Dark, chilly, foggy, drizzly Friday night and where was I? Heading to the Gotham Writers' Workshop office for their Friday night write-in. And I was not the only one. The elevators were sprinkled with other attendees rushing for the write-in they were taking advantage of. There were at least 2 classes participating in the evening's write-in and probably a dozen or more attendees in each room. My room was as bare as it gets. White walls, whiteboard, gray tables structured together in a square reminding me of grad school workshops. Gray plastic chairs. Heat on high so that it was stuffy and opening the window even a crack brought in ALL the noise from 8th Avenue even from 14 stories up. We clustered together, some consistent visitors to the workshop chatting with friends, others newbies, and all ready to write.
How it goes
About 6:35 our facilitator Melissa introduced herself and set up the rules. She comes in, gives a prompt, we write for 15 minutes and then she comes back and there's the sharing portion of the evening (no pressure though).
First prompt: Freeze. Do with that as you will or not, just, you know, write.
So there's a lot of scribbling going on and you're also allowed to bring your laptop if you like. Get the mind percolating and go for it.
Fifteen minutes goes by pretty fast. I've done write-ins with friends where I was not feeling it and a third of the way through gave up and started jotting down To Do/shopping lists. But, I was on to something by practicing setting a scene rather than doing characterizations. So I went for it. And next thing I know Melissa returns to say "One minute" then "Finish up your sentence" and then "Time's up." And she's sitting in this stifling room and there is wailing coming from the streets from an ambulance.
Melissa encouraged that there's no "critiquing." We're listening to what others read and offering positive feedback of what we liked and what stuck out to us. With the caveat not to say "I wish there was more" because that can be a kind of double-sided review of "I like this so much but..." Nope, none of that.
So there was that initial period of silence and hesitance but that broke down as volunteers emerged. We listened and many of us commented positively and noticed specific styles people had and also how literally or figuratively they took the prompt.
This is when you're to mingle. There are some snacks. Lots of sweets I saw and figured this would happen during my sweets hiatus. There was white and red wine and some seltzer and for about 20+ minutes you could get cramped in this meeting space or try and spread out into the room or out in the hallway. It was a bit difficult to network but overall there was lots of talk of "I just wanted to try and get things down." Or "This is one of the few times I get to write." "It's a good environment for me to start what I've been thinking about." And new people getting an idea of what other write-ins may be like from those who frequent Gotham Writers' offices.
And repeat. This prompt is: Held Breath.
Get back to the writing. And....you're done. This really does go fast when you're in a kind of stasis with your writing.
(Room's still hot by the way.)
Several people read and there's a bit of levity in the air and not as much hesitance. People have chatted, gotten to know each other a bit more. Are more willing to share and also to speak. There's a bit more closeness in the room as attendees listen to each other's work and the "only positive" atmosphere can really be empowering, as one attendee said, so that you feel good about pursuing your writing with no drawbacks or critiques. It's a shame it ended at that point because you could feel some who had hesitated initially were breaking down and might have shared with another go-round now that some invisible barrier had been broken.
And you're off! Back into the world, smacked in the face as soon as you leave the building because you're between Penn Station and Time Square and the sounds hit you, while the drizzle enshrouds you, and you feel a bit lighter at getting something down on paper and able to enjoy your evening/weekend.
Write-ins in general can be helpful. Depending on your mindset/mood you can get a lot down or you can organize material or you can go off on some tangents and find kernels of something good amidst some not-so-good lines. The Gotham Writers' Workshop Write-in is $20 for the time, a bit less than 2 hours. And happens in Manhattan as well as in Brooklyn weekly.
I think one of the most helpful aspects of the write-in for attendees is the feedback portion and sharing. Especially if you're starting out and very hesitant about your writing. Getting encouragement on what works can aid in centering you and pushing you forward. As someone who is consistently critiqued and critiquing for others it was nice to latch onto the good while not also mulling over how to present what may need work. Shutting off that aspect of the process and focusing on what is there, what is working, what is relevant and not editing just creating can be a very enlightening and freeing experience. Also, there's the networking aspect if you don't have that writing community or any community, while also investing in you to make yourself write for a specific amount of time. (Like I said, the room is bare, no distractions, no wifi, nothing but you getting in the way of the written word.)
If you find you may be having a hard time simply getting started and need a push (while also knowing you cannot give yourself that push without some external factors at work) than I'd suggest the write-in. Twenty dollars is a good investment for a couple hours--a solid 30 minutes of writing and also a good 20 minutes of listening. Believe me, being able to listen to other people's work is as helpful as writing.
I'd like to thank Dana Miller and Georgette for inviting me to participate in the write-in!