Starting today, I’ll be doing a weekly blog post on She Writes, sharing guest author and other posts from 1st Books. If you don’t know She Writers, it’s a great place for women writers – and men, too! – to gather to chat about writing. I’m sharing my kick-off post below. – Meg
This spring, I spent two inspiring and entirely-too-short days at the AWP Conference in Denver. If you’ve never been before (I never had), imagine 8,000 writers gathered together to share chat about the craft of writing. And war stories. And food and drink and earnest late night discussions we wouldn’t admit to in the morning. And breakfast and coffee and more of the same.
My path to attending that gathering was through a gradually expanding network of writer friends. When I first started writing – this in the days before the internet – I had not a single one. I took a course on writing fiction, thinking I would learn something about how to write – which I did. But the more important lesson I began to learn was how important it is to have the support of writing friends.
At the suggestion of an early writing teacher, mentor, and friend, I applied to attend the Sewanee Writers’ Conference a couple years after I’d started writing. There, I shared late-night conversations with a writer who, when the conference ended, invited me to join his writing group. Only one of the three other group members had published anything, and that only a small travel piece in an obscure magazine. I’d published a single poem in my middle school literary magazine – and I was a long way from middle school by then. But we met weekly for years, some members leaving as they moved from the area, new ones joining. The two constants in the group were the woman who is now my best writer-pal in the world, Brenda Rickman Vantrease, and me.
When we were facing rejection (and more rejection, and more) and might have given up, we turned to critique each others’ work and said, hmmm… she’s a good writer (or he is) and she’s not succeeding yet either, so maybe my work isn’t as bad as it seems at this moment. With each others’ support, we turn out to be a more stubborn lot than we likely would have been without it. And stubbornness is more important than you might expect if you want to be a published writer.
Brenda now has three novels published with a major publisher. I have two, with a third coming out. Our fellow writing group member, Leslie Lytle, has published a nonfiction book, and everyone from our final foursome has published essays, articles, stories and poems. We’ve strayed geographically now, but we still share work and critique – and publication joy.
Having had such good luck at Sewanee that first time – finding a much needed writing group – I went back twice again, the last time after I’d published my first novel. That time, I had the good fortune to meet novelist Elizabeth Brundage (Someone Like You), who a few years later invited me to join an AWP panel she was organizing. Which was how I ended up in Denver this spring, not just attending the conference, but speaking on a panel with writers I have long admired – Jennifer Haigh, Michelle Richmond, Richard Bausch, and Elizabeth – yacking for ninety minutes about “Private Practice: Managing the Novel from Symptoms to Recovery.”
And the bonus prize: I attended my first She Writers face-to-face at AWP. About thirty She Writers from all over the country gathered over drinks and pizza. I came home so energized that I helped organize a San Francisco Bay area She Writers face-to-face in June, which was also a terrific time.
One thing I’ve learned about writers is that they tend to be about the nicest, most generous people you’ve ever met. Published or not, doesn’t matter. I think it has to do with the way you come to know yourself through writing. I know writing has made me a better person. Which is reason enough to write. Reason enough to shake off whatever shyness you might feel, too, and jump into the She Writes conversation. And don’t be shy about hitting that “friend” button here. – Meg