Author’s Note: This piece was originally published in the Winter 2014 Issue of Take Out, a handwritten paper zine.
I learned a lot at college. I learned how long it would take me to walk from my dorm to class; how late I could leave while still having time for a Dunkin Donuts run. I learned how many people you could shove into a 3’ x 3’ elevator without tripping the weight sensors (I think the record was 12). I learned how to write, how to craft stories, and how to properly use an Oxford Comma.
learned a lot at college, but the most important lesson can be summed up with a phrase I learned during freshman orientation: “creative posse.” It was a favorite phrase of Columbia College’s vice president, Mark Kelley. He promised each and every one of us (freshman and transfers alike) that if he saw us on the street during the semester, he would ask us if we had our creative posse. If we didn’t, he would tackle us.
It may have been the fear of being tackled by a 6’5’’, lanky man with wild grey hair and infectious energy that made me find my first creative posse, it wasn’t fear that lead me to create my second, or my third.
People think that writers are solitary creatures. And we are. Mostly. When push comes to shove I would much rather hole myself up in my room and write from my bed, ensconced in an oversized sweatshirt and some fuzzy slippers. But if you want to get fancy about it, no man (or woman, as the case may be) is an island, and you have to emerge sometime.
And that’s where a creative posse comes in handy. When you just have to tell someone about the amazing scene you just wrote or when you’re about to tear your hair out because nothing is coming together the way you want it to. You need people you can share in your joy and frustration. People who can look at your art and answer your questions with an honest heart. People who you can trust wholeheartedly when they look at you and say “I loved it.” “This moved me.” “I don’t understand.” “I want to know more.”
My first creative posse was a group of playwrights. They taught me that there is a time and a place for esotericism (and that that time and place is very rarely found in my writing). My second was a collection of TV writers who helped see that “commercial” and “broad audience” could be compliments. My current posse is a rag-tag group of 20-something novelists, poets, and bloggers who hold me accountable for the projects I start and refuse to let me abandon them.
I have been a playwright, a screenwriter, a novelist, and my creative posses have grown and shrunk and reformed as necessary. And if I saw Mark Kelley on the streets of Chicago, I’d thank him for making my first college lesson a good one. And then I’d beg him not to tackle me.