A Writer’s Group Changed My Life

In the last post I mentioned a poem and Ted Talk by Phil Kaye which spoke about building what you know how to build. Wove into the same talk, he spoke about the process of writing as well as the first time he ever taught a workshop of poetry in the prison system. This post is not so much about that, but something Kaye said that sparked thoughts about my current situation.

“It’s my first experience being in a community of writers, knowing what it’s like to have a group of people that want to make you better. I learned what it feels like to tear some soft part of yourself, give it to a group of people to gently mold it, hand it back to you better than they found it.” Phil Kaye

This quote touched me. Just over a year ago, on a cold November night, I decided to sit in on the local writer’s group. They were a loud bunch, people talking with their hands, talking over each other, and there was laughter. So much laughter. It really puzzled me as I had never seen writers this vivacious. That first meeting I realized they were a family. I was an outsider. They did their best to make me feel welcome, but internally I made up a ton of excuses as to why I didn’t belong. The next week, I didn’t return.

December rolled around that year and I decided to try again. It was around Christmas and as much as I told myself I wasn’t lonely at the holidays, I was. I started to bring poetry to this group and eventually, with much encouragement, I dug out the novel I’d started ten years before. I began to feel differently about writing.

In the past, I had been in groups where the temperament was stiff and serious and the members were ultimately looking for ego stroking rather than good criticism. The Corning Writer’s Group is something special. They opened up their arms to me and let me tear those pieces from myself for them to mold. I trust them. This group is encouraging on one hand, but they cut to the heart of what needs changing. Each member has a particular talent for catching mistakes in writing and together, we teach each other what it means to be good writers.

What started out as sharing work and maybe making some changes has turned into beautiful friendships. They are my family. Their opinions mean the most to me. They never let me get away with shit. And I love them for it. It was a group I never imagined fitting in with, but now, I can’t imagine life without them.

I encourage you to seek out a local writer’s group in your area. Try the library first. They are an amazing resource. Be open to growing your craft because it can always get better. I’ve learned you have to take risks in your first draft…just keep writing as it flows from you and the second draft you can be critical. The most important thing is putting words on the page. Find a community. You will see the difference in everything you do.

Take Time to Listen

I’d spent the day writing and working out to dispel the gloom of the gray and raining day. My life has been a cycle of balancing inaction with action. This gives a false sense of security most of the time, but it gets me through the day. I have a hard time being unproductive as it feels like a waste of time. This need for productivity is the by-product of learning to live a normal life after having spent so many years in trauma filled environments. If I’m always in motion, then I don’t have time to examine myself or all the little demons hanging out in the corner. That pile of shame I swept under the rug—nope, no time for that.

In my life as a writer, I have met other writers who have put themselves in positions that filled their lives with bad emotions and dark drama. They consumed intoxicating things, so they’d have something edgy to write about. I often see the need to conform to the stereotypical tortured poet vibe. Not everyone needs to be Bukowski or Rimbaud. They didn’t seem like they liked their lives very much to begin with. Deep down these writers all had something to say but worried about their acceptance.

Today I fell into a rabbit hole of spoken word poets. That glorious monster YouTube swallowed me whole and who I found was a writer named Phil Kaye. In his Ted Talk he read a poem about his grandfather who had passed away a few years before. “My grandfather wasn’t a strong man, but he knew what it meant to build.” The story went on from there to create a beautiful story about generations of men building things with their hands and hearts. At the end, he tells us that his grandfather handed him a pen and paper, shrugged his shoulders, and told him to build something. Kaye says, “I began to build the only way I know how.”

This idea pressed upon me. Not all of us have the talents to build tangible objects or pieces of art you can see. Some of us capture moments in time or see the world like no one else can. I have written poems since I was ten, but over the years I never thought much about them after I let them go. Poems were the place I went to figure myself out. I published some of them. Other people would read them. My goal with any poem is to touch one other person, and for me that meant I had done something right. 

Phil Kaye did this to me. I sat weeping at the kitchen table over how touching his relationship was with his family and how they knew the job he must do. He reminded me of the importance of writing and believing in myself. He gave me a new perspective on something I have worked on for thirty-six years. Listen to his stories. You won’t be disappointed.