The Write Life

I went down to the Stone Lion for Poudre Valley Author's Day. David Burton said he'd be there promoting his new book Manmade for Murder. I was in Penpointers, a writing group, when he wrote it five years ago just before I dropped out when my daughter was born. I also hoped to meet John Calderazzo who had taught a creative nonfiction class that became a topnotch critiquing session. The ten of us sat around a large table and discussed our essays, shared editing suggestions, and talked about inspiration, queries, syntax, and other aspects of the writing life.

The basement of the Stone Lion book store exceeded my expectations. Tables of books stretched around the entire room. Authors milled about. I talked to several such as Mary Hagen who'd been in Penpointers and has written books about hiking and skiing trails in the area. I saw several other friends in conversations I didn't wish to interrupt. I roamed in ecstasy.

Sometimes I don't realize I've lost something until I find it again. Although I work full-time as a computer programmer, I usually tell people that's my day job, that I'm "really" a musician and writer. One reason is that in my free time I enjoy talking with writers or picking with musicians. I don't like talking about computers and don't look forward to geek conferences. Some of my coworkers do. They build computers on the weekends or program into the wee hours or revel in day-long seminars.

Another reason I probably don't need computer conferences is because I work with 15 programmers in my building and 200 others in the organization that I can e-mail. We have holy flame wars about programming languages and laugh at jokes (such as the previous phrase) that only confuse outsiders. With that much interaction, I am sated. Perhaps if I worked alone with a keyboard and flickering monitor, I'd look forward to computer fairs and database shows.

Musicians spend a lot of lonely time working: rehearsing new licks, learning words, developing arrangements. They get together to "play." A writer's work is lonelier, just you and a pencil.

"Hey, what about me?" asked my friend Seymour Sharpe.

"You're just a figment. A bit of underdone potato. Okay, I see your point." It's just you, a pencil, and some imagination. Writers can't share the way musicians or programmers can. I can play better music with a guitarist and fiddler than I can by myself. Someone else's elegant algorithm can make my computer programs run smoother. But each writer only has his own perspective. Even when critiquing each other's work, only one person is the writer, the rest of us are proofreaders, grammarians, and editors. We may be able to offer a more careful look than a casual reader, pinpointing problems and offering possibilities, but after the session is over, the writer has to work alone.

Because writing is so much more dependent on the individual effort, writing groups are probably more necessary for providing friendly camaraderie and professional encouragement. After getting David Burton's murder mystery and an anthology containing one of John Calderazzo's essays, I started up the stairs and ran into John. Simultaneously, a woman walked by and he asked about her search for writing groups. They were all either too big or already full, but I was jazzed about writing and gave her my card. We'll start with just us two, perhaps find a few more for our new group, and maybe next year, Nancy or I will be at one of the author's tables at the Stone Lion.

Columns in the Fort Collins Coloradoan by Mike Moxcey