Nerd Camp: The Writing Community

(I wrote this for The Westchester Review’s blog, where it first appeared)


While writing is notoriously a solitary pursuit, some of the richest parts of my writing are not solitary at all. Residencies at places like the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (VCCA) and MacDowell offer writers uninterrupted time to work, but much of the richness of residencies comes from spending time with other like-minds. It’s like Nerd Camp. It’s great to feel other people struggling away nearby, and then to have cocktails with them before dinner, discussing what everyone’s working on, where you’re stumbling, how you found (or haven’t yet found) an agent. The joy of a residency, for me, is that I am part of a community of artists and writers that simply doesn’t exist elsewhere.

Three friends share work with me. I love to read what they’ve written, and their notes on mhy work are pretty much the greatest gift I get in life. There is nothing more valuable to me than to have found three entire people whose opinions I trust, who read my work and tell me how they think it’s going. They are my trusted readers. If you find one or two, lucky you.

Another collaboration I enjoy is getting to work with serious, smart editors. It doesn’t always work out. I had a piece accepted for publication in an online journal, which was never edited by them and was published with errors. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t tell anyone that I had published the story, and republished it elsewhere a year later.

But mostly editors are a pleasure. It’s a luxury to have a smart person read my work carefully, and try to help me make it better. I usually love it. I do not always love copy editors who I’ve seen focus on grammar over style. 99% of the time, working with editors makes me a better writer, and I am grateful for it.

The Westchester Review was one of the first journals to publish my fiction. I was impressed by the seriousness of their several editors. One note I remember getting was about how a particular sentence I’d written wasn’t as beautiful as the others. The editor didn’t suggest how to fix it, just suggested I look at it. She was right. I knew exactly what she meant the minute she said it. I rewrote the sentence and it made the story better. That is good editing.

I was also surprised that The Westchester Review sponsored readings. I have since come to learn that this is extremely rare, and really wonderful. I have never had another journal do that, and I wish that more would. It’s a great way to create community, to share your work with readers in person, to answer questions and discuss the work. I wish more journals could do that.

This blog is meant to create community. My goal is to create a place that is about OUR work, so do subscribe, share and follow.


2 thoughts on “Nerd Camp: The Writing Community

  1. It took me quite a while to realize how badly I needed a writing group, and for four years, five of us met in New York monthly. I don’t know if I ever would have finished my book without the group’s help.

    Now the group has scattered, or is no longer writing, and I am looking for people to share with in or near Hoboken. In the absence of that, I would happily review others’ work online and receive their suggestions on mine. You sound pretty booked up, West, or I’d kiss your ring and ask if I could do that with you. My next book is going to need readers.


  2. Anne – I’d be willing to try it. I haven’t had great experiences with writing groups. but I know people who have, and as I said, I’m willing to try it. Wanna set something up for this s[ring/summer? We can try it and disband when things get busy in the fall.


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