WRITERS WILL tell you that when it comes right down to it, it's just you and the typewriter. You get so involved that the words become a part of you, and without someone else - preferably friendly, but above all someone who can look at your work and tell you where it needs changing - it's hard to know what's good and what isn't.
This is why writers (particularly beginning writers) need special assistance. In recent years this need has been recognized by a proliferation of workshops, where writers can go to share their work with their peers and receive advice from an established, experienced writer-teacher. The majority of these are to be found in colleges and universities, although some have been set up in various kinds of community centers; most charge a tuition fee and some even have academic requirements for enrollment. Washington area writers who have been unable to attend a workshop because of a lack either of money or of credentials may find what they need in a unique program of free writing workshops which began writing workshops which began last year at George Washington University.
The workshops, one in the fall semester and one in the spring, are sponsored jointly by the Department of English at GW and the Jenny mcKean moore Fund for Writers. No tuition is charged and participants need have no academic qualifications; 15 students are chosen for each workshop strictly on the basis of "the quality and potential of their work," according to Washington born novelist Susan Shreve, who will lead this year's workshops in fiction writing. (Deadline for the fall semester is past; those interested in the spring session may call 676-6180 for additional information.)
Shreve, who is on leave from George Mason University, is the author to two novels, A Fortunate Madness and A Woman Like That. Her novel for children, The Nightmares of Geranium Street, will be published in October, and another novel, as yet untitled, will be out from knopf in the spring.
The idea for tthe free workshop came about as the result of a fund established by the will of Jenny Mckean Moore, formerly suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and now bishop of New York. Mrs. Moore, who died of cancer in 1973, left $120,000 in trust to be use "to help aspiring writers and theater people."
The author of The People on Second Street, and account ofa family experiences when her husband was a priest in an inner city parish in the 50s, Jenny Moore had turned to the writing of fiction and drama and was a student in creative writing and literature classes at George Washington University from 1971 to 1973. Her will did not specify how the fund was to be used but set up a board of trustees to design and establish a progam.
After considering various proposals, the fund's trustees approached the GW English Department with the idea that the department would provide matching funds to hire each year a visiting lecturer, a published writer who would teach one under graduate course for the university each semester in additon to conducting a free workshop. "We felt that this plan best used the money in the way Jenny would have wanted," says trustee Faye Moskowitz. "It helps the visting lecturer by giving him or her time and money to write, and it helps the apprentice writers by giving them contact with a professional writer and with their peers." The program also helps to establish "a kind of on-going community of writers whose members can continue to draw strength from one another after the workshop ends," say Moskowitz.
Out of 250 applicants, poet Marilyn Hacker, winner of the Lamont Poetry Prize and the National Book Award for Poetry, was chosen as the first visiting lecturer. Five hundred poets applied for the first workshop, held in the fall in 1976. "It's obvious from that," observes Moskowitz, "that there's a great need in Washington for what we're offering."