Write Around the Corner

What a novel idea! Take your writing out of your basement and into a workshop 

Photo by Scott HolsteinWrite Around the CornerTallahassee Abounds with Workshops and Venues for Writers

By Ashley Kahn

It was called “The Writer.”

On London’s Hampstead Heath in the autumn of 2005, one gargantuan desk and a single, mammoth chair towered 30 feet overhead. Looking up from my stance on the vast and rolling hill, there was no mistaking a feeling of isolation. The sculpture, created by artist Giancarlo Neri, was a tribute to the loneliness of writing.

Writers typically seek solitude when they work, with pen, paper and thought their only companions. In order to create a world of enduring characters and compelling stories, an author can be forced to leave behind the players of his or her own reality, if only for an hour each day.

Many writers – poets, lyricists and journalists alike – have one trusted friend who is privy to each new page they compose. But few share their work with groups of other writers who may provide unexpected insight – or, at the very least, inspiration for an upcoming character.

A writer’s workshop is a forum for discussion of finished manuscripts, prose-in-progress or even a rookie haiku. Getting a fresh pair of eyes on your work can be the difference between a decent story and a dazzling saga.

Opportunities for Tallahassee writers to convene and critique are numerous and unrestricted by age or genre. Whether you’re a non-fiction novice or a published novelist, print out a copy of your latest work and head to this month’s meeting.
All Wordsmiths Welcome
The Tallahassee Writers’ Association convenes the third Thursday of each month at the American Legion Hall on Lake Ella. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., the meeting commences with a lecture by a guest speaker – usually a published author with a tie to the community.

The real action gets going after the lecture, when members are encouraged to read their own work and discuss their latest compositions with their peers. Participants settle into groups divided by genre – there are tables for nonfiction, memoir, essay, fiction, playwriting, poetry or children’s literature. Some members have even started workshopping more frequently outside of the established monthly meeting.

“The groups are maturing into sending out their writings by e-mail so people have time to leisurely read them and comment,” says TWA president, Anne Haw Holt. “When they come back together, they can really help each other. It gives you time to think and make notes.”

The association currently has around 112 members who run from high school age up to 90. (Haw Holt herself did not publish her first book until she was 68 years old. Five years later, she is the proud author of a successful series of “old-fashioned” Western dramas.)

“We have about 40 people who have books or who are regularly published in journalism or short story or poetry,” she says. “The great thing about this group is the fact that the published writers don’t move on; they stick around.”

Not all communities of writers are so lucky. Once authors get published, some no longer see a need for the group that contributed to their success.

There always will be a place for the workshop as a fundamental step in the storytelling process, however. Review by peers who understand the craft of writing can solve problems that the author may not see for him- or herself. Unbiased readers are better able to identify continuity problems in character and plot.

For example, a workshopper may suggest that the protagonist’s choice to betray a friend doesn’t mesh with her established personality or that her actions need to be foreshadowed earlier in the story. Readers who are detached from the work notice details the writer can take for granted.

“Workshops are very important, but you have to be willing to say, ‘Yes, I’ll accept your change, or no I won’t,’” Haw Holt says. “You have to have the self-confidence to do that because if you don’t, they will take away your voice and make it theirs … you have to be willing to protect your own voice when the time comes.”

Challenge the Old, Foster the New
Founded in 1983 primarily as a nonfiction writer’s group, Tallahassee Writers’ Association has evolved to encompass all forms of writing. It strives to create public
awareness of the importance of writing by hosting contests and book signings, producing two yearly publications, arranging writers’ retreats and sponsoring one special guild.

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“The high school writers’ guild is really the most exciting thing of all,” Haw Holt says. “It’s critical now because the SAT added a writing component, and if they can’t get over that hurdle, they’re in serious trouble.”

The TWA runs and funds the Big Bend Writer’s Guild. Members of the association find speakers to bring in to the schools and raise money to pay dedicated teachers who stay after hours to work with the groups. So far, meetings of interested young writers are held twice a month at eight high schools throughout Leon County. The association hopes to expand the guilds to Gadsden and Wakulla counties.

Haw Holt reaches out to an even younger audience. She visits elementary schools with her Western novels and puts on animated readings of her work. “I do a lot of storytelling because it teaches everything that writing teaches,” she says. “Young children and those who are learning disabled can understand concepts that they hear when they’re not ready to decode the words in reading.”

In addition to contributing to the success of young talent in the community, TWA also serves newly published authors by hosting book launch parties and featuring members’ new works on the Web at twaonline.org.

Also on the Web site are links to the association’s annual publications, Penumbra (poetry) and Seven Hills Review (prose fiction and nonfiction). Both comprise top entries and winners of the previous year’s writing contests with corresponding names. Now in its 18th year, the Penumbra Poetry & Haiku contest will take entries postmarked by June 30. The 2008 Seven Hills Contest for Writers will accept submissions through September 30. Visit the TWA Web site for more information.

Aspiring playwrights should consider entering one of three playwriting competitions. Winners of Project Stagelight and Project Autumnlight will have their plays produced on stage at Tallahassee Little Theatre. The Celtic Knots Playwriting Contest showcases plays featuring the rich history and culture of Ireland. Winning plays will be staged in a black box theatrical production.

In past years, an annual conference has been a popular forum for local writers, but this year brought a different venue. In April, the TWA held a Seven Hills Writers’ Retreat at Killearn Country Club Inn, where participating writers were encouraged to relax and work in a lush, peaceful setting. Keynote speakers and instructors gave morning workshops, and evenings were reserved for discussion and critique.

“Any writer in the area should be active in the community,” Haw Holt says.

Considering the unique opportunities provided by the TWA, there is no excuse not to get involved.

Book It to Word Traffic
Van and Chelsea Fox have always had a love for books, but they didn’t always want to own a bookstore. Lucky for Tallahasseeans, Word Traffic Books opened last August and has been a hub for local readers – and writers – ever since.

“There has not really been a cool, independent bookstore that is large enough to host events and that can serve as a community gathering space instead of just a retail outlet,” Van Fox says. “We wanted to fill that need.”

Adds Chelsea: “We specifically looked for space to rent that was large enough to have events … What we hope is that if someone doesn’t know anything about our store, when they first walk in they’ll look at it and say, ‘This is a place where I can do something.’”

An avid knitter, Chelsea has held functions in the laid back, welcoming bookstore. Her experience with knitting is also true of writing. “When I started knitting with other people, we all noticed our skill level took a huge leap because of the support and asking questions and getting ideas,” she says. “You get stuck in your own head, and you have trouble stepping outside of that. In a group, you can all inspire and influence each other.”

Word Traffic, located at 1227 E. Lafayette Street, hosts a monthly “Second Saturday” event sponsored by the Tallahassee Writers’ Association. From 2 to 6 p.m., writers of all ages read what they have been writing. The high school writer’s guild dominates the first half of the afternoon, and members of TWA share excerpts of their stories for the final two hours.

“We support writing and writers, but we ourselves are not writers,” says Van Fox. “We make the space open to people who want to do cool, cultural things, and we don’t charge any rent.”

The independent bookstore welcomes not only writers, but also their books. On many occasions they have made space on their shelves for books that may not otherwise be available for purchase. Chelsea Fox advises writers to “bring it in and if it sells, we’ll give you your cut. Otherwise it’s hanging out on the shelf; people are looking at it and picking it up.”

“Though some people think this is a very new and interesting thing, it’s only new to Tallahassee,” Van says. “I think it’s a very old and traditional thing for writers and people who appreciate the work of writers to gather in independent bookstores.”

Just Write
For writers out there who are too tired after a long day’s work to sit down and pour out literary genius, Haw Holt offers one final word of advice: Don’t go home from work and write.

Get up early and write.

“Even if you’re married with children, if you get up an hour earlier than your household does, it’s your own secret, special time,” she says. “If you write one single-spaced page a day, just five days a week, you’ll have a book in six months.” 


Writers on Writing

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right – as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.” – Stephen King

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Write at least one page every day, without fail. If you’re trying to write a book, and you’re not writing at least one page a day, then the book is not going to get written.” – John Grisham

“For some reason, our culture has created the notion that the writer should create in solitude – all the better if in a cabin in the woods somewhere. But the fact of the matter is writing is an art of communication, and the reader has an essential role to play. I have always relied on people to read my novels and poems in progress long before they go to my agent and editors. Without them, I would be lost – rummaging around in a cabin for canned goods, no doubt, and not really communicating artfully at all.” – Julianna Baggott


Where, What & When

Dates, times and locations of local meetings

Tallahassee Writers’ Association
3rd Thursday of each month
American Legion Hall at Lake Ella, 6:30 p.m.

Big Bend Poets
2nd Tuesday of each month
Books A Million, 7 p.m.

Tallahassee Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
May 13, June 3
Leon County Public Library, 7 p.m.

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