How my writing community saved my (writing) life – Kamy Wicoff
By Kamy Wicoff
I don’t remember if there was a specific moment when the thought occurred to me: I may never write again. I’m not sure I ever believed that, ever believed that the thing I’d wanted to do, and had been doing, since I was old enough to read was permanently gone. But I do remember the moment it was clear to me that for a while, anyway, I was going to have to find a way to spend my days that didn’t involve working alone and living inside my head the way writing does.♥
It was during the time my now ex-husband and I were “nesting,” that awful, sadistically cozy-sounding term divorce lawyers use when a couple separates by taking turns living in the marital home with their children. Our boys were very young, and on the days and nights I was without them I spent most of my time crying, journaling, and listening to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks on a permanent loop. At least, I thought, I was writing. One night, however, I left my journal out on the patio, and the next morning I woke up to find it soaked through with rainwater, a bedraggled ruin of paper and ink. Seeing my journal that way I knew: I hadn’t been writing all these months. I’d been weeping with my words, and the result was as messy, raw, and anguished as I was. My attempts at writing a second book (my first had come out two years before) had been even less successful. With my heart breaking and my body sick with grief, I hadn’t managed one single coherent page.
I was a writer but I couldn’t write. So who was I? And what was I going to do?
I looked around my life like the survivor of a shipwreck, scanning the ocean in search of something that would keep me afloat. And then I saw it, my lifeline, hiding in plain sight: the salon of women writers I had been hosting for several years with a friend and mentor, Nancy K. Miller. At the salon, women writers of all generations and genres came together five times a year over wine, cheese and chocolate to discuss either the business or the craft of writing. It was a talented, dedicated, generous group of women, and over the years I had seen the relationships formed there have meaningful impact on the lives and careers of all involved. The questions was, what could I do with it? Start a writers conference? A nonprofit devoted to supporting women’s writing? Publish a magazine?
I reached out to an old friend from Stanford, Gina Bianchini. She listened to my ideas, and then, in her characteristically blunt but brilliant way, told me: “Don’t start a f***ing magazine. You have a community. Build on that.” Gina was a bit biased: she’d founded a company called Ning.com that enabled individuals to create their own branded social networks, and that was what she directed me to use. But she had also identified a way I could stay connected to writing while forcing myself out of bed and into the outside world, too. I found a partner, the author Deborah Siegel, and together we built a social network called SheWrites.com. I thought it would simply connect the two hundred or so women writers on my mailing list. Instead, within a week, a thousand women from all around the world had joined us. Five plus years after our founding, more than twenty-five thousand have.
By creating a community online seeded by established writers (the women of the salon included Katha Pollitt, Kathryn Harrison, Gretchen Rubin, Francine Prose and Amy Sohn), I went from being a writer who couldn’t write to being the co-founder of She Writes.com, a worldwide web of women I could communicate with any time of day or night. I wasn’t writing, but I was thinking, reading, and writing about writing every day, cheering members of our community on from the sidelines while I waited for my muse to call me back in to the game. And eventually it happened. One day, in an instant I can still recall, the inspiration for my first novel, Wishful Thinking, hit me.
As a writer, I had come back to life. The nurturing, stimulating universe of She Writes had been my life support, keeping me optimistic, open-minded and engaged when my depression had threatened my creativity most. Not only that, when I announced I needed to step away from the day-to-day operation of the site to be a writer again and asked She Writers for help, more virtual hands went up than I could count. One of them was the executive editor of a major publishing house. Six months into my hiatus she called me, and I agreed to talk, despite the fact that I was attempting to isolate myself completely in my writing cave. “I’m calling because I want to start my own press,” she said. “What would you say to partnering?” I said yes. With that phone call, and a lot of hard work that followed, my community, incredibly, became a publishing company, too. She Writes Press now has more than one hundred books on its list. I am so proud to say that one of them is mine.
Kamy Wicoff is the co founder of SheWrites.com, the world’s largest online community for women who write, and co-founder, with publisher Brooke Warner, of She Writes Press. SheWrites.com and SheWrites Press were acquired in 2014 and are now part of the SparkPoint Studio family. Wicoff’s first book, the best-selling I Do But I Don’t: Why the Way We Marry Matters, was published by Da Capo Press in 2006. She serves on the board of Girls Write Now, a mentoring organisation in New York City. Wicoff lives in Brooklyn with her sons, Max and Jed.