Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Writers Seeking Writers

Sarah White

After I graduated from Bowling Green State University with my Bachelor of Fine Arts, I prowled the streets of my hometown desperate to find fellow writers in my community. 
In the newspaper (people read those back then), I found an advertisement about a writing group. It met at the local library twice a month. Immediately, I called the number and found out what days and times. The man was welcoming and eager to have a new member. 
When I went to the public library for the first meeting, I was ecstatic.  I was finally going to rejoin with a group of fellow writers who shared each other’s love of language and story.  In college, I had had workshops, deadlines, readings—a nurturing, artistic environment.  When it all suddenly stopped, I felt adrift, almost depressed.  But, here, I had found this group! 
I looked around and around at the various tables, and there, in the back of the library, were my two people. 
The woman was probably in her early 70’s and she wrote lyrical poetry with a staunch rhyme scheme and all the “thees” and “thous” she could muster.  She firmly believed that all love stories should focus on “beautiful people” because “nobody wants to read a romance about ugly people.”  I’ll never forget that. 
The man hovered in his early 50’s and he wrote stories about middle-aged male protagonists struggling with marriage and sex, sort of a blend of American Beauty and just about any Michael Douglas movie.  I’ll never forget that either. 
And, then, there was me—a 24-year-old who wrote literary stories that teetered on purple prose. 
This was my writing community. 
Eventually, the group dwindled down to just the man and me.  His critiques were helpful, and I learned a few things, but this was not the robust group of people starving and bleeding for their craft that my young imagination had hoped to find.
Being a part of a good writing community is necessary for every writer, regardless of his or her abilities, publication record, or education level. As previous posts have mentioned, writing groups provide with us networking, the chance to “break bread” with fellow artists, and the opportunity to have our work read and critiqued by peers.
We should never take a strong writing community for granted.
One of my favorite quotes is attributed to C. S. Lewis: “We read to know we’re not alone.” 
Isn’t it ironic that writers sit alone in front of typewriters and blank computer screens only to reach through space and time to let another person feel less alone?
Writing groups, likewise, let writers know we’re not alone. We may tell our stories in solitude, but it is always with the hopes of that story being read.
As Stephen King tells us: Write with the door closed, and rewrite with the door open.”
Open up the door and join the IWC at one of its many reading and writing events!
Doing so may just give you a good story to tell.

Monday, April 27, 2015

An Interview with Tom Spencer

Jackie Huppenthal

This year, IWC’s Power of Poetry Project instituted a special award to be given when a student writes a poem that is an exemplar of the highest quality poetry. The picture above shows Tom Spencer with fourth grader Gloria Radford, the first winner of the Tom Spencer Award.
Tom Spencer is a published poet and writer who has been writing for over 50 years. He is the founder of the Northwest Indiana Poetry Society and belongs to several other writing groups. Tom is also active in the Indiana State Federation of State Poetry Societies.
When did you start writing poetry?
It was in the 8th grade. I got glasses and was finally able to read and catch up on what I had been missing. My teacher, Alice Peterson, introduced me to poetry. I read it excessively and started writing poetry immediately. Not too long ago I talked to an older woman who came to listen to my poetry and we talked about Alice. It turns out she was my elementary school principal.
Do you have a favorite poet? / poem?
My favorite poem is “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe. He composed the last stanza then worked backwards to write the story. I memorized it in its entirety back then and even named my daughter Lenore after the “radiant maiden” in the poem.
What topics do you write about?
I write about ecology to world affairs, love and romance, but I prefer to write about social responsibility. I wrote poems to my wife even before she was my wife.
What is your favorite poetic form?
I enjoy all forms of poetry but my favorite is the sonnet. It is the basic core. It has a beginning, middle, end, and a twist.
How many books have you published?
I have published two books. The first was Word Castles, a collection of poetry published in 2000 by Writers’ Village University. It was reprinted in 2007. The second was America on Fire, which was coauthored with Dr. Jaswinder Singh. It is “a Poetic Tribute to the Memories of September 11, 2001.” Both of us did intensive writing for over a month to get the book published by the end of the year.
How many groups do you belong to?
I currently belong to about eight writing groups including Indiana Writers’ Consortium and Write-On Hoosiers.
What advice do you have for kids who are interested in writing poetry?
Ninety-nine percent of writing is reading. Read often, write what you feel. I write every day. The poems I write come from short stories. The short stories are written more for me but the poems are for everyone.
How do you feel about having a children’s poetry award in your honor?
It is an overwhelming honor. I had no idea I was this well respected. I was nominated for Indiana Poet Laureate a decade ago and had 76 letters of support from around the world. This, however, is a bigger honor to me.
What other accomplishment are you most proud of?
I brought the National Federation of State Poetry Societies national convention to Merrillville, Indiana in 2012. It was a wonderful experience.
Tom, you have been an inspiration to me and many others. I keep a quote from you propped up in front of my computer and look at it daily:

“A poem captures the rhythms of life in words.” Tom Spencer

It certainly does. Thanks for sharing your time and talent! Now, let’s take a selfie.

Tom Spencer's first Selfie
with Jackie Huppenthal

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It's the journey

Robert Moulesong

As a writer, I often relate to the flower that grows through concrete. Alone, abandoned, surrounded by foreign objects not related to my meager attempts.

When I use this analogy to describe the life of a writer, only a few will vigorously nod their heads. To no one’s surprise, they, too, are writers.

In December of 2013, my darling wife came across an article in the NWI Times newspaper that highlighted one of our local writing communities. I learned about the history, present, and future plans of that group and its members.

More importantly, I learned there actually was a local writing community. I must confess—I was a journalist for the Times for 15+ years and never knew there was a local creative writing community.

Therefore, I put my journalist hat on and conducted research. Here is what I discovered on my journey:

1)      There are at least 10 active writing communities in Northwest Indiana and South Suburban Illinois.

2)      Some of these writing communities are genre specific, some are great for beginners, and some are more detailed for experienced writers.

3)      There is a community called the Indiana Writers Consortium that serves as an umbrella organization to help coordinate many of the other writing communities.

4)      The Indiana Writers Consortium conducts classes, workshops, tutoring, and various other events.

During the past 18 months, I have become involved with many of these writing communities. They have been a tremendous help in guiding my creative writing career down the right path.

1)      They have helped prompt me to write about specific genres and specific themes that I otherwise would not have attempted.

2)      They have offered me the opportunity to share my work with other writers and receive quality critiques.

3)      They have allowed me to participate in public readings at several venues in the area.

4)      They have allowed me the opportunity to network with writers, publishers, and editors.

None of this would have been possible if I had not gotten involved with local writing communities.

“It’s like going to a shoe store,” one member told me. “You have to try on several styles and sizes to learn which one is right for you.”

Let’s face it; “Da Region” is not considered an artisan alley. Smokestacks and brown fields do not an inspiration make.

Yet, amidst our industrial existence, we can find sanctuary in pockets of poetry and prose. Just like the flower sprouting through the concrete.

Hmmm …

Maybe the flower doesn’t really represent loneliness and abandonment. Maybe it’s a sign of the artistic beauty that one can find if they search hard enough for it. Perhaps the various writing communities are the flowers among the concrete of everyday life.

            Enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Writing Communities: An Indispensable Resource

Alexis Ulrich
            Artistic endeavours such as writing are often done in solitude, but that doesn’t mean any writer can go without the support of a community. No matter what you write, there is nothing like support from your peers to improve your work. Not only do you get to spend time around a diverse group of people who share one of your most cherished interests, you also get to learn from them and teach them a few things yourself. Being a part of a writing community is important for many reasons. Here are just a few:
1.      You get to see things from new perspectives: Sometimes being a part of a writing community is as simple as talking to other writers and reading their work. We all know that people are wildly different from each other, and writing can be like a window into someone else’s mind. That is always beneficial because even ideas we personally disagree with or don’t understand can serve as a platform for our own ideas and inspire us to understand our differences better. A common piece of advice is to write what you know, but note that is only true to an extent. A big part of creative writing is making discoveries and learning as you go. Talking to your peers is a big way to help with that.
2.      You get to know your audience: Every good writer knows that you have to write for your audience. Otherwise, who would read your work? Well, other writers in your community know things about your audience that you might not, and you can share your knowledge with them. What’s more, writers of your genre are also readers of your genre, so they have their own ideas of what they want to read. Talking to your fellow writers is a good way to know whether your work is on the right track to keep people interested.
3.      It’s a great source of motivation: If you’re writing on your own all the time, it’s easy to procrastinate. Sometimes it can seem as if you’ll never get anything done. A writing community provides one of the very best antidotes for that rut: people who are interested in what stories you have to tell. Having people who are curious about your work holds you accountable for getting it done, and that can be fulfilling in itself.
4.      It’s good for networking: Writing groups consist of people at all stages of development, so if you are looking for resources, they are a great place to start. Other writers might know about workshops, agents, submission opportunities, and organizations that you might not have heard of otherwise.
Communities are invaluable to a writer. Not only do writing communities provide a source of feedback and peer review, they hold endless possibilities to broaden our minds, keep us up to date on what our audience wants, provide us with resources and opportunities, and even just give us a reason to keep writing when we might not otherwise. Above all else, being around people who value writing as much as you do might help form new friendships and bonds. Writing may be a solitary activity, but it need not be lonely!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Writing Within Communities: A Testimonial

Kayla Greenwell
Being a writer without a community is like being writer who doesn’t read. Since it’s different for every writer, I’m going to discuss how beneficial being in a writing community has been for me as a student and novice writer.
I was not introduced to a writing community until I joined First Friday Wordsmiths in college, and I was actually strong-armed into joining by a friend of mine. At first, I was intimidated. I was afraid to share my work because I had received bad feedback in the past—not bad as in critical, but feedback that didn’t help me as a writer.  I think a lot of novice writers feel this way. They feel that their work isn’t good enough or the feedback they get is going to be harshly negative and hurtful, but this is a myth.
One of the most important things about being a writer is your audience. Being part of a writing community is like being part of the sharpest most critical audience you’ll ever have. (I mean this in a positive way.) My friends, acquaintances, colleagues, fellow students, and everyone who is part of my writing community have helped me to improve my writing. It may be that they just let me read it out loud to them, or that they give me critical feedback that teaches me new things about my craft. No matter what they do, it still helps me move forward.
The best example of this is a writers’ retreat that I went on two years ago. I was surrounded by writers I was comfortable with and, as a part of an exercise, I started to write about my grandfather. I thought when I wrote it that it would just be something I wrote for an exercise and never touch again, but when the people in my small writing community read it, they saw potential in it. Eventually it went on to be published in Blotterature literary magazine.
I encourage anyone who wants to move forward and improve their writing skills to join a writing community. There are many different writing communities, and you need to choose which one is right for you. The benefits far outweigh the fear of failure. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why Join a Writing Community?

Mari L Barnes
The solitary act of writing is perfect for the introvert. Being able to name our preoccupation provides comfort to family and friends who don’t really understand why we choose to spend hours alone: we’re creating, we’re working. Please go away, we’re WRITING!
Let’s face it, we’re weirdoes. Who else is so perfectly contented in solitude, hunched over a keyboard or a notebook, staring into space one moment and furiously writing the next? Even when things aren’t going well—that character has ruined the plot or the plot has just written itself off a cliff—we can still claim the title of writer and know that we belong to the Holy Order of Wordsmith. We are part of an immense and magical group, even if we never engage with another kindred spirit.
So why join a writing community?
The reasons are many and varied. Most cited is the opportunity to connect with other writers. We are social creatures, although one evening in society may last some of us for several months. It’s reassuring to meet others like ourselves, to celebrate triumphs and shore up our faith in possibilities. We commiserate—please share your rejection letters or stories of how your family and friends just don’t get it.
Writing communities, either in person or online, validate us. They welcome us. They provide encouragement and education. I’ve never been in the presence of other writers and not come away with some piece of information that improved my writing or sent me down a path worth exploring. I prefer the term “connecting” to that of “networking.” I don’t want to think of my interactions with others as “working,” but “connecting” has more of the give and take that describe a writing community.
Personally, I get a charge from the energy and enthusiasm of other writers. I’m not great at “working the room,” but interactions with individual writers power me up and inspire me to keep going when I lose sight of why I write in the first place. It also gives me an opportunity to shine my light and illumine the path for someone else.
Have you been alone with your words? You will find critique partners or groups in a writing community when you are ready to share your work. Writing communities have personalities and focuses that are as diverse as the writers themselves. Take time to sample the organizations in your area and online to find the best fit.
Mari L Barnes writes for children under the pen name of Mari Lumpkin and for adults as ML Barnes. Her books Parting River Jordan and Crossing River Jordan are proof that church can be funny. Mari’s company, Flying Turtle Publishing, specializes in books that families can share.
She is a member of the Highland Writers Group as well as being a member and serving on the board of the Indiana Writers Consortium. Mari is creating a workbook, Life Authors: It’s Your Story, to help people jumpstart writing their life stories. More information is coming soon to