What You Learn at a Writers’ Meetup

What You Learn at a Writers’ Meetup

As we drive into Beaver Dick Park, we see paper signs taped up: “Writers this way.” This is a meetup of three local writing groups. Avery has been following one of them on Facebook, but this is the first time we’ve participated in one of their events.

About twenty writers are circled around a fire, sitting on rocks and camping chairs. Avery, her sister Sarah, and I sit and awkwardly listen to the conversations of other people: NANOWRIMO, characters, personalities of characters, coming up with characters and their personalities, conjuring worlds, devising plots—these are the challenges of writing YA fantasy and the topics of discussion. But I have to confess: I don’t care in the slightest.

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Nearly all the writers here are women. The only other guy is a man with a graying beard. Just kidding, another guy just showed up. He has white hair. I’m by far the youngest guy here, but the women are of all ages, teens to middle-aged.

We brought white chocolate chip cookies Avery made and put them on the dessert table with the other treats.

“Guys, I’m sorry my food is from the gas station,” a woman named Gina says loudly, making her way toward the table to add her bags of candy to the refreshments. Laughter ensues.

A third guy shows up, not as old. I don’t feel quite as out-numbered now, but I still feel out of place. I’m probably the only nonfiction writer here, maybe the only poet.

We go around the circle introducing ourselves and what we write. Mostly YA fantasy.

One girl writes adult historical fiction, which is refreshing. Another writes Christian steampunk YA. How’s that for a sub-genre?

One woman is a playwright with an MFA. Very cool. That’s very different.

YA historical fantasy.

More YA, mostly fantasy.

Another man shows up, also with white hair.

“I think I’m kind of an odd duck here,” I say when it’s my turn for an introduction. “I love fiction, but I’m no good at writing it. But I work full-time as a content writer, and I write poetry and nonfiction and have had some stuff published.”

Some others say they actually write poetry as well. Maybe I’m not as odd as I thought.

I need to swallow my pride. Maybe I would learn something. As an English major, I read Shakespeare, Pulitzer Prize winning novelists, and other time-honored writers. My professors taught me to push myself, my readers, and the bounds of what literature can do. They taught me there is more to literature than YA dystopias and vampires and magic. Writing isn’t just about building worlds; it’s about changing this one.

But that doesn’t mean I can turn up my nose at someone who writes in a different genre. It’s perfectly fine to write YA fantasy; it just has a different audience and a different purpose. But I do think the YA genre could greatly benefit if its authors more often used great works of literature as sounding boards, as inspiration. A good example is John Green, who, among other things, borrowed the title for his book The Fault in Our Stars from Shakespeare.

Gina claims the younger guy here is a spy, and several other women nod their heads in agreement. His name is Danny Noise, which kind of sounds like a name from a Hollywood spy movie.

The man with the graying beard is a nearly retired drama professor at BYU–Idaho, so there are two drama people.

After everyone has introduced themselves, Gina comes over to talk to us. She is a self-proclaimed extrovert. She asks Avery if she has been to her website. Avery shakes her head. Gina rolls her eyes, turns around, and shouts, “HEY EVERYONE! If you haven’t been to the website you need to go. Snake River Writers dot com. It’s my baby. The calendar is amaze-balls.”

I talk to Danny, the spy who is actually an analyst at Idaho National Laboratories. He asks what keeps me from writing fiction. I’ve never been asked that before. All I know is that nonfiction and poetry come more naturally to me. Am I afraid of writing fiction? Maybe it’s the elusiveness of writing good characters that haunts me. The literary genius of the authors I read in college has given me an unreachable expectation, but maybe it’s time to take a second look at writing my own fiction.

The sun sets; people who brought stories to share read around the fire. Those who aren’t reading eat cream puffs and cookies.

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A Harry Potter themed ringtone goes off.

People mostly read excerpts from their upcoming YA fantasy novels, though some read YA realistic or children’s. While I’m not very interested in YA fantasy, some of these pieces draw me in. I want to know what will happen.

Harry Potter ringtone again. The woman who keeps getting phone calls is talking to her daughter, who previously broke her arm on a school playground.

The playwright reads a monologue from one of her plays. It’s hilarious. People listen. People laugh. People are riveted by the humor. Laughter brings people in, makes them react, makes them love you.

When it’s my turn, I read excerpts from the piece I brought. It’s actually a recent blog post, but I think it’s a solid example of my writing. I skip around and paraphrase sections, trying to keep it brief. People laugh at the funny parts, and their applause when I finish seems genuine.

Although I don’t write YA fantasy, I have more in common with these writers than I thought. We all have the drive to write, though we express it differently. But we all write. Some of us have been writing for years. Some of us started a week ago. But no matter the genre or skill, that writing is valid.

Self-expression through writing does something to a person, gives them a voice, gives them confidence. “Stories are food,” says writer Brian Doyle. They nourish both the reader and the writer.

Harry Potter ringtone again.

And again.

2 thoughts on “What You Learn at a Writers’ Meetup

  1. Brian, this is a brilliant piece of writing. I mean it. I use the word “brilliant” sparingly. There is so much I love about it. 1. Beginning with your prejudices but steadily opening up until you accept the whole group, including yourself. 2. Witty dialogue. 3. Humorous slapstick (Harry Potter phone). 4. Engaging descriptions of other writers. 5. Your feelings of discomfort dissolving away. All in such a short essay. Really well done.

    1. Thanks Dad! This was a fun post to write. Also, while the Harry Potter ringtone is funny, it began to have a meaning of its own as I wrote this post. Harry Potter is YA fantasy, the genre that pops up again and again throughout the post. The ringtone, for me, began to symbolize how I’ve been inundated by YA fantasy, how I will will continue to be inundated by it, and how I am learning to be okay with that.

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