Here, in DC, I have many lovely and supportive writer-friends, and many wonderful and encouraging gay and lesbian friends, but I know—really know—no gay or lesbian friends who write seriously. Last week, I spent seven days at the Lambda Writers’ Retreat at UCLA getting to know many amazing LGBT writers and learning even more about craft in my workshop on genre fiction led by Katherine V. Forrest, a pioneer lesbian mystery writer and editor.
I’ve been in and out of a lot of fiction workshops and literary communities, and frankly, before I arrived at LA, I was worried that this experience would be no different. By this point—after cycling through both undergraduate and graduate writing workshops, which for the most part confused and befuddled me—I’d written off that sort of experience. I craved direct instruction on craft, something I’d never had in a fiction workshop. I’ve been critiqued out of my mind by my peers, but never explicitly lectured to about the do’s and don’t’s of craft. For the most part, I’ve had to figure out craft on my own. Thank God for Katherine! For the first part of the workshop, she offered concrete guidelines on writing genre fiction. Then, when we began critiquing novel excerpts, I had the most supportive and honest workshop I’ve ever experienced. It was downright therapeutic for me.
What amazed me the most about the Retreat, however, was that so many people with so many different backgrounds, inclinations, and identifiers could come together and support one another without the uneasy undercurrent of competition. I know this sounds a bit sentimental—believe me WASPy stoicism runs deep in my blood—but what I witnessed was a community of people whose first impulse was to love and accept one another, not be suspicious of one another. Perhaps, it’s just that I’ve lived in DC too long, but that experience was really unique for me. It has a lot to do with the strength of the LGBT community and with the way Lambda Literary is getting things right.
Writers and artists of all types need to support one another like this more often—but as it becomes increasing competitive to publish, this sort of experience, I imagine, will become even rarer. My hope is that, in the future, MFA programs and the like will begin seeing that part of their responsibility to their students is to help them form a strong sense of community.
Ultimately writing is a solitary experience, but being a writer doesn’t have to be.