As a longtime English teacher and librarian with the Fort Worth school district, Rachel Pilcher has had a lot of experience advising young writers on finding their voices. As a somewhat frustrated dabbler herself in various forms of creative writing, she also knows the unique loneliness of staring at a blank page when there are no outside deadlines or other encouragements to develop and complete a piece of writing.
“I write poetry, I’ve written some short stories I need to polish up, and I’ve started about seven screenplays,” she said with a chuckle. “I love writing, and I do it all the time, but I don’t finish a lot of it. One of the reasons I’ve always wanted to start a writers’ group is to hold people accountable to their own projects. And I’m the biggest one who needs that help.”
Pilcher, a Fort Worth native and currently a librarian at Trimble Technical High School, used to attend long-established groups like The Writer’s Garret Literary Center in Dallas but disliked the long commute east for evening classes. She’d long suspected Fort Worth had enough professional and amateur scribblers to support a similar organization here. Those suspicions were confirmed when Pilcher served as managing director of the inaugural Wildcatter Exchange in March, a Near Southside festival celebrating the art and craft of storytelling in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, movies, and music. The two-day schedule of classes and talks drew more attendants than even the organizers had hoped, prompting Pilcher to finally create her own organization to advise, inspire, and support writers working in all different fields and media.
Her Fort Worth Writer’s Boot Camp started this summer at a small office space in the La Mancha Business Center on West Berry Street near Texas Christian University. Pilcher drew from many of the organizers and participants of the Wildcatter to offer sessions on their fields of expertise. The Boot Camp has hosted various classes — one on screenwriting from Fort Worth filmmaker Tom Huckabee and others on poetry from performance artist Tammy Melody Gomez and Tarrant County College creative writing instructor Logen Cure. Longtime journalists Michael E. Price and Todd Camp led a session about collaborating on graphic novels, and personal organizer Melinda Massie facilitated groups on blogging to promote start-up businesses. Pilcher has conducted sessions in writing research papers, navigating library systems, and overcoming writer’s block.
The Boot Camp’s classes have been small –– anywhere from three to six students per session –– but even if the organization grows in popularity, Pilcher plans to keep class sizes modest so each participant can get more personal interaction with his or her instructors for the $50-to-$65 session fee. Teachers, in turn, get a decent stipend for their time and talents. (The office rent at La Mancha is surprisingly low, Pilcher said.) Though she’s put a little of her own cash into her project, the Boot Camp has managed to stay afloat mostly on its own earnings and still accomplish what Pilcher wants: to pay the instructors for their expertise and to keep sessions intimate for the students. One of the more interesting processes for Pilcher has been vetting writers for would-be teaching spots. It’s not always a good match.
“Some writers would come in and say, ‘I can teach anything you want me to teach,’ and I’d say, ‘No, if you’re known for writing novels, then we want you to teach novel writing,’ ” she said. “Also, there are a lot of people who can write, but not nearly as many who can talk about writing. I taught English for six years, so I have a pretty good sense of who can do that. I wanted writers who’d be able to hold people’s interest in a classroom setting, who had good stories to tell in relation to what they were teaching.”
Pilcher has a full schedule of Boot Camp classes in October. She’s purposely kept the programming light for November and December due to the holidays, but she is planning a full January lineup in time for all those New Year’s resolution–makers who want to start or finish that book or screenplay they’ve kept on the back burner. With the Boot Camp so far, she has proven to herself that there’s a community of scribes in Fort Worth who’ll benefit from a support and training space like hers.
“Writers know what other writers are going through, no matter what stage [of their careers] they’re in,” she said. “To be able to talk through things is tremendously important. Maybe I write poetry and you write fiction and this other person writes biographies, but we all have the same issues as far as getting our writing process where it needs to be.”