Wordsmith Studio, an Appreciation

I'm taking a break from talking about books this week to celebrate an anniversary. Last year at this time I participated in Robert Lee Brewer's Platform Challenge: How to Build (or Improve) Your Writer Platform in 30 Days. Each day in April 2012, he posted an assignment and explanation on his My Name Is Not Bob blog. I am a writer as well as a reader, and writers these days are told they must have the dreaded P-word. However, details of what it actually means to have a platform are pretty fuzzy, so Robert's challenge came at a good time for me.

Each day I and others pushed ourselves, sometimes far outside our comfort zone, to complete the assignment. In the comments section of each blog post, we documented not only our accomplishments, but also our questions and confusion and fears. In further comments we comforted each other and shared what we knew, always supplemented by Robert's encouraging and clarifying comments. Many of the tasks I'd already done—joining Facebook, starting a blog—while others I hadn't yet attempted. I learned a lot during that month, but what came afterwards really astounded me.

The group of us who came through the challenge continued to stick together, following each other on Facebook and Google+, connecting on LinkedIn and GoodReads, commenting on each other's blog posts, continuing the Twitter chats—all assignments from the Challenge originally that took on a life of their own. We decided to formalize the group, originally naming ourselves the Not-Bobbers and then—returning Robert's name to him—Wordsmith Studio. People created a Facebook page, a Google community and a website. We've continued to use these fora to stay in touch, ask and answer questions, celebrate successes, and commiserate with the inevitable rejections.

If I have a mission driving my various activities, it is to build community by bringing people together and finding common ground. Writing and reading are a compelling way to do that, sharing our stories, seeing the world through someone else's eyes. But I never expected a community like this! Before this year I would not have believed that a group of men and women who had never met in 3D (as one of my friends says) could form a community as tight as any I've been a part of.

Why does it work? Because of everyone's openness. In the original challenge, any competitive instinct was set aside as we helped each other untangle the technology and confront our doubts. We wrote openly in the comments to Robert's blog posts about the dread that comes with attempting new territory. Then we continued to write blogs and Facebook/Google+ posts about our struggles as writers.

The only reason it's continued to work, though, is because people volunteered to be part of the Steering Committee. People set up the fora mentioned above, as well as twice-weekly Twitter chats, a couple of virtual book clubs, and the beginnings of critique groups. This is one community that I had very little hand in creating, so I want to take this opportunity to thank all those volunteers who made it happen.

Members of the group have enjoyed tremendous successes this year, winning blog awards, getting published. I myself have a new collection of poetry, Terrarium, coming out in May 2013. I've been invited to speak about my memoir, Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother at festivals, bookstores, libraries, universities and book clubs. I've continued to lead memoir-writing workshops and will be teaching an extended, week-long version at Common Ground on the Hill in July 2013. I've also taken what I've learned about book promotion over the last few years and created a workshop which I've been presenting. So it's been a sensational year for all of us wordsmiths.

The good news is that Wordsmith Studio has opened to new members. You don't need to have participated in Robert's Platform Challenge to join. Check us out here.

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