Ernest Hemingway, arguably one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, once said of his craft: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
It’s not quite as melodramatic as Hemingway suggests, but you get the gist of his message. Being a writer can, at times, be frustrating and seem like a futile venture.
Over the years, the Aspen Writers’ Network has grown and expanded its program to become one element of Aspen Words, the literary arm of the Aspen Institute.
Mark Tompkins, a member of the Aspen Writers’ Network steering committee, said the group has met “in various forms” since January 2011. In February 2022, they began hosting monthly meetings at Carbondale’s Bonfire Coffee at 433 Main Street (on the third Thursday at 6:30 p.m.).
Aspen Words “has always considered it important to support writers, Valley-wide. It was a matter of working out exactly how best to do that and how to give them the resources they needed,” Tompkins said.
Deciding to take “the writing life” more seriously, this reporter attended a weekend-long Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference in Aurora last September. No matter the topic of the workshop, one message came through loud and clear — find yourself a writer’s community.
By its very nature, writing is a solitary endeavor. It’s you and a laptop or notebook. The blank screen or page can be intimidating, and lonely. Writers speak a different language — literally — with terms like “agent pitch meetings” and “query letters.” Finding a community of others striving for similar goals, can bring some reassurance that you are not alone.
Fortunately, at that conference, I happened upon fellow Roaring Fork Valley writers, Lindsay DeFrates and Andrea Chacos, who told me about the Aspen Writers’ Network monthly meetings in Carbondale.
Tompkins emphasized, “Primarily, we provide community. They say writing is hard — it’s not coal miner hard, but it’s kind of an emotional hardness, especially if you plan to put [your work] out. Whether you’re writing short or long, fiction or nonfiction, you need a community of like-minded souls to gather and support each other.”
“One of the keys to success this year was Bonfire being willing to donate their space on a regular basis, so that we have a home people can count on,” he added of the mid-valley meeting location in 2022.
The Aspen Writers’ Network steering committee consists of Tompkins, Chacos, DeFrates and Lisanne Rogers. Tompkins said they seek input from group members to determine what kind of presentations are of interest and events are then scheduled accordingly.
Essential organizational support comes from Ivy Chalmers, Aspen Words program coordinator, who provides assistance with, for example, the logistics for bringing in an agent or author to give a presentation to the group.
“It’s a very friendly, supportive and diverse group,” Tompkins shared, and the first meeting is at no charge to decide whether or not it is right for you. The next step to join is to become a member of Aspen Words, whose annual membership fee is $150. However, Tompkins emphasized, financial assistance is available if someone is unable to pay.
Another eccentricity of many writers is starting writing projects, but being unable to make it across the finish line. “Without that community, it’s hard to get through writing projects on a regular basis,” Tompkins explained.
He noted that they do not facilitate writing review groups. He said, “That is something that requires a commitment to both read and provide work on a regular basis. Review groups are better when they’re small, but we do help people start those if anybody wants to start one.”
For me, by joining the Aspen Writers’ Network, I have found “my writer peeps,” which, to some degree, brings me the peace of mind to face the blank computer screen, knowing I have colleagues who speak the same language of writing.
For more information about the Aspen Writers’ Network, visit www.aspenwords.org/programs/aspen-writers-network