Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Now that the blog has been appropriately cushioned with a First Post (thanks, Dan), I think the rest of us will feel more comfortable jumping in (right guys?). As for introductions, I’m Elly Zupko, one of the so-called “founding members” of the group, so I’ll give a little background on how it all began.

We started getting together in the summer of 2007—just four of us at that first meeting, sitting in the itchy grass in front of the Johns Hopkins University library with the humble goal of completing stories to enter into the City Paper’s Annual Fiction & Poetry Contest. We unofficially nicknamed the group “Writer’s Block” (variants: Writers’ Block and Writers Block—none of us know for sure), since several of our early members lived within blocks of each other in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore. It stuck.

We met on lawns. We met at bars. We met at each other’s homes. We even sweet talked our way into a classroom at MICA for a particularly official-feeling meeting. Eventually, the (unspoken) purpose of the group grew into our attempt as individuals and as a group to balance our Big Ideas about writing and art with the devil-in-the-details practicalities of the writing life and, well, life life. The questions are classic: what, where, when, how, why? The answers are never easy.

The group’s amebic roster has since changed and grown, like our purpose. We’ve seen members branch off to start new writing groups, move across the country to enter M.A. programs, and, to our great disappointment, simply disappear. But we’ve also seen new members join and become great contributors to the forward momentum of the group. We’ve learned that creating forward momentum is fertilizer for the writer’s mind, and I think the ultimate, really basic purpose of our group has become to help each other keep going, in the face of rejection, criticism, lack of time, lack of inspiration, lack of support, and the classic illness: Writer’s Block.

To play a bit off Dan’s post, I’d say that the Writer’s Block group started out a bit like an Uncarved Block. It has taken time and hard work and the skillful hands of many artists to really seek out and find what we were going to be, once we got rid of all the stuff that just didn’t belong. Like writing, and like all creative endeavors, what’s left is an amalgam of something that never existed before and something that’s been there all along.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Uncarved Block

I get to start all this off? Excellent. I'm brilliant at beginnings....*

Or, well. Sometimes, anyway. It's that blank page, see; it's dizzying, like looking into infinity. All that pristine and unblemished potential, about to be - inevitably! - marred by the first imperfect keystrokes. What's conceived in numinous perfection is always broken, a little, by coming into the world.

That's okay, though. It's in the nature of things to be flawed, here in the Realm of Manifestation**; our job, I think, as artists and creators and people of craft, is to bring the things we make as close to their ideal image as is possible, knowing that the gap can never be completely closed. The bad news is that this means it gets harder the longer you do it. The good news is that imperfection is unavoidable, so you might as well just start working.

So, then - Hi. I'm Dan, and I'll be playing kinda-sorta host*** to this venture, which is the online (and thus, unavoidably, public) incarnation of the Baltimore Writer's Block, a loose convocation of local writers, poets, essayists, and otherwise wordsmiths dedicated to sharing and expanding our ideas about written language and its various forms and possibilities. We're here to discuss the craft of writing, to encourage each other, to share our perspectives, and to talk about the various ways it's possible to address solving the problems of putting words in the right order. (Like almost any art, I believe that writing is not something that can be taught beyond the most essential mechanics of it; the best you can do is learn to recognize problems, and keep adding tools to your toolkit that might come in handy when trying to fix them.)

I'll let my co-bloggers introduce themselves in their own time, who will soon be adding to this with some initial thoughts on why they're spending all this effort trying to force words to do their bidding in the first place. (And I'll be talking about that soon as well.) But I wanted to lay some groundwork here, for those of you who are wandering in, as it were, off the virtual street.
First: We are, in the best possible sense, a collection of amateurs. This should not imply that we don't take what we do seriously, only that the reasons why we're doing it, and talking to each other about it, may not have anything to do with the necessities of seeking publication or commercial "success" (whatever that means). We're certainly not opposed to those things, or the pursuit of them, but it's not why we're here. There are dozens of websites out there with advice for the aspiring writing professional - hell, we'll probably point to one or two of them in the course of things - but we're not counting ourselves among them, and anything we say about the art of wordcraft should not be taken in that light. (Which, again, is not to say that we don't approach what we're doing with craftsmanship and care, only that we're - mostly - not actively seeking to get paid for it. It may be useful to remember here that the word "amateur" means "one who engages in a pursuit out of love.")

Second: Folks other than the front-page posters here are of course welcome to participate in the discussions in our comment threads, provided that they are in fact contributing to those conversations rather than detracting from them. We represent a diversity of backgrounds, philosophies, and approaches here, which is to say we're not always going to agree with each other and don't expect you to either; however, a dissenting opinion respectfully worded will get you miles farther than a "You people" and a diatribe.**** That which expands and enriches our community is a Good Thing, and more than welcome here; abuse, derailing, threadcrapping, and complaining about the flavor of the free ice cream***** will meet with the Mighty Hammer of Moderation.

That out of the way, a hearty welcome to everyone! Enjoy yourselves here, and keep watching this space.
*Endings, not so much, but that's one of the reasons we're all here.
**There's the seed of a discussion here about the Four Worlds of the Qabalah and the creative process, but it can wait.
***In much the same way that I'm a Discordian Pope.
****If you can't imagine why I would have to say such a thing - well, I bid you welcome to the Internets, young one. Vaya con Dios, and wear your galoshes.
*****"Sucks," "lame," "boring," and similar mild confusions of a preference with a virtue might not get you immediately on the Bad List, depending on context, but they will certainly send up a number of red flags; "wanna-be" and "pretentious" are pretty much guaranteed to get me reaching for the trapdoor lever.