The Process and The Project
Part Two The Process
Isenberg has belonged to a writer's group for over ten years. It began as a dissertation support group when she was doing doctoral work in English Education and Applied Linguisitcs at NYU.
“Our group consists of four midlife women—three English profs and a psychologist—a perfect combination! Even though I have moved out of the metropolitan area, I remain a committed member and attend our monthly meetings. In order to make these meetings I commute four and a half hours each way by bus and sleep on an air mattress on the floor of another group member's apartment.”
It’s easy to tell how important a supportive group of women can be.
“You can see that I value our sessions highly. The group provides motivation, feedback, and support. The motivation comes from the realization that we will be meeting and therefore should have something to read. The feedback is immediate. When I hear my friends laughing in the right places and asking, "So who did it?" I know I'm on target. But when my reading inspires silence or groans, I know I need to revise.”
“ The support takes many forms,” Isenberg notes. “My colleagues make thoughtful suggestions, ask useful questions, and often enhance my research with their own experience and expertise. After several hours of work, we adjourn for a late dinner and catch up on each other's lives because over the decade, we've become close friends. I've listed our ground rules on my website ( Jane Isenberg) for those interested.”
The Importance of What We Read
“When I was a struggling young teacher, I found comfort and good examples in novels such as Up the Down Staircase and To Sir, with Love. I wrote a study of those works called Going by the Book which was published by Bergin & Garvey in 1994.”
“Obviously I am a big fan of Bel Kaufman. Other writers I admire are Arundhati Roy, Annie Proulx, Dave Eggers, Myla Goldberg, Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Woody Allen, and Steve Martin. I wish I could write like those I have named above.”
“My early efforts to attract an agent were futile.
On the theory that only midlife women would be interested in my work, I queried only agents whom I had determined to be over forty-five. I got back a lot of odd notes, often written in the margins of my letters. "NO. I don't want to go there yet!" or "Not in this office" or just "NO!" One or two who actually agreed to read The "M" Word rejected it,suggesting that I tighten the novel, add more subplots, smooth the writing. I was quite defensive and, I'm sorry to say, not very responsive to this advice at first. After all, I'd been teaching others to write for decades. I was not used to being critiqued so frankly. But eventually, with the help of my writing group and a kindly friend, I revised and revised and revised.”