Poor Writer’s MFA: I am the permission giver

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caszpermissionBack in 2008 I founded a writing group called “SnoValley Writes!”  After five years we’re going strong. We have about 20 very active members and about 80 total members. That may not seem like a lot, but I was hoping to just reach a half-dozen people I could bond with over artistic angst and share a cup of coffee now and then. Sometimes the universe chooses to place abundance at our feet instead. I’m okay with that.

 

Before I go further into the subject the headline purports, let me give you some background. There were many reasons originally why I went through the effort to establish a writing group, which as I look back wasn’t that much effort. I saw all manner of writer, artist, and creative soul out and about in my community and I was tired of feeling alone. I put an ad out on craigslist, put flyers up, and set up a first meet-up. Before I could say “I’m a writer,” SnoValley Writes! was born. Our mission is to support and help writers reach new “literary peaks.” Hey, we live in the Cascade Foothills, cut us some metaphoric slack.

 

Today our group is an established Washington State non-profit, and among our ranks are several published authors – both traditionally published and author-published. We meet twice a month and “work shop,” as well as host three separate “cafes” each week where members (and non-members) are welcome to come at predestinated places and times and devote time to writing, editing, networking, seek help getting ‘unstuck,’ what have you.

 

In addition, a small fraction of the group developed Free Valley Publishing, which seeks to give another option and path for writers to get their work to an audience. I’m pretty proud of this group, as you might imagine.

 

The very first meeting of SnoValley Writes!, I introduced myself and then had everyone do the same, asking them to say, “I’m a writer,” either before or after their name. I gave them that latitude because they had enough “writer” in them to give up a Sunday afternoon and devote a few hours to their craft, profession, art, and dreams.

 

That little exercise has stuck and a few times a year at our workshops I pull it out again. Throughout the years this group has basically allowed me to mentor writers. I frequently say that had I personally received such mentoring, my stories might be more prolific, popular, and I’d spend less time editing white papers and writing press releases, and more time at book signings. In essence, I’m paying back and forward as much as I can. A few years into the group I watched as I had new members to the group do the “I’m a writer” exercise just blossom into full-blown authors. I watched as other members supported each other, encouraged, and most importantly challenged one another to push their craft, their art, and their dreams further. Heck, many of these folks now have strong relationships that I suspect will be life-long. Most importantly, I realized the simple sentence of allowing someone to say “I’m a writer,” to provide them work sessions, dedicated times for writing – however small – was paramount to giving permission. All my volunteer efforts and the efforts of the group circle around some adult-version of being allowed to do what they want.

 

I recently wrote here on the blog about creating my own MFA program, a shoot-from-the-hip creative writing course of study, now appropriately named “Poor Writer’s MFA” (because if I ask myself honestly, finances is the biggest barrier, at least, for myself from doing the real thing). Therefore, it seemed like the first lesson in such a program needed to surround permission. My writing group is my collective guinea pig for lessons. They fortunately are eager and willing to do exercises, explore creative topics and the like. Our last workshop we pulled out colored pencils, crayons, markers and all manner of imagination to make our “permission” to be a writer official. I made the writers draw up a permission slip or certificates of author authenticity, or a coupon book of excuses, so my fellow writers felt free to write. As always, the group surprised me with their imagination. Take a peek (note I voided out some of their names to maintain their privacy):

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Do these adults really need my permission? Nah. Not even close. For some reason the inner child needs to be told, to hear, and to feel supported in the adult artist’s endeavor to create. If I fulfill that role, so be it. For sure, many others have done it for me as well:  my spouse, my kids, my fellow writers, my literature and writing professors, hell, the baristas at my favorite coffee cafe’…the list is endless. I’m happy to pass along the kindred spirit of permission. If you need to make yourself a permission slip and put it by your writing desk or attach it to your laptop, do it. Whatever puts you in the headspace to know that creating is a GOOD thing. It’s the thing you were made to do.

 

You’re a writer.

 

You’re an artist.

 

Go out and create.

 

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