Once upon a time I had a friend who was writing her first novel, and somewhere in the second draft she got a terrible craving for a writers group. I was fresh off my very first residency at an artists colony, a few weeks at MacDowell, and I was missing the fellowship of writers, too. She assembled a mixed bag—another novelist, a non-fiction writer, a playwright (me), a poet, and a short-story specialist and we got together to read our stuff. That first meeting was giddy. None of us had ever been in a writers group before, the closest experience like it being college classes, and we were thrilled to have found each other via Christine the Budding Novelist.
Now the second meeting…
I walked in to the second meeting to find that everyone was there already, and Christine’s best novelist buddy seemed really upset. Christine was trying to placate her or reassure her or something but that went to hell when I showed up because it seems that I was the problem. This young lady, whose name I have forever forgotten, spun at me and yelled, “YOU went to MacDowell!?!? How the hell did YOU get into MacDowell!??!”
Folks I was 27 the first time I went to The MacDowell Colony, and yes, that’s young to score your first residency there but not unheard of. And no, I wasn’t (and am not) famous, and no, I didn’t (and don’t) have any family connections or a powerful agent or scads of money, etc. etc. I was interrogated about these supposed but nonexistent advantages at high speed and high volume by Miss Pissed-Off Novelist for about 10 minutes, but it ended where it began: “How did YOU get in!?!” And I answered her honestly:
All the fricking air went out of the room. Miss Pissed, of course, had never filled out the application (and scraped up the fee, yes there’s a fee, though I got to go for free). This won’t be news to any artist reading this, but you don’t generally get opportunities you do not ask for. You are expected to apply. To show up. To ask. To fill out the form and write the essay and get the recommendation and generally make yourself available. I never asked The MacDowell Colony or anyone else to intuit my existence and come looking for me.
So as my early rejections come in this month and I keep my fingers crossed on the theaters I haven’t heard from yet (No News Is Good News in February), I remind myself through my disappointment that I tried. I disagree with Yoda on this—there most certainly is TRY. There’s lots and lots and lots of try. I keep giving it my best shot and often the answer is no but sometimes, glorious sometimes, the answer is Yes! And how fun is that?
That was the last meeting of that writers group. No, that was the last meeting I was invited to. Christine the Budding Novelist mournfully admitted that they’d met a few times after that, but each time the other writers came with old assignments from college writing courses that maybe they’d revise and send out but once that trove of old stuff was exhausted the group dissolved because only Christine was actually writing anything at present.
Christine gathered her courage, applied to The MacDowell Colony, and asked me for a recommendation, which I happily wrote for her. I did warn her that my recommendation wasn’t going to count for a whole lot. And I did warn her that applying for an August slot was a huge long shot because all the writers who work in academia apply for the summer months. You want in? Pro tip: apply to hang out in New Hampshire during the winter and you increase your odds.
She didn’t get in. And she never spoke to me again. It’s OK. I’ve made tougher friends. And I am a tough friend. I love your good fortune. Thank you for loving mine. Let’s get this.