In 2009-2011, I did the low-residency MFA program in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and right now as I draft this post, a new class of students is on campus. They’re listening to lectures on the craft of writing, hearing faculty and grad readings, participating in critique groups—they’re engaged and invested in a community focused on the creative process. And what am I doing? Sitting alone beside a space-heater at a Formica-topped desk with stark metal legs that are oh-so-cold to the touch. Ah, to be with them right now!
While I don’t think an MFA program is necessary, and while it’s certainly not the right path for everyone, in my case—at the time—it was what I needed. We called the campus our own little Narnia, our Brigadoon, our escape from the real world. We understood each other, supported and encouraged each other, challenged and listened to each other. The people there became my people. Now as I free-write my way into my next novel, five hundred miles away, I’m with them in spirit.
And I wonder: who is with you in spirit? Who are your people? Who supports and encourages you in the singular and often lonely quest to write a novel? And if you’re a reader more than a writer, with whom do you talk about books? Do you spend time at Goodreads, or attend a monthly book group? Do you pour over book reviews and blogs and put your name on bookstore and library waiting lists for new releases?
As solitary as writing and reading might be, they are community activities. Writers write so that others will read. And what do readers get from reading? Most of all, good fiction makes me feel alive. Worthwhile. Human. Invested in life. Validated. It grabs me and holds on like a group hug. I love the sense of vicarious excitement, of adventure, of learning about new worlds and ideas, of daring to imagine myself somewhere other than my Formica-topped desk with its cold metal legs. I read for the adrenaline rush of life, itself, and look forward to book group meetings so we can discuss what we’ve read. I want to know how friends experienced the book. What parts made them angry? Or frightened? Or in love? What parts made them laugh?
How about you? What is it in the process of reading or writing that grabs you? Keeps you up at night? Validates you? Makes you laugh? Or maybe you’re still looking for the story that just won’t let you go. Maybe you need to write that story. Maybe it’s your story. Ah… group hug… group hug!
A. B. Westrick is the author of Brotherhood (Viking/Penguin, fall 2013), the story of 14-year old Shadrach Weaver and his friendship with Rachel, a freed slave who runs a school for African-American children in Richmond, Virginia, in 1867. When Shad joins the newly-formed Ku Klux Klan in order to grow up and get tough like his older brother, he has no idea what he’s getting into. Read more about the book and author at abwestrick.com.