Thursday, July 15, 2010

Writing House Built on Solid Ground

Morningside Writers Group has changed over the years, and so have I as its founder and moderator. The idea was borne out of frustration because I didn't feel comfortable in what I call puppy mill writing classes and workshops. It's similar K-12 education of one teacher and [too] many students. Creative people, in order to be successful, need a smaller moderator to workshop participant ratio. 

Successful athletes and sports teams have specialized coaches for hitting, serving, and fitness. Why then shouldn't writers and other creative artists have an intimate setting to develop and hone their craft? 

That was and continues to be my motivation for Morningside. I complained years ago to my mother about not having a creative community to join, and in her own loving and direct way said, "Stop complaining, create your own." I did that after a few bumps and scrapes, temporary public embarrassments, and home-schooling myself on the better points of establishing mobile creative communities. 

Each year presents a new challenge, whether it's too many women in a particular workshop, or a writer violating the nondisclosure agreement and sharing a participant's work with a non-member. There are no how-to books for an urban workshop because it comes down to individual talent, focus, and goals. If a writer wants to get published, self-published or the traditional route, s/he will do so. 

My biggest complaint past and present is noncommittal writers who have the notion to write, but lack the determination to sit, stand, or lounge daily with their writing pad or laptop. Equally troubling is that some are talented writers, but are too easily distracted by the daily hiccups that happen in life. 

Is it too lofty a request that workshop participants carve out half the time I devote to keeping Morningside operating smoothly, sometimes to the detriment of my own writing? The cliché, "If you build it, they will come," is different for me. I have built a writing workshop on solid ground, but few have the self-discipline to sustain themselves and their writing for more than a few months.  I have built it, and the majority walk through the front door and out of the back door to parts unknown. Some have had undisclosed medical or mental challenges, were married and started a family, and in one bizarre instance a jealous spouse who gave her husband an ultimatum -- It's them or me. Imagine.

I've thought about hanging up my moderator's baseball cap and relocating to upstate New York or out of the country to Salamanca, Spain, bug-eyed, writing successive manuscripts and screenplays, but I can't isolate myself. I was meant to found Morningside Writers Group in New York City, and we've had decent success with a few writers going on to MFA programs, book deals, and publication.

What I now want from all current participants and potential applicants is for them to stand in their full length bathroom or hallway mirror and ask: "Do I have what it takes to participate in a writing workshop weekly, monthly, and yearly?" 

Or thinking back to an old interview with Glenn Ford on the Merv Griffin show when asked for advice for aspiring actors, he said, "Take a writing pad, pen, and a flashlight, lock yourself in a closet for two hours. On that pad write anything and everything you could be if you couldn't be an actor. If at the end of those two hours there's anything on your pad, go do it, because you don't have the dedication it takes to be an actor." 

I'd offer the same advice. What's on your writing pad after two hours locked in a closet? Do you have the discipline and dedication it takes to be a writer?


Erick said...

A very insightful post! I'm in agreement, people need to be honest with them self, and say, do I really have what it takes. Am I willing to put in the time, etc. Hopefully, you get more members who can honestly answer those questions.

Shydel said...

Awesome post.

I am one of those talented, wayward writers who are too easily distracted by EVERYTHING else when trying to put pen to paper.

I get a lot of writing done. But it's almost always for magazine stories I have due. Meaning: if I didn't get it done, I risk being fired and burning bridges.

But when it's just for me (my blog or novel) I shoot the shit and shrug off writing because there are no repercussions for my laziness.

I'm hoping this is just a phase and at some point, I'll have a breakthrough and sit my ass down long enough to give the wonderful ideas that float aimlessly around in my head a home on my MacBook.

In my defense: I'd never joint a writing group knowing damn well I was unsure about my time, schedule or ability to deliver the goods.

That's just rude.

Keep building. They will come.

And like any great teacher, if you get through to at least one, well, you've done your job!