Who writes letters anymore? In this fast-paced age of email blasts, instant messaging, and texting it seems no one has time to write more than two sentences at a time. Well, not everyone has given up on letter writing yet. Today Polly McCann has written a special letter to all of us reading The Storyteller’s Inkpot on the value of a writer’s group. If you enjoy it, I encourage you to check out her blog, Letters From Polly, to read more of her letters.
I decided to write you all a letter (as I can’t seem to stop writing them) about what I’ve been doing since graduating from Hamline’s MFAC program. It hasn’t all been avoiding bifocals and moving into my mother’s basement. (Hah, I’m not making this stuff up.) No, a lot of great things have happened as I’ve found ways to get started on the journey that is the writing life.
The best tools for that journey are not only the ergonomic chair and writing desk (or Google fiber being installed by zippy little blue trucks filled with chipper workmen who introduce you to their cousins and fix your printer no charge). No. What I’m taking about is your writing group. You need one.
Yes to get started as a writer I found I needed other people. The best work I’ve written since graduating from Hamline several years ago were projects I finished in order to submit to my writers’ group. I could spend all my time writing bad poetry. But in the end, I found I needed that accountability to keep me going; remind me I’m not insane just because I chose to be a writer; and give me a deadline.
I just have to show up to group with something good. Shame is a motivator, but more than that it’s friendship. Let me tell you what happened. . . . A few years ago I decided to host a SCBWI group. I met Johanna. She, noticing that I had a newborn baby, and a degree to finish, and that my house wasn’t properly dusted, then promptly took over the group and moved it to Panera. I was thankful.
Johanna inspired me. She wrote every day and submitted work frequently. It was for Johanna I dredged up a poem about the novel I intended to write. I had no words for a project I intended to write. With the support and encouragement of my writer’s group, my empty page became 60 words and those 60 words became 30 scenes.
Last year I met again some of the people from my old writer’s group at our annual SCBWI conference in Kansas City. There we talked about Johanna’s recent passing. She had spent the last years in and out of chemo and would write the entire five hours during her treatments. I don’t know how you would feel, but we felt we owed it to Johanna to begin our group again.
So I started a writer’s group at my local library through the SCBWI. Thirty glistening-eyed-authors-to-be came to the first meeting. When people bring their work and show me how far they’ve come– I think of Johanna and how her commitment spreads. I think of all the professors who poured so much passion and knowledge into me. I think about how we are changing hearts and minds, lighting them like candles, one word at a time. Even if it is only our own heart and the group we meet at the library on Saturday mornings, or the group we meet on Google Chat on Thursdays at three o’clock during the little one’s nap time. Even so, it’s worth it. My heart needs it.
Writer’s group is where I learn what I did right. Oh, I know I do a lot of things wrong. I miss a lot. My dialogue will never sparkle like Ron Koertge. My rhythm will never sing like J.J’s “worm meets worm.” [Now, Worm Loves Worm.] My fantasy will never reach the height of Georgia B. But in the end, I will find my voice. And my writer’s group lets me know the good notes I hit along the way.
Since I graduated from Hamline, my writer’s journey has had some perilous turns. My life has been turned up side down and right side up. But through writing and through my community I’ve found “my secret love for hearts,” as my daughter calls it. I’ve found my way home.
Thank you for taking the time to write this wonderful letter and agree to share it on The Storyteller’s Inkpot. Letter writing is an under-appreciated art form, and this topic was a superb one.
P.S. – Feel free to send us another letter anytime!
*Polly McCann, artist, writer, and mother, earned her MFA in writing from Hamline University. Tea with Alice is the working title for her first collection of autobiographical poems; three generations of stories retold in free verse. She has been published in Naugatuck River Review and Arc 24. She is the owner of NewThing Art Studio in Kansas City Crossroads arts district. She loves to grow basil and explore unexpected surprises in her free time.