Writers are often imagined as solitary beings shrouded in cigarette smoke and lost in thought. One sees a writer furiously typing at their desks, no hesitation or doubt in their minds, as they compose their Great American novels. One would suffice that the act of writing is as easy as pie.
But this isn’t always the truth. Sometimes the hardest thing for writers to do is to write. We talk about our writing, we sit at our desks to think about our writing, but the act is absent. Writers often need a nudge, a place to curate and strengthen our ideas. Rachel Poy, president of Jersey City Writers, knows this well. Jersey City Writers is a non-profit community for writers to gather, based in Hudson County. I had the pleasure of speaking with Poy to discuss the nudge she needed to begin her writing career, her position at Jersey City Writers, and its overall mission as a non-profit.
When Did You Start Writing?
I was turning 40 and I was starting to realize you sound a little bit silly if you keep telling people that you’re going to be a writer [and then never write]. So I panicked and I started writing two novels at once. On my BlackBerry. I had no idea what I was doing. But at least I knew enough to know that I had no idea what I was doing.
How Did You Initially Cross Paths With Jersey City Writers?
After the realization of having no idea what I was doing, I looked for help. A quick Google search led me to the original group. Jersey City Writers had existed a couple of years before my involvement and Jim DeAngelis’ involvement. We met once a week for exactly one hour. At least that’s what they were doing once we had joined. And one thing led to another and suddenly Jim and I were co-organizers.
What Kind of Changes Did The Group Go Through Once You and Jim Were Involved?
We were the ones that started to sort of hone it to what people wanted it to be. In other words, people didn’t just want to sit around and write for one hour and not talk. They wanted to interact. They wanted to go over their work. They wanted to just explore the path of writing in any way they could.
So we started on Tuesdays and that grew into workshopping one week and then doing writing prompts the following week. And we would alternate between those two things. Then that got popular enough so we extended it to Thursdays. Jersey City Writers [began meeting in] co-working spaces instead of restaurants and bars. We went on like that for almost ten years and then we became a non-profit about two years ago.
What Is It About The Community Setting, Let’s Say, That’s Better Than Writing Your Novel on Your BlackBerry?
Writing can be a lonely sport, but it doesn’t have to be. We give them a community. Jersey City Writers is a place where you can have people critique your work and get honest feedback. We also keep [writers] accountable by being consistent with our scheduling and our programming. It keeps them consistent with their work.
You can have the greatest novel in your head but it means nothing unless you write it down.
I Believe That.
And then edit it, as I am learning. I’m learning to edit myself better and that’s a really tough thing.
What Do You Believe Jersey City Writers Can Do (Has Done) For Local Writers? And The Community?
Jersey City Writers seeks to create a nurturing and inclusive creative environment. We believe writers benefit most from uplifting support and constructive criticism. We believe in the equality of writing and writers. We open our doors to writers of every experience level, every style, and every genre.
How Has The Current Pandemic Impacted Jersey City Writers?
We had to do a hard and fast pivot to online programming. So far, so good. It’s taught us that we can connect our writers in the online space. It’s given us a new way to serve the community.
Do You Believe The Pandemic Has Shown Us Why People Need Writers And Artists?
I feel like it just shows how we need each other. Everything is online now and you need words for that, right? But you also need images and music. We need art. We just really need other people.
I remember the first couple weeks of the pandemic, months actually, you didn’t leave your house much except to get groceries, and it was suddenly [important to be online and in that space] connecting with people again. The arts are the lifeblood of a dynamic community whether you meet on your street or in cyberspace.
Are There Any Events at Jersey City Writers Coming Up?
We have several online workshops that writers can register for. On Monday (9/28), we’re offering a 65-minute morning meditation led by Jersey City-based writer, Nancy Mendez-Booth. On Tuesday (9/29), Sara Stone is hosting our writing prompt exercise inspired by Allen Ginsberg. And lastly, writers can join Jim DeAngelis on Thursday (10/01) for three writing prompts focused on getting your work published.