In 2010, I returned to America to start writing freelance, full-time. I knew the life I was getting into — a local writer, Spike Gillespie, gave me some sage advice about it in college. “If you’re okay with being kinda poor and alone most of the time, then go for it,” I remember her saying, winking at me from the podium.
It’s true; a lot of the writing process is isolated. Yet, that doesn’t mean that writers themselves should become isolated.
The greatest works of literature didn’t happen in a vacuum, and Justine Tal Goldberg knows it. She’s one of the founders of WriteByNight, a writing-cum-community center for writers of every level in Austin that’s celebrating its second year.
“There’s a romanticized notion of the ‘haunted writer’, struggling alone with their beret and cigarette,” Goldberg says. “But there’s more to it. It’s healthier to be out in the world, meeting other writers.”
WBN benefits writers in a number of invaluable ways, beyond a free workspace. They provide essential services, from the basic (copyediting and consultations) to the complex (book design or coaching). They’re services that some writers don’t know the value of, or have perhaps forgotten, as so much work is published today without editing.
“When you pick up a good book, it looks easy,” Goldberg says. She knows the best writing, from news articles to novels, is the result of much careful revision. “A lot of people don’t understand that.”
In the past, a freelancer could perform these services; however, it can be a gamble for many writers to work remotely with an editor they’ve never met. Goldberg tells me about one client who initially was skeptical of their services because of a past experience with a remote editor.
“He said when he got his manuscript back, it was like a 3-year-old had sat down with [it],” she said. It was covered with incoherent scribbles that hurt his writing more than it helped, and in the end, the client wasted thousands of dollars and rejected the changes. Now, he (and his wife, too) work happily with a WBN editor.
You ever hear of a literary movement that one guy started? No.
WBN’s employees are not only educated and published, but also actively working in different areas of the field. Along with editing, clients have access to their deep pool of industry knowledge. Goldberg, an award-winning author and freelancer herself, works to educate hopeful writers about the finer points of getting their work published, which can usually only be gleaned from years of work as a freelancer.
But more than offering practical services, WBN is carving out a place for writers to collaborate, socialize and network. “There aren’t many outlets for aspiring writers who opt not to pursue an MFA to continue seeking camaraderie and peer support beyond their undergraduate years,” said Amanda Smith, a hopeful writer said. “But WBN filled that gap for me.”
At a recent mixer, writers packed the polished, echoey loft space in East 6th Street's IBIZ district, spilling out onto to porches while swilling drinks and swapping stories, job leads and business cards. A variety of workshops, which can be seen on their event calendar, give writers and editors an environment to debate and discuss pressing questions: How do I approach self-publishing? How do I conquer writers’ block? What am I supposed to be charging for this?
Young writers, too, can attend their Second Saturday writing sessions, which are a collaborative creation with BadgerDog Literary Publishing. Innovative topics, like graphic novels and horror writing, aim to get children more excited about writing.
Partnerships with non-profits like BadgerDog are the first step in creating a much-needed dialogue between the segmented writing communities in Austin, according to Goldberg. Before transplanting the business from Florida, she and her partner David Duhr couldn’t help but notice that literary organizations in Austin didn’t seem to be talking. Even though non-profits like The Bat Cave or the Writer’s League all have different goals, Goldberg feels collaboration is important for community and unity.
Goldberg is almost giddy about the momentum WBN is gaining, listing off their 2011 accomplishments with a flushed pride. How did they know it would do well? Goldberg and Duhr didn’t copy a business; WBN is completely unique. Not to mention they’re targeting the poorest, most reclusive creative industry audience.
“You ever hear of a literary movement that one guy started?” Goldberg asks. “No.”
In the end, man is and always will be a social animal, seeking inspiration and companionship from his peers. Because after the initial enchantment of writing wears off, you’re met with the cold reality that Spike Gillespie warned about: hours alone, engaged in work.
WriteByNight is located at 1305 E. 6th Street, Suite 4. They can be reached at 512.322.5242 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.