Last summer I was fortunate enough to receive a grant that allowed me to attend two writing workshops—the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and the Wet Mountain Writers Workshop. I would not have attended these gatherings had I not been awarded funds because, before I went, I didnʼt appreciate their function well enough to pay out of my own pocket. But I learned them, and this summer I am returning to Kenyon thanks to a fellowship I received, as well as going to the Tin House Summer Writerʼs Workshop sans grant. I intend to make a regular habit of these opportunities, and Iʼd like to discuss my choice to participate as one of many investments a writer can make.
On the level of the writing life, I made friends in these short but intense stints with other writers that I anticipate knowing for many years. These friendships have many benefits—from expanding my network of trusted readers to netting me free lodging in Brooklyn. These are perks, of course. The friendships are worthy in themselves. When writers befriend writers, the chances are good that shared interests will open conversations to which both are inclined to contribute. Something in me resisted thinking of relationships so practically. That dreaded word “networking” was something I thought I left behind when I quit the business world in 1999. It took me years to realize such connections are not only about taking, but about finding the best avenues to give.
When I realized this and other misperceptions I had, I designed a course to draw undergraduate and graduate students at my university toward similar conclusions in a shorter time. In this course, entitled “The Literary Writersʼ Marketplace,” I talk about community and self-promotion, balancing and conceptualizing oneʼs goals as a writer. I will elaborate on this course in a future post, but I include the example here to illustrate that I learn as much about teaching as I do about writing during these workshops.
Another principle reason I support these workshops is that they make my writing models real. In my previous post I discuss the follies of imitation when one assumes oneʼs life should look like the lives of Anaïs Nin or Henry David Thoreau. There is nothing quite so curative for this illness as meeting a writer whose work you admire, and witnessing the uniqueness of his or her characterizing drive.
Dorothy Allison—with whom I had the opportunity to study at the Wet Mountain Writers workshop—is one such example of an honest-to-God writer sitting across the table sharing anecdotes from her own writing life. The insights she shared with our group alone warrants an entire post or several, but I would rather thread her presence throughout my posts as I do into my teaching. I will say, though, that I hold her words in high esteem that we need to be clear as writers—about our goals, emotions, and reasons for investigating characters real and imagined. She insisted on clarity so strongly during our week with her, we had her refrain, “Let Me Be Clear” emblazoned on the t-shirts we wore home from Colorado. Such experiences as I have begun collecting in workshops are what make this life of record and process, literature and communication, publication and post cards worth saving, for it makes the audience one is imagining real.
Amy Wright is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press and Zone 3 journal, as well as the author of three chapbooks, Farm and There Are No New Ways To Kill A Man. She won the 2012 Pavement Saw Chapbook Contest for The Garden Will Give You A Fat Lip, which is forthcoming.