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The Speakeasy Message Forum
One of the ways pw.org helps creative writers stay connected is through the Speakeasy Message Forum (www.pw.org/speakeasy), which has been a central meeting place for writers since 1996. We asked one of the Speakeasy’s longtime users, David M. Harris, to describe what goes on there.
| The Numbers Behind
Number of years
since the Speakeasy
| Number of topical
in the first year: 989
registered users as
of this writing: 35,695
My wife is jealous of the Speakeasy.
You can understand why. I have been regularly visiting the Speakeasy for longer than I’ve been with my wife. I have formed relationships in the Speakeasy, and while I don’t think of them as close in the ordinary sense, my friends and I do poke our noses into one of the most intimate parts of one another’s lives: our writing.
It doesn’t take long, hanging around this particular corner of cyberspace, before you get a sense of what other users write. You may not know their real names, but you know who writes poetry and who writes memoir; who is an experimentalist and who is a traditionalist. You get a sense, as you must, of who shares certain core values (loving or hating Philip Roth, for example, offers a clue) and whose career has significant similarities to your own.
You also learn that these are your people. We are members of the same tribe, in a way that my wife (who writes an occasional poem but does not define herself as a writer) is not.
Not all writers live among other writers. If you live in, say, Dickson, Tennessee--the town where I teach--you may have trouble finding like-minded writers who will inform you and prod you to do better. Your local tribe, if it even exists, may not be advertising its presence.
But if that’s your problem, the Speakeasy offers a solution. It’s like your own portable tribe; I brought it with me from New York to Tennessee, and others have carried it with them over much longer distances. It is wherever you are, as long as you can find a Wi-Fi hotspot.
And the Speakeasy is not just a place where the tribe hangs out for beer and bull sessions. Even though we do not (for policy and copyright reasons) look at each other’s work on the site, we have found plenty of other ways to help one another.
We have an ever-growing core of contributors who share their experiences and help newer writers. We have seen many of those newer writers make their first sales, then their second, and eventually find themselves in a position to help those less experienced than they are. Often, all we have to do is answer a few questions: about the merits (and demerits) of getting an MFA, or why modern poets should master meter and rhyme, or whether new short story writers should enter contests. Sometimes, we go further.
Ayamei has let us follow along in her saga of finding first an agent, then a publisher, and, most recently, a cover for her first novel. Silkentent has shown us how she got into and made the most of the Sewanee and Bread Loaf conferences. And I (Pongo), drawing on my years of working in publishing, pontificate about the business of writing.
The flow of information through the Speakeasy is enough, in quality and quantity, to give anyone’s career a healthy shove. Users have posted lists of literary magazines with specific interests (sometimes ranked by prestige or selectivity), buckets of advice on MFA programs and the cities where they’re located, and techniques for dealing with various problems involving writing and the writing life.
The most important feedback we give comes in the form of encouragement. This is a community, after all, and we are trying, in our different ways, to get along. Sure, there is some competition. When Eric or Joanne posts about yet another triumph, you can hear everyone else’s submission machinery cranking into a higher gear. But that’s a competition where everyone can win.
So, over the years, the Speakeasy may have done as much for my writing as my wife has. She is still my first reader and first editor--a partner, along with my online community, who presses me to better work. I’d hate to be forced to choose between them.