In my novel, The Moment of Everything (pssst…the ebook happens to be on sale right now), one of my favorite scenes never would have happened without another writer. I was at a coffee shop with the wonderful Keith Raffel telling him about a scene I was struggle with. “It’s just three people sitting around a bookshop talking,” I said. “That’s not interesting.” Keith sat back and said, “One of them is in the john.” And that’s how one of my favorite scenes was born. Sometimes you need a hand in getting the magic on the page.
Writing, like most things in life, is never all one thing or another. There are times when I crave community and other times when I pull a Greta Garbo and want to be alone. The alone time is easy for me. I have an office with a door and no kids to knock on it. (I do have two big dogs, but they usually just sleep under the desk.) Community is another story.
When I first got the idea to write a novel, I took a lot of writing classes. There I met other students who were talented and eager. I’m still friends with so many of them and consider them some of my closest friends. They gave crucial feedback on early drafts of the novel. But just as important, they gave me the support and encouragement I needed to keep going. They believed in my writing, so what choice did I have but to believe in it myself?
In one of these classes, I met Lolly Winston (author of Good Grief and Happiness Sold Separately) who connected me with her wonderful writing group. For the longest time, we met in a Chinese restaurant in the Glen Park neighborhood of San Francisco that had exactly three edible things on the menu. But it was quiet and cheap and they didn’t seem to care how long when lingered around the large round table. We read each other’s submissions beforehand and came armed with lots of notes. My novel got a lot better quickly. In the seven years I’ve been with the group, we’ve been through a lot together, including suffering the loss of one of our members to cancer. But we’ve also had successes to celebrate, short stories and essays published, agent contracts and publishing contracts signed. Members have dropped out and new ones have joined. The Chinese restaurant closed, and another one has reopened. Next week, the group is reading the first chapter of my new novel. I’m looking forward to what they have to say.
My writing group brings more than just support and good will. They keep me accountable (“where are those pages you said you were going to have ready”) and they are the first readers for much of what I write. But most important, they give me a place to talk about what I’m writing and let the air get to it. On my own, it’s locked up tight in my head, but in my writing group, my stories find the oxygen they crave.