Grub Street Beyond the Classroom: From Feedback to Fist Pumps
The table of any writers’ meeting at Grub Street generally plays host to a combination of familiar artifacts: computers, coffee, notebooks and photocopies. It does not, however, usually involve chainmail. Or plastic swords. Or giant foam twenty-sided dice.
But all those things – plus tiny plastic Orc figurines – filled the table at Grub Street when Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks came to discuss his book with our freelance writing group. Or perhaps I should call it *his* freelance writing group – because he’s the man who brought us all together. Though it was us that kept it that way. When I signed up for Ethan’s Freelance Writing Essentials class this Spring I expected to come away with a better understanding of how to craft a freelance career. What I couldn’t have known then was that this class would offer me the one very elusive thing I had been searching for since moving to Boston: a writing community.
Our group does not have an interesting origin story – we started like any other might after an inspiring 6 hour intensive: a few of us loitered around after the class to pick Ethan’s brain and share contact info. I expected it to be like the myriad other times I exchanged cards - and promises of coffee dates – with other writers, only to never see them again. But there happened to be a few highly organized and motivated folks in this class and soon someone started the ball rolling with a group email. Then came another. And another. Quickly there emerged a group of us – six out of the original eight students – who wanted to keep meeting, keep writing and keep talking.
We met at Grub Street for the first time a few weeks after our class to brainstorm how we would collectively run the group, what topics we would cover, and how we would structure our meetings. And here, more or less, is what our group looks like: we meet twice a month to report on our progress (or lack there of), we each set goals for ourselves for the next meeting (from ‘send out one pitch a week’ to ‘contact that editor’ to ‘organize my desk’ – anything that helps you move closer to your writing goal is fair game) and we announce these goals to the group (making ourselves more accountable). We share ideas and contacts. We read drafts of pitches and pieces - we give feedback and more over, we give each other an ear.
Two months after taking Ethan’s class we’ve got a shared drive full of practice pitches and submission trackers and we even have a website (under construction). But more importantly, we have a cohort - a group we can email when we have questions or when we make connections, when we feel inspired or when we are sure that we will never feel inspiration again. To date one of our members has had a piece accepted for Cognoscenti, and another published in the Boston Globe Magazine. Even though he had announced this upcoming publication to our group, when I actually saw Jack Cheng’s words printed in black and white I totally fist-pumped. For in this group I am a cheerleader and I have cheerleaders. A publication from one of us is a victory for all of us, because together we give one another the structure or the confidence or the whatever it takes to send our work out into the world again and again, through rejections, or worse yet – radio silence. And that’s something.
Our group doesn’t function in lieu of Grub Street classes – if anything the opposite is true: since we have a committed cohort some of us have discussed taking classes together, knowing we already have in place a structure to work on whatever we learn in the next class (and the next, and the next…). Like any of you Grubbies out there we sign up for classes to learn specific skill sets, but also in the hopes that we’ll walk away with more than handouts and notes: that we will be inspired to write ourselves out of wherever we are stuck. We leave those afternoon or day-long or multi-week workshops sweaty and excited and engaged. We (hopefully) fill out those evaluation forms Lauren sends after each class so that Grub St. can better know – and meet – the needs and desires of their people. But here’s the thing – we, as Grubbies, are not passive in this endeavor.
Without a doubt those friendly (and fabulously coiffed) folks in the front office make it their mission to offer anything an aspiring (or established) writer could want. But the work they do there is only half the equation – the rest is up to us. So take a class (heck, take ten classes!) but know that what you do in the classroom is only the tip of the iceberg – it’s the connections you make and the steps you take after the class is over that count. Grub Street offers us the raw materials – the space, the classes, the authors, the wisdom of teachers and classmates – but it is up to us to assemble them into a community that motivates and inspires.