The preferred meeting space for our writer’s group was not available last Saturday night, so we moved Knox Writes to Panera in Fountain City. I texted Adam when I found out about the change of venue on Thursday. “Are you actually going to darken the door of a Panera?” I teased him. “What’s happening with the world?”
Several months ago Lorraine had suggested meeting at Panera and Adam had balked, so I knew it was a sore spot for him. He’s the kind of guy who avoids chain restaurants, the kind of guy who believes in eating local, the kind of guy who’s not into overpriced, glutenous bread. But our last minute options were limited this time, so Adam practiced the art of compromise, and our little group ventured out into the unusually cold March weather.
We were scheduled to meet at seven, but like most laid-back artists, only two of us arrived on time. Jill and I found a few empty tables in the back, as far away from the flickering florescent light as possible, and pushed them together to form an awkward conglomerate. Three more friends trickled in over the next ten minutes and placed their orders before joining us. Amid cups of tea and various snacks, the five of us exchanged stories, ideas, and creative struggles. Only two of us had new writing to read to the group, but since we haven’t had a formal meeting in three months, we all had plenty to share.
Our new friend Matt was there for the first time, and while we were talking he asked Adam how the group got started. “Well,” he said, “I just couldn’t do it alone anymore.”
I knew exactly what he meant.
Four years ago, when Adam first emailed me–along with twenty other friends–I was hesitant to jump right in. I’d only met him once, and I didn’t know anyone else on that initial list. But I knew I wanted to write more, and I was tired of trying to find the motivation all by myself. I’d seen how many of my artist friends in the Rabbit Room community looked to each other to hone and sharpen their gifts, so after three or four monthly invitations, I finally worked up the courage to attend.
I’m so glad I did.
Nothing else I’ve done has improved my writing the way being part of this group has, except maybe for editing the online magazine it gave birth to. For one thing, a monthly meeting prompted me to actually try and write something new every month. In the beginning that meant lots of poems, but eventually it led to essays, blog posts, and even short stories, not to mention the one idea I had for a children’s picture book. In fact, let’s not mention that idea at all. My faithful writing friends helped me see how that one really was worthy of the slush pile.
In the beginning we were less likely to say anything negative about each other’s work, but now most of us have a repertoire that allows us to be brutally honest. That’s not to say we’re mean, we just don’t feel like we have to hold back anymore. Any and all comments and questions are welcome in this group. Everyone there wants to become a better writer; we’re all striving to grow in our craft, so we’re able to see these critiques as help.
One of the stories shared at Panera has been a work in progress for over eight years. The idea for the book I’ve been working on first came to me in 2012, and even though Adam has finished his novel, he’s been slowly revising it over the past eight months, for a second time.
And that’s the most encouraging part of being in community with these people. It reminds me that my first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. And that reminder frees me up to keep on trying to write new things. This quote from Walt Wangerin Jr.’s new book, Beate Not the Poore Desk, sums up the idea perfectly:
“At your first pass, sin boldly and fearlessly against the standards of your craft and your own expectations. Then, once you’ve gotten your stride back, return, revise, and grace will cover you.”
Knox Writes is a writing group built on grace, and the cover it gives to its members is the kind that will keeps you warm no matter how cold the weather is outside. So if you’re a writer living in Knoxville, and you need someplace to practice your craft, come join us next month. We’ll meet on the second Saturday at seven, and you can join our Facebook group here to find out where we’re meeting this time. We’d love to make some new friends and see this group grow, even if we have to meet at Panera again.