When You Engage in Some Good Old Literary Citizenship Because, Really, You Just Want New Writer Friends with Whom To Bitch About Publishing


I was at my very first HippoCamp last year when I told Lisa Romeo my hopes and dreams, because she was the only person there that I knew, and so she was stuck with me. I told her I wanted to find the New Jersey equivalent of Girls Write Now, a mentoring program for teen girls who want to write, because I love the work they do and would get involved if only I didn’t have to cross into NYC in order to do so. I also lamented my lack of local writer-friends. I knew there were other writers in the area. But where were they? And why weren’t they friends with meeeee???

Which is how I found myself at the Montclair Literary Festival last weekend, working the children’s room at the Montclair Public Library as a representative of the Writers Circle.

The Writers Circle (TWC) is a local writing community that offers a number of workshops and other events throughout the year. Lisa was good enough to introduce me to the awesome ladies behind TWC and, earlier this year, I taught two, 11-week classes for them: one on memoir, and another on writing as a tool for advocacy. Later this month, I’ll be starting another class on short-form creative nonfiction and, this coming summer, I’ll be doing a one-hour workshop for their creative writing intensive for teens.

But for now, me and several other TWC teachers were in the children’s room at the library, raffling off free classes and leading younger kids in a variety of games. I was sitting at a table with five kids, ranging in age from 5(ish?) – 9, using TWC’s Story Magic deck to help them write their own stories.

The deck contained various types of cards: some with character attributes… others with plot twists, some of them quasi-realistic and others more preposterous. It was a hoot to see how the kids used the prompts to create their stories.

The two youngest girls were writing newbies, so they mostly copied down the words they saw on the cards, after first asking me what they meant. “The boat got stranded in the Antarctic,” I read. “What do you think she did next?” I asked. “Left the boat!” one of the girls said, and I helped her spell out the words she needed. “Dark clouds covered the entire planet,” said the next card. “What happened then?” I asked. “She fell asleep!” said the girl. After both girls wrote down their stories, they ran off with their papers, eager to show their parents.

A 7-year-old boy and his 9-year-old sister sat catty-corner from each other. The girl wrote without hesitation, lush descriptions flowing from her pencil in a rush. “I’ve been thinking about this story since this morning,” she told me. Her brother picked a card from the pile of character attributes. “Oh, I know this one,” he said. “I should write about my sister!” He flipped the card toward me so I could see it. “Arrogant,” it read. ::snort::

Another girl sat in silence the entire time, her face serious, intent on what she was writing. I was impressed. At the age of 36, I still have trouble focusing on my work even when at home, only producing a line or two at a pop.

When it came time for me to leave so I could catch a reading in another part of the library, I was somewhat reluctant to do so. Writing stories with those kids was one of the most gratifying things I’d done in awhile.

Two days later, a friend and I met at a local cafe for the Halfway There Reading Series, a newish local series featuring a mix of established and emerging writers in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Among those reading that night were Melissa Febos, whose memoir, Whip Smart, I had read the year before, and Marcy Dermansky, whose most recent novel, The Red Car, had been getting a lot of buzz. It was a great mix of writers, all of whom were terrific at playing the crowd. The Q+A at the end was a lot of fun (“It takes me three years, give or take, to write a book,” said Febos, “with time off for therapy”) and I ended up purchasing two of Dermansky’s earlier novels, so compelled was I by her reading.

Around the room were other TWC teachers (including Lisa, of course; she can’t get rid of me); one of the women from my weekly critique group; and a former colleague from my days in academic publishing.

Not even a year had passed since I’d first told Lisa of the things I’d been wishing for, and it seemed I was finally building my own, little writing community.

I’ve always loved writing, because it is a career that plays directly into my introverted and isolationist nature.

But this? This balance? This is even better.

P.S. I recently revived my Tiny Letter, Thunder Thighs. For monthly linkage on women’s health, sexuality, cats, and more, sign up here.


  1. You know how to get to a girl!

  2. Steph, I’m so happy that TWC is making such a difference in your life. Thank you for all you do.


  1. […] This blog post was originally published on TWC Instructor Steph Auteri‘s blog. We are publishing this extract from it with permission. View the full post here. […]