The Loneliness of the Niche Genre Writer
Finding the perfect writers’ workshop is like finding the
right therapist, and for some of the same reasons. So when you find
the right fit, with writers whose professional expertise you respect
and whom you can comfortably trust, you’ll do just about anything
to preserve it. Even moving the workshop online.
When Kim Ablon Whitney was working on her M.F.A. degree at Emerson,
she found that ideal, nurturing workshop.
“We trust each other as readers and as writers,” Whitney
says of her five-member group. “We workshop each others’
works in progress and we also definitely offer each other lots of
moral support and try to help each other in any way possible in
terms of sharing contacts, marketing ideas, etc.”
And, because they all worked in a niche genre, young adult novels,
they shared common themes and concerns. The group worked so well
that, after the members finished their degrees, they wanted to continue,
even though that meant shifting the workshop from their living rooms
to their computers.
“Two members moved out of town, so
we started the online group in order to keep the group going,”
says Whitney, whose first novel, See You Down the Road, won the
2001 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Judy
Blume/Work-in-Progress Grant for a Contemporary Young Adult Novel
and the 2002 PEN New England Children’s Book Caucus Discovery
The online workshop was its own work in progress. At first each
writer just submitted comments on a work directly to its author.
But they soon missed the give-and-take quality of an in-person discussion,
so they began using an online tracking function where each person
could offer and view comments. Whitney notes it’s still second-best
to sitting around a table. But she’s discovered an unexpected
benefit, the flexibility of reading submissions and making comments
on her own time schedule, as long as she does it within the specified
Why go to such lengths for a workshop? For one thing, because it
provides community in a lonely business. For another, because a
workshop can help you be a better writer and a more perceptive reader.
The risky downside is exposing unfinished work to critical review.
And, as Whitney says, writers are filled with doubts.
“We’re always wondering if the story is interesting,
if we’re telling it the right way. Writing a novel is a long
process and it helps to have the encouragement of people saying,
‘I’m enjoying this.’“
Criticism never feels good, but it hurts less among colleagues
you’ve grown to trust and respect. Whitney says she may disagree
with a comment on her work, “but then a day later, I’ll
think, ‘well, yes, they’re right.’”
But she also feels there is another reason workshops are so important
to writers right now: they can do what most editors no longer do,
help shape a manuscript. Editors and publishers and agents are too
busy these days to do the kind of nurturing that writers of earlier
generations often relied on. They expect to receive a manuscript
that is as close to ready as possible.
“Maybe workshops are taking the place of what the writer-editor
relationship used to be.”
Guess that’s what friends--and fellow writers--are for.
What We’re Reading Now: Kim Ablon Whitney
is reading Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh (cq). I’ve just finished
Eva Moves the Furniture, a novel by Margot Livesey, which feels
like a magical intersection between the world filled with daily
details and the unexplainable mysteries we are presented with. What
are you reading now? Let me know at email@example.com.