The value of a strong writers’ community

A testimonial from Cathy Beaudoin,
past BWW board treasurer and Mud Season Review fiction reader and forever member

Cathy Beaudoin and her service dog, Winnie, in their new home in California

In 2014, I began attending the Burlington Writers Workshop in earnest. At the time, I couldn’t possibly understand how the depth of the community would have such a positive impact on my development as a writer. The first workshops I attended were held in the basement of the Half Lounge, and it was nearly impossible to hear anything anyone said.  But the beer flowed and the people I met at those sessions kept me coming back for more. In fact, some of those people are still good friends.

As the vision of the organization began to evolve, the group started meeting in a dedicated space on Pine Street. More people got involved, and the breadth of workshops and other writing opportunities expanded. In addition to new and varied workshops, and an annual anthology highlighting selected member writing, a literary journal as well as a robust, and literary-focused, book club were started. The organization moved, and then moved again. Still, with so many motivated artists around me, I finally succumbed to a lifelong desire, and began to write. In the beginning, my writing was mostly nonfiction. I wanted to document my journey as a blind woman. After all, it was my area of expertise. The topic was unique, and the resources to learn how to write a story were at my fingertips. I had no more excuses.

Like most beginning writers, my prose was raw, choppy, unpolished, and difficult to follow. But the creative nonfiction community was patient with me, and provided endless encouragement. With all the feedback, I learned a truly valuable lesson: people were interested in what I was writing. It was just a matter of writing, re-writing, and writing some more. I learned that writing a beautiful sentence did equate to writing a story with a beginning hook, a strong middle section, and a meaningful ending. The value of having a group of people willing to read and give feedback cannot be measured. There is no way I would have ever progressed to writing better nonfiction, and ultimately fiction stories, without the nurturing of the BWW community.

Ultimately, because of workshops offered by BWW leaders, and outside writers like Robin McLean, Jensen Beach, and others, I felt like being a decent writer might be within my grasp.  And two stories that I initially presented at BWW workshops have since been accepted for publication, one in the literary journal titled Five on the Fifth, and the other in a yet to be titled anthology of short stories highlighting the successes of blind people.  I have three fiction stories that are complete, and am working on a fourth. My fiction story, “Gaining Momentum” has been accepted by Scarlett Leaf Review.

Because the BWW was such a valuable resource for me, I tried to give back to the community, working hard behind the scenes to prepare monthly financial and operating reports.  While a life decision led me to move from the Burlington area, I wanted to take the time to express my gratitude to the BWW community.  It is an incredible opportunity for writers to get out of their heads, to measure their progress, to be motivated to write every day. While nothing is perfect for everyone, I know the BWW will always have a place in my heart.  And because of my deep connections with many of the people there, I will continue to support the organization in any way possible. I hope others are motivated to do the same.


Donate to the BWW by December 31 and see your gift matched!

If you’d like to help make sure this community can keep offering support to beginning writers, established writers, and everyone in between, please consider donating today. Any amount is deeply appreciated. And an anonymous donor has offer to match up to $250 of all new donations received through the end of the year. So help us turn $5 into $10, $25 into $50, or $50 into $100! Donate now >

 

Why I give to the BWW

Terry Cleveland, BWW member and Wednesday Workshop leader

Terry Cleveland, BWW member and Wednesday Workshop leader

Three years ago, I decided I needed a forum to look at my questionable attempts at writing. Did I have the talent? Did I have something to say? Did anyone want to read what I had to say? I joined the BWW and sweated my first meeting at which the group reviewed my work.

I came away with a heart swelling with possibility. I received kudos for the courage to write what I had submitted. I received great feedback from the kind and supportive group. And I received what I needed most:  the boost to continue.

That is why I give to the Burlington Writers Workshop: for the boost. Sometimes I will go two or three weeks without the muse at my back. Then I go to a meeting after I’ve read the phenomenal writing submitted and we discuss it in a fun, safe, and intelligent bubble of encouragement. I more often than not will go back to my desk after one of those meetings and greet the muse once again.

I give for the education, the camaraderie, the like-minded people, and the chance to make my writing better. I urge you to do the same. The results are priceless.

—Terry Cleveland

If you feel the BWW gives a lot to you, please consider making a donation today.

Being allowed to give

 

Eva Gumprecht, BWW Montpelier workshop coordinator

Eva Gumprecht, Montpelier workshop coordinator

Coordinating a BWW workshop is sort of like herding cats. And it just so happens that I love cats. But I didn’t set out to be a cat herder. About 2 years ago, I innocently asked Peter [Biello, founder of the BWW] if the BWW had ever thought of holding workshops in Montpelier so that those of us from the hinterlands wouldn’t have to repeatedly risk our lives in the Bolton Flats. He responded, “We’ve thought about it, but didn’t have anyone willing to coordinate them.” The rest is history.

The thing I’ve appreciated most about the BWW has not been what I’ve gotten from it, but what I’ve been allowed to give. How many places do you know of, in this increasingly disconnected and regulated world of ours, where one is allowed to give what one has to offer? And to have what one gives treated as precious.

At its best BWW is not an “organization”—it is a living, breathing communal organism. Most organizations, including most writing programs, are basically service stations. You pay your money, you get services or goods in return, and you leave. At the BWW, there really and truly isn’t anyone here but us chickens (mixed metaphor between cats and chickens, but you get the point). There is the potential for something much more vibrant and rare than an “organization.” There is the rare chance here for a vast interdependent web that we will continue to weave together.

We think so much about what we want to get, to have, from life.  But really, in terms of what makes life worth living, what creates health and a sense of purpose, it’s what we get to give that counts. And to have our talents, our attempts, our energies, our generous and compassionate impulses, even our failures, received with appreciation and care.

I thought, when I attended my first workshops, that I would learn from having my work critiqued. But over these years I have learned far, far more from offering feedback to others. I’ve been blown away by the incredible variety of minds and the courage it takes to expose one’s private world and work to others. There are pieces to which I would never have given a second look if I saw them elsewhere….genres I thought I didn’t like, subject matter which I thought bored me. But the commitment we make to each other, when we sign up to attend a workshop, is to treat each piece the way we hope ours would be received.

It is an honor to be handed someone’s work. And so I expand my world.  I learn to practice patience, to find the gems in the sometimes very roughly hewn rock, to enter into someone else’s mind and heart and ask myself how I can help them to get where they want to go. People achieve things I would never have even attempted. It is an exercise in exchanging minds and souls.

It is this exchange that I support when I give to the BWW. I hope you will too.

—Eva Gumprecht, BWW Montpelier workshop coordinator


Donate to the Burlington Writers Workshop >

 

 

The BWW changed my life

Deena Frankel, leader of the BWW oral storytelling workshop

Deena Frankel, leader of the BWW’s oral storytelling workshop

The BWW changed my life. Really.

I’d been to a bunch of workshops, but never submitted work, as I struggled to transition from the dry writing in my day job to creative nonfiction. Then one idle Thursday night, I went to an oral storytelling workshop for want of a better plan, and I went home with a draft of my first “Moth-style” story. This new medium turned a key in my creative life. I’ve been telling oral stories ever since AND for me those oral stories became the gateway to the writing I’d been striving for. [Editor’s note: To see how far Deena’s storytelling has taken her, come hear her weave her storytelling magic on the Flynn MainStage for The Vermont Moth GrandSLAM II, Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 8:00 p.m.]

Workshopping member writing is surely the heart of the BWW—for writers and readers alike. But the BWW is so much more. A place of continuous learning about the art, craft, and business of storytelling in its many forms. A community of colleagues and friends. Rich opportunities to try on new professional roles, whether staffing Mud Season Review or The Best of the BWW, or leading a workshop.

And all for one low price of admission: nothing. But of course it isn’t really free; it’s just on the honor system. We may operate on a staff-less shoestring, but you’ve still got to buy the shoestring.

What we provide and produce together at BWW is quite an extraordinary feat of community. I feel honor bound to do my part for that community by donating my money, as well as my time. I hope you will too.

Deena Frankel, leader of the BWW’s oral storytelling workshop, design editor of The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016, and senior nonfiction reader for Mud Season Review

**Become a sustaining member at $12/month or a one-time donation of $150 and we’ll thank you with a pair of BWW pint glasses! Donate now >

Are you hungry?

BWW member Darlene Witte-Townsend

BWW member Darlene Witte- Townsend

Are you a writer? I am.

I checked out the Burlington Writers Workshop on a warm Wednesday night in June of 2013. I was part of other writer’s groups in the distant past and I hoped to find a nurturing community here in Vermont. Was it even possible?

The address written on my hand was 136 1/2 Church Street. I set out. Where was Church Street? How can an address be 1/2 of something? I needed a map. The map Google showed me was dated 1822. Really? I trudged up and down.

Eventually, I found Church Street but not the address I was looking for. Was it hidden? Why? I searched the crowd for the helper whom I knew was likely to appear, the ingenue, the innocent who would hold the key. Soon I noticed a young woman walking alone and asked if she knew how to get to 136 1/2 Church Street. She eyed me with surprise and said, “I’m looking for it too.” Ah.

I followed her through the twilight until she pulled open a heavy old lead-paned street door near the Red Onion Cafe. I too stepped carefully inside.

We crept through dim light down lumpy stone stairs into a long narrow room. There were five small tables with thirteen people seated around, all of them chomping. Biting. Savoring. Devouring. Sipping. Masticating. Sampling. Smacking their lips. Picking their teeth. Swirling new and old flavors in their mouths. It was not everyday food that focused their attention, however, but chunks of original writing. Poems. Stories.

 

BWW writers gathered in One-Half Lounge

Writers gathered in One-Half Lounge, one of the BWW’s meeting places before securing our own Burlington space

 

With this company I fed on strong words and left satisfied. Thank you BWW. I have a place at the table. I have a place to be at home.

Are you hungry? Are you ready?

Darlene Witte-Townsend, BWW member since 2013

Support the Burlington Writers Workshop to help us keep this great thing going. And join us for a workshop in our new space at 110 Main Street, Studio 3C.

A Talented and Diverse Group of Individuals

Cynthia Close, BWW board member and art editor, Mud Season Review

Cynthia Close, BWW board member and art editor, Mud Season Review

I wasn’t sure what I was looking for when I joined the Burlington Writers Workshop. What I found was a talented and diverse group of individuals, all working together with the common goal of helping its members become better writers, whatever their ability or background. The open yet professional atmosphere has fostered close friendships and provided a haven for many folks seeking a sense of community within the larger social and cultural fabric of the City of Burlington.

The BWW is infused with the energy of its all-volunteer staff, reflecting an active, growing organization that has expanded beyond Burlington to foster groups in Montpelier and Middlebury. I have taken advantage of many opportunities offered to members: the retreats, the special events, the chance to publish in the annual anthology, and the Flynn Center’s blogging program.

As an active board member and art editor of Mud Season Review, our newly established art and literary journal, I’ve been able to give back a small portion of the benefits I have received as a member of the group.

I also contribute financially to the BWW, and I hope you will, too. The BWW needs donations to help pay the rent for the meeting space we all use. Your donations also cover the costs of our forays in publishing. Consider what these benefits are worth to you and make a contribution in any amount, either as a one-time gift, or as a sustaining member. (Just click the ‘Make this recurring (monthly)’ checkbox on the donation form to give that amount automatically each month as a sustaining member).

Cynthia Close, BWW board member and art editor, Mud Season Review

P.S. We’ve currently raised $3,735.00 of our $5,000 goal for this December Fundraiser. Thank you to everyone who has donated!