There are workshops for writers of all stripes in the Reno/Tahoe area
Say that you're an author of some sort. You wrote a story or poem, a screenplay, or even a stage play. You've gone from kernel of idea to conception to hard copy in your hand. You've marked up that hard copy and revised, printed out another hard copy, marked that up, and revised. You've had your mother, father, sister, brother or significant other read your work and receive the standard response: “I really liked it. Great job!”
Since you consider yourself a serious writer, you’re feeling a little underfed. You were looking for feedback. You really have no idea whether your work is good or bad. You’ve written for your audience of one, you’ve brought your piece to what you imagine might be somewhere close to the finish line and put something that you yourself would want to read into the world. But how can you take it to the next level? What happens next?
You get some formal training. You change your major to English, much to the chagrin of your CPA mother and father, while attending the University of Nevada, Reno or Truckee Meadows Community College or simply take an entry-level or even advanced creative writing course as an elective. You read a story or poem couched in the point of view of a sentient piece of chewing gum and another about anthropomorphic wolves feuding in medieval kingdoms. Every once in a while you read something from a peer that excites you. Something that challenges you to expand your own margins. Something that calls on you to become a better writer. This is the workshop setting at its best.
But what happens after you graduate? What happens if you didn’t get into that competitive MFA program that costs tens of thousands of dollars a semester? What happens when you no longer have the opportunity to sit in a room with 20 people who are willing to diligently discuss your work and the act and craft of writing itself? What happens if you’re a little too strapped for cash to drop a grand in order to participate in a graduate level workshop at your alma mater?
By and large, it’s a common thing for a group of writers to band together in order to hone their craft outside of the college setting. People pledge to meet once or twice a month and, after two or three meetings, start dropping off. The shorter the member list, the quicker your writing group starts to look like a ghost town. But fear not, burgeoning Reno/Tahoe writers, there are groups that have been meeting for years and even decades right under your nose.
The Reno/Tahoe area was listed as literary borough number 26 in Ploughshares’ online literary blog. Reno and its surrounding areas have a rich literary history. It includes, but is not limited to, Mark Twain’s stay in Virginia City and John Steinbeck’s days as caretaker at Fallen Leaf Lake. (He also worked at a fish hatchery in Tahoe while writing his first novel.) Saul Bellow and Arthur Miller were neighbors at Donner Trail Ranch, which was a “divorce ranch” just minutes outside of Verdi.Workshop around
As for Reno/Tahoe writing groups, the granddaddy of them all is the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. This is a one week event for poets, prose writers, and screenwriters. The organization has been around for over 40 years and boasts famous alumni like Amy Tan and Michael Chabon. The Community offers workshops, one-on-one conferences, lectures, panels, readings, and discussions on craft. Because of the high level of writing, the admissions procedure is competitive. Applications and submissions must have arrived by April 5. Poetry, writer’s workshops, and screenwriting workshops, which take place between mid June and mid July, each cost around $850 and include six evening meals. Lodging will run an additional $325-$650, depending on a person’s willingness to share a room. If the price—which is perfectly reasonable, given what the organization has to offer—is a bit daunting, there are scholarships and financial aid available, should a person qualify. Working various jobs at the conference will also reduce overall fees. Carpooling is available as well.
Some writers may like to meet more often than once a year. The Unnamed Writer’s Group once had a well-established community of writers, meeting the second Saturday of each month at 9 am at Evelyn Mount Community Center. The group has merged with Writers of the Purple Sage to create a new group called High Sierra Writers. Linda Enos can be contacted at 626-0982 for additional information.
If screenwriting is more your form, the Reno Screenwriters is a great starting point. The group began in 2000 with four members and has continued through the years, increasing its member base to around 12 active writers. They meet monthly, and keep an extensive library—possibly the largest in Washoe County—of books on screenwriting as well as full-length screenplays and DVDs. The group requires a pre-screening for people interested, where they will gauge interest and skill level. RSW also offers free consultations as a public service. Each member is required to sign a confidentiality agreement, which will help an aspiring writer be at ease, secure from fear of theft of any sort. Members range in age from early 30s to 70s, some with decades of writing experience. Generally a screenplay is about 120 pages for a two-hour movie, so the group attacks a script in parts, offering advice and critiques along the way. Once the manuscript is where it needs to be, the members will encourage the writer to enter contests, or even hire a professional consultant to assist with a final polish. They also assist with query letters, talking to agents, and pitching ideas. RSW will ensure a screenwriter is “good in a room.” Some of the work generated has piqued interest from Hollywood. The group also organizes one major seminar a year. Group funds and registration fees pay to bring a renowned writer to Reno. Recently, they were able to bring in Bill Martell, who has more than 19 produced films and HBO specials. Pam Dulgar is the contact person and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Poets will have several resources in surrounding areas. Ash Canyon Poets meets once a week, every Friday night from 7-9 p.m. in Carson City. An interested poet can contact Krista Lukas at 392-0500 or email@example.com. The Lone Mountain Writers meet at the Western Nevada Community College often and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writers of any skill level can take advantage of these resources, whether they plan to pursue publication, or simply like to put words on a page, whether a writer is interested in receiving valuable feedback, or sharpening their own critical eye. So much of this process happens in the dark. These organizations can help put your work into the world.