Have you ever wanted to improve your writing through amazing writing classes, participate in absorbing literary events, and meet other fascinating authors, poets, journalists, essayists and wordsmiths? Look no further than The Porch in Nashville, Tennessee. The Porch is a nonprofit writing center, offering workshops, youth outreach, and events to enrich and celebrate the local literary community.
Today on the blog, we’re sitting down with Susannah Felts, co-founder and co-director of The Porch to learn more about what it takes to run a successful writers collective, and how this organization improves not only the individual writing craft of its participants, but elevates the literary community as a whole.
1). What is The Porch? What do you do?
The Porch is a nonprofit literary arts organization, founded in 2014, and our mission is to inspire, educate, and connect readers and writers of all ages and stages through classes and literary events. We offer classes in creative writing year-round, a youth program, public community events, initiatives to expand literary access, local arts partnerships, and the Porch Prize, a writing contest. There’s always something going on!
2). How did The Porch originate, and how did you get involved?
The Porch was founded by myself and Katie McDougall in 2014. We met in a writing group at a moment when both of us were ready for a new challenge, and we shared enthusiasm about the idea of a local literary center for Nashvillle. Prior to founding the Porch, Katie was teaching high-school English and I worked as freelance writer/editor and adjunct college professor. For several years before The Porch came to be, I was also teaching writing workshops in the community on my own, held at a coffee shop near my house (shout-out to Portland Brew East!) or around my dining room table. That small-scale effort was going really well, and I kept thinking, This could be something more, something bigger. But how? Katie had dabbled in offering writing retreats, too. So, together, we made this new thing happen, taking a lot of inspiration and advice from helpful mentors: local arts organizations and established literary centers in other cities.
3). What are the benefits of being involved in a writers community like The Porch? How have you seen writers evolve and grow?
Writers, like all artists/creators, need community. You may do the bulk of the work alone at your desk, but the sharing of ideas and feedback and resources that happens in a writing community is what really shapes a writing life. So many sparks fly this way. Writers connect in ways that can both move their work forward and help them navigate the waters of the publishing world, if they choose to wade in. Work evolves, lasting friendships are forged, audiences are found. Art is never really forged in isolation. We’ve seen many writers form lasting writing groups and relationships after taking our classes, and we’ve seen them publish and enter MFA programs. This spring we have someone teaching for us whom we first met when they took a class with us. They went on to earn an MFA out of state, and now they’re back! I love seeing the work come full circle. Seven years in, we’ve seen so many writing lives evolve and intersect in wonderful ways.
4). The Porch organizes a diverse array of literary events and initiatives. What kind of planning and work goes into creating your events? What advice would you give to fellow writers who want to successfully organize and/or participate in an event?
I love this question, because a lot more planning and work goes into running events and programs that some may believe! There are several stages and moving parts to even a small event, and all along you’re hoping to build relationships that will continue to grow long after a single event is complete. It takes a lot of love and effort and stamina to program and to keep programs going. Advice? Start small, and give yourself as much time to plan an event as you can. Collaboration is a beautiful thing, but maybe be mindful not to bring too many cooks into the kitchen. But above all, just learn as you go, and know that you’re going to make mistakes and that is absolutely a healthy part of the process.
If you’re eager to participate in an event — for example, to read in a regular reading series — try to be an enthusiastic audience member first. Show up for others, listen to and read their work. Be a genuine part of the world you want to see your work highlighted in, and the rest will probably come naturally.
5). In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?
Being a successful writer means figuring out what feeds your creative spirit and then consistently doing and thinking about those things, then acting on that “source material” to create work that matters to you. I could go on at length about this, but there are all kinds of ways, small and large, that you can shape your life to make it more conducive to writing, and doing that in itself is a kind of success. You don’t have to write every day, but some level of consistency will make a huge difference; as with other practices of all kinds, it pays to use those muscles regularly. Being a successful writer means reading, reading, reading, and learning to see books as your mentors, as Katie always says. Don’t confuse a successful writing life with a successful publishing life; these often intertwine, but they are two separate things. And try not to get too hung up on the idea of success at all. “Success” is such an emotionally loaded concept, and not always a useful one for a creative life. Much of a writing life feels or looks or smells like failure — is failure — and honestly, you have to be OK with that.
Chelsea is a copywriter, editor, publicist, and content creator at Books Forward, an author publicity and book marketing firm committed to promoting voices from a diverse variety of communities. From book reviews and author events, to social media and digital marketing, we help authors find success and connect with readers. Interested in what’s possible for your book sales and building readership? Check out our services, tell us your goals, and get a customized publicity campaign tailored just for you.