Thursday, January 7, 2010

For writers, a house of our own!

There's something to the synergy of place and creativity. Take writing, my own chosen creative outlet. It seems to me that if one has the true wish to write, and you give that person a place that allows the head some space in which to roam, that also offers the essential supports of coffee, bathrooms, and that great ineffability, the right atmosphere, there go the words down on the page.

Give that person the support of other writers and you've got about as perfect a writerly spot as this sweet old world can offer. 

Rachel Unkefer is Vice President and a founding member of Charlottesville's WriterHouse (interior, pictured above), which in this blogger's opinion, is just such a place. It functions as a kind of non-resident writer's colony for anyone within driving distance who wants to write.

I asked Rachel how WriterHouse came to be, and this is what she said:
Our writing group met at coffeehouses for a few years and just found it too noisy and public, so we decided there should be a place in Charlottesville where writers could meet and talk about writing, hold classes and host literary events. We rented a space and opened it up in May of 2008, not knowing whether this was our own quirky vision or whether others would share it. After a year and a half we now have more than 150 members. For me personally the payoff is making new friends and seeing lots of people connect with each other. Along the way I manage to work on my own book and if it's ever published I have an automatic group of several hundred friends to celebrate with.
On Tuesday night, WriterHouse members and guests got together to celebrate the publication of member Laura Bynum's first book, the futuristic novel, Veracity. 

Veracity's publication has a back story that I thought would interest WMRA's own community of listeners and writers, so I asked Rachel to send me something about it for this blog. And also to send me a bit more about WriterHouse in general. And here's what she wrote:

When Laura Bynum phoned WriterHouse one day last spring and explained to Board Member Burnley Hayes that she needed a place to do the final rounds of editing on her novel Veracity, it seemed like a routine call. One of the services WriterHouse offers its members is secure, quiet writing space with a 24/7 access option. As the rest of the story unfolded, Burnley realized it wasn't quite so routine. Laura had been diagnosed with breast cancer on the same day her book had been contracted for publication by Pocket Books (a division of Simon and Schuster), and she was now commuting from Culpeper to undergo radiation treatment at Martha Jefferson Hospital. She needed to keep going on her book to meet the publisher's deadline and also to keep her focused on something other than her disease.
Laura became a member of WriterHouse and began spreading her manuscript out on the floor of one of the writing rooms, holing up for hours at a time to work out the complex chronology of her speculative fiction story. She finished her editing on deadline, beat her cancer, and on January 5th, the WriterHouse community celebrated the publication of Veracity. Because that's really what WriterHouse is—a community.
A lot of people hesitate to join WriterHouse because they don't need a place to write, and I tell those people they're missing the point. It's not just a place to write, it's a community that revolves around writing. It's a gathering place for meeting other writers and commiserating about the work; it’s a place to learn from each other and from instructors with MFAs, visiting authors, literary agents, and journal editors; it's a place where people get to know each other well enough to ask "would you mind reading my story and telling me what you think?" It's also a place where, even if you have a perfectly good writing space in your house, you might get more done because you've made an appointment with yourself to go somewhere specifically to work on your writing with no phone, laundry, chores or family to interrupt you.
It's a place where we celebrate each others' success. Our motto is "any excuse for champagne," so we were ecstatic about hosting a launch party for one of our own. A few dozen gathered on the 5th to hear Laura read from her book and tell her inspiring story, and raise a glass to launch her book into the world. We hope this is the only the first of many members' books we will launch at WriterHouse.

About Rachel, herself. In a previous life she was co-founder and CEO of Silicon Valley-based technical bookstore chain Computer Literacy Bookshops. She is currently looking for a literary agent for her first novel and working on the second draft of her second novel. Her story, "Remote Control," won first place in the 2009 Hook Short Story Contest.

Here's a link to WriterHouse's very tempting website. Lucky Charlottesville writers to have, not just Virginia Woolf's room, but a whole house of their own!


  1. Oh man, such a wonderful idea/place! What about a writer's house in Harrisonburg?

  2. Works for me. Any ideas, anyone? Should we have a meeting?