right for me until 1993. It was then I became part of a group, of which Heather was a member, which met in the Flatiron Building. The group provided support, astute criticism, and respect for one another’s work. Membership in the group turned over. New members came and went, until Toby, in 1995. He came and stayed and formed, along with Heather and myself, the stable core that allowed the Flatiron Writers to continue. We have since added writers who share the Flatiron Writers’ goals of providing support, astute criticism, and respect for one another’s work. We also demand of one another that we be the best writers we can be.
In writing this, I see how predisposed toward Community I was and how happenstance helped me along: an ad for a workshop that in turn led to being part of a successful peer group; meeting a woman who introduced me to the workshop that in turn forged me as a writer; and, finally, coming upon that writing group in the Flatiron Building that has defined my writing life for nineteen years. But predisposition and happenstance aside, it was finding out who I wanted to be as a writer, and looking until I found the right people to work with, that led me to be the best writer I can be.

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