Friday, March 6, 2015

12 Easy Tips: How To Create Something From Nothing - WordsWest Literary Series

C and P Coffee Company - The Heart of West Seattle  
I promised a follow-up posting with a do-it-yourself attitude and here it is. I'd originally thought of 10 tips but here are 12 for the same price. Enjoy!

1.  Collaborate with  friends -- old and new. Although I've longed for a reading series in my neighborhood for years and had even entertained starting one, I didn't do it. I knew beginning and maintaining a literary series would be a heavy work load on top of everything else in my life. At another friend's reading I met Katy Ellis; we liked each other immediately and both lamented the literary desert of West Seattle - our neighborhood.

Katy followed up with an email and we started brainstorming names for our project. WordsWest Literary Series was born! Katy's daughter provided our very cool logo. Harold Taw joined us within a couple of weeks. Harold is an old friend whom I first met at C and P Coffee where we now hold our series. It's a serendipitous life. And it takes three to do all that we do.

2. Location, location, location. Katy and I tossed around a few ideas for spaces and decided that C and P Coffee Company was our first choice. An independent coffee shop in the heart of West Seattle, with a stage and large offering of community events already in place, seemed ideal. Before WordsWest had had even one event, the community already knew and loved "our" space. It also has been invaluable that the owners, Peter and Cam, are supportive of our project in multiple ways.

3. Rock stars and new talent. Our readers have ranged from a New York Times bestselling novelist, to the Washington State Poet Laureate, to a wildly talented writer who has yet to publish: Jennie Shortridge, Elizabeth Austen, Rick Barot, Karen Finneyfrock, Jennier Munro, and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha are just a few of our stars. We want to be the series where the community comes out because they trust that we will provide excellent readers. We've consistently had large audiences so it seems to be working.

Jennie Shortridge and Frances McCue answer questions at WordsWest

4. Be different. Seattle has a multitude of reading series all over the city (just not in West Seattle). What could we offer that was slightly new? Simple. We created the series we'd like to read at. The readings create a "living anthology" with each writer reading for a few minutes and then the next author reads creating a braided effect. (One writer choses a friend to read with.) There's free snacks for all (wine available for sale) books are sold via Square which allows listeners the option to binge buy, and every reader leaves with a commemorative coffee mug. What writer doesn't need another coffee mug? Lately, we've also been able to offer honorariums thanks to Poets and Writers grant program.

5. Internet, internet, internet. From the beginning we set-up a web presence. We use a free web design service and have a dedicated Facebook page. Anyone with a web connection can check out our schedule and find out about the writers that we invite. We also have a mailing list and many on the list share the WordsWest schedule with their own writing groups.

6. Lights, camera, action! And we even have a clapboard. Yes, each event is videotaped and audio taped. The three of us invested in a professional quality recording device and the results are fantastic. One of us (Harold) taught himself a film editing program and so each writer also receives links to their evening's performance. The podcasts and films are archived on our site here just look to the righthand margin.

7. Be generous. Send thank you notes; let the writers know that their work was important - quote back to them something that moved you. One writer we hosted had not yet published a book so we helped her to have a broadside made of her poem so she'd have something to sell. She, in turn, wanted the proceeds to go to the Middle East Children's Alliance. One generous act allowed for many that followed. We raised about $300 that evening. Not bad for our second event!

8. Ask for what you want. We needed to learn this and it's a lesson that always needs refreshing. We needed to ask C and P Coffeehouse if we could use their gorgeous space; we needed to ask again for a dedicated night so we could plan our programming three months in advance and line-up top writers; we needed to ask for grant money for writers because we firmly believe artists should be paid for their time and their talent. And the amazing thing? The community has answered with a warm yes!

9. Keep it fresh. Did I mention that we all work? Two of us have young children? All three of us are published and publishing writers? In other words, what motivates us to give so much time and effort to this project? We need to keep inventing and creating new avenues of joy. For example, in June we will host our first kids WordsWest inviting local children's book authors whose work is award winning. There will be cookies and milk and involvement of the local schools. We're planning a one year anniversary special event and looking for more projects that push the boundaries next year.

10. If you build it they will come -- think community. From the beginning we decided to involve the entire West Seattle community by adding the national Favorite Poem Project into our program. Each month, an independent local business is invited to read their favorite poem as part of the reading. We've had the local food co-op reading Pablo Neruda and a local massage therapist reading Sharon Olds. These events are advertised on our posters, website, and press releases.

11. Have fun; make magic. At one of our first events there was a moment when I looked over at Harold behind the camera and Katy, behind the bookseller's table and they looked back. We knew we had created something amazing. 60+ people on a Wednesday night -- -people of wildly diverse backgrounds (plus two babies and one dog) listening with rapt attention to poetry.

12. Be your best self. With three different people writing grants, choosing authors, making a 101 small decisions with big ramifications there is no room for ego. If one person needs to be away, the other two fill in for them. I can't imagine working with two more intelligent, open-hearted, and dedicated people. We know we are building something bigger than we are. I learn from my two co-conspirators every month. Our work pushes me to be my best self.

No comments:

Post a Comment