23 October 2014

Meetup.com and No Truer Hearts: A fortuitous feedback loop that began on 9/11

This is a story about reaching out, finding kindred spirits and expressing gratitude. And it began on 9/11.

After the horror and shock and pain of the attacks, something amazing happened. People reached out. People asked for help and asked if they could help. This empathetic impulse of the heart expressed itself in millions of ways, from the moment the wounded staggered from the wreckage of the Twin Towers, to weeks and months later. New York City was hardest hit, and its people responded with the greatest displays of kindness and generosity. A big city of mostly strangers became smaller, friendlier,  more caring.

Enter Matt Meeker and Scott Heiferman, a couple of tech-savvy entrepreneurs angling for a new project. They felt the time was right after 9/11 for the Internet to become a tool for making human connections. Meetup.com was born. Today it has thousands of meetup groups with millions of members whose interests range from hiking, to speaking French, to writing. Which is how I found the Arlington Writers Group (AWG). In 2010, about a year after Beverly's death, I was going through a big, big personal crisis. My best friend left me (she was also my wife), and for a long stretch I felt very alone, more isolated than usual in my writing life.

I started to attend meetings of AWG mainly for professional reasons: to find other writers who could help me in my work through critiques, contacts, information and skill-sharpening. I found all this and more. Being around the mix of individuals in the group was good for my soul. Some of the writers were just starting out, hesitant, even, to call themselves writers. Others, like me, had been around the block a few times. There were novelists, science fiction writers, poets and the odd non-fiction writer. But everyone loved to write, wanted to get better, and gave of their skills and insights when it was time to offer critiques of our works.

Which brings us to last night. I submitted the first ten pages Chapter 3 of No Truer Hearts to the group for critique. When the session was over, I breathed a sigh of relief (the reaction was generally positive) and felt a wave of gratitude (people offered some helpful suggestions). A couple of comments stuck out, making me feel I was on the right track. Several people said they didn't know I'd written the chapter and thought it was written by a woman (!). This is high praise. The chapter is about Beverly's high school years, so I feel I have succeeded in inhabiting the world of an all-girl Catholic high school. Others didn't realize it was a biography, and said the chapter "reads like a novel." Which is exactly how creative non-fiction is supposed to read. Yay!

Not every comment was positive, but I took them all to heart and will employ them as I polish the manuscript over the coming months, turning it from something rough into a shiny bit of biography. I'm glad I found this particular meetup group. We are kindred spirits, working often in solitary obscurity, but getting together once a week to share our works, our suggestions, our critiques and our praise. So here's to the talented, persistent, bright and brave scribblers of AWG, and to all who have found kindred spirits in the wake of 9/11.


thierry said...

Tony: It was both a privilege and a pleasure to read your pages. As you know, I can at time be acerbic about my fellow writers' output. I could find nothing but praise for the excerpt you allowed us to read. As a somewhat famous writer's somewhat famous character once said, please sir, I want more.

Anthony Toth... said...

Thanks, Thierry, for your kind words. There will be more, much more. With music!