Nonprofit YpsiWrites launches Writers Room pilot program to create community for local writers

The Writers Room will eventually be a physical space, but the pilot program is being offered as a series of three monthly virtual meetings in February, March, and April.
Writing alone can be lonely, but a new Writers Room program from nonprofit YpsiWrites aims to give Ypsilanti-area writers a sense of community.

"Folks are really eager about making connections, writing, and talking to others about their writing," says Brent Miller, community outreach coordinator for YpsiWrites.

YpsiWrites co-founder Cathy Fleischer first heard about the concept of a Writers Room when a participant in one of the community writing organization's workshops mentioned the Detroit Writing Room. Fleischer says she wasn't familiar with the concept, but "went down the rabbit hole" researching writers rooms from Detroit to Iowa. Some of those programs require a fee to participate, but YpsiWrites staff and volunteers knew they wanted something free and open to everyone.

"Each Writers Room is a little different, but the basic idea is that it's a safe space for writers to write and share with each other their time, energy, and support to do some writing together," Fleischer says. "We started talking about this being something we could do, because it fits with our mission in every way."
YpsiWrites co-founder Cathy Fleischer.
Miller and a team of volunteers began brainstorming how to implement a Writers Room in Ypsilanti. Ideally, the Writers Room will eventually be a physical space. Miller says the vision was to host a Writers Room that would move around to different locations in Ypsilanti, partnering with community organizations or businesses that would like to host the event.

However, due to a surge in COVID-19 numbers, the pilot program is being offered as a series of three monthly virtual meetings in February, March, and April.

"We learned early on that there are a lot of different ways to go about this. I think it's important to underscore that, with this project, we're expecting it to change, grow, and morph," Miller says. He and Fleischer say that those who participate in the pilot program can help shape the future of the Writers Room.

"The first three sessions will be a good opportunity for us to see what folks that do show up want to get out of it," Miller says. "I think it's a good way to gather that feedback live and see what might come of the Writers Room going forward."

Fleischer notes that the concept for the Writers Room was shaped in part by a survey YpsiWrites sent to its regular patrons. 
YpsiWrites community outreach coordinator Brent Miller.
"We'll keep gathering feedback and meeting needs and asking what else our patrons want," Fleischer says.

For the pilot program, each session will start with introductions, some background on YpsiWrites as an organization, and an explanation of what the Writers Room is intended to be. 

"We'll spend some time reflecting about what folks want to get out of the experience and then transition to open writing," Miller says. Miller says some sort of writing prompt may be offered to those who aren't sure what they want to write about, but it's optional.

Amy Wright, another YpsiWrites volunteer, was on the team that helped shape the Writers Room project based on survey results.

"I know so many writers in this area who want and need a community of writers to support them," Wright says. "I was familiar with the Writing Room in Detroit, and I felt like we could make a great one in Ypsi."
YpsiWrites volunteer Amy Wright.
She says the survey found that respondents most wanted a Writers Room to simply provide space to write with other writers.

"A lot of people were also interested in prompts as well as the opportunity to share their writing with others," Wright says.

Miller says that during open writing time, YpsiWrites volunteers will be on hand and will provide links to various resources that YpsiWrites has created and posted online, from how to write a short story to elements of a letter. At the end of the session, participants can share their writing and ask for feedback.

"From the survey responses, folks were looking for feedback and suggestions. They were looking to improve their writing," Miller says. "They were also looking for that sense of community."

The sessions are open to all teens and adults regardless of experience or skill level. Both Miller and Fleischer note that having a day each month set aside for writing can be motivating for participants and can help with accountability when someone has a specific goal. That's certainly the case for YpsiWrites patron Celeste Kanpurwala.
YpsiWrites patron Celeste Kanpurwala.
Kanpurwala first got involved with YpsiWrites by participating in a memoir writing workshop she hoped would help her with her own memoir about surviving gun violence and recovering from alcoholism. She was one of the first patrons to sign up for the Writers Room and says she looks forward to having a dedicated space and time for writing.  As a mother and the local group leader for Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence, she says sometimes her writing "gets put on the back burner."

"I'm really excited to attend the Writers Room, and I plan to use that space to work on editing my own book," Kanpurwala says. "But the main thing I've gotten out of attending YpsiWrites events is connecting with other people in the community, like-minded individuals who are writers as well and interested in some of the same things as I am. What I found with YpsiWrites was such a wonderful community of people."

Fleischer says the Writers Room is in alignment with "who we are as YpsiWrites, and our belief that everyone's a writer."

"You don't have to be an author looking for publication to come to the Writers Room," she says. "It's for people at every level who strive to be writers or who feel they have an important story inside they want to get out."

More information about YpsiWrites is available here. Those interested in the Writers Room pilot program may sign up here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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