If you went to Astoria Bier and Cheese last month, you just might have seen a group of writers sipping on flights of beer and jotting down notes. But they weren’t reviewing the beverages; they were coming up with characters inspired by the various flavors of their drinks.
The gathering was one of the weekly meetings of Writing Camp for Adults, a group that helps writers stay motivated over the summer, connect with other writers, and simply have fun.
The camp is helmed by Astoria resident Tracy Sayre, who founded the community Writers Work three years ago to help writers develop their craft, career, and community.
“As a writer, I was feeling very lost and lonely in New York City, and I realized that I would like help meeting other writers and help developing a professional network and help developing my own writing, and I thought if I needed this, then other writers might need it as well,” Sayre said.
The first events she offered were conferences, and she soon added writing retreats and public readings to her roster. She also teaches writing classes at the New York Public Library.
This summer, she wanted to try out a new program: a “camp” that would bring writers together for 10 events over the course of the season ranging from “Show Up and Write” meetings in which participants sit together at a cafe and—you guessed it—write, to a literary tour of Greenwich Village. One afternoon, the group gathered over a potluck picnic in Prospect Park and read some of their work aloud; the next week, they huddled over notebooks and laptops in Manhattan’s Housing Works cafe, where one camper finished the first draft of her novel.
“One of my favorite parts of camp is getting people to parts of the city they wouldn’t normally go to,” Sayre said. Each week, Sayre sends members an email with plans for that week’s meetup, as well as writing exercises or motivation and suggested events to do in the neighborhood after the event. When campers met at Astoria Bier and Cheese, she pointed them toward Break Bar, the Museum of the Moving Image and Socrates Sculpture Garden so that they could continue to explore western Queens if they chose to after the meeting.
The “campers” are around ages 24 to 40, including some people who had been to Writers Work conferences and others who were new to the community. There’s a lawyer, an editor, a bartender, actors, a photographer, a teacher. They all had plenty of ideas for their writing but were lacking “structure, time, motivation and accountability,” Sayre said. At camp, they’re writing screenplays, novels, young adult fiction or memoirs.
Sayre, a screenwriter who just produced her first short film “Lily + Mara,” is using her time at Writing Camp for Adults to complete a first draft of a full feature screenplay called “Rooted,” a dark drama.
Josh Conrad, a camper and Writers Work conference veteran, appreciates that Sayre is along for the journey like everyone else.
“I enjoyed the community [at the conferences] and that Tracy was so positive and so much of a go-getter, and not just like, ‘Here, I planned this event, enjoy,’” Conrad said. “She’s a very active participant and always encouraging everybody to meet each other and to find new ways of approaching writing and building a community.”
The community continues online; everybody who’s been involved with a Writers Work program has access to a private Facebook group where they can ask each other questions, let people know what they’re working on and share motivation.
The Writing Camp for Adults has its own private Facebook group, where campers can hold themselves and each other accountable between meetings. Toward the beginning of the summer, one assignment was for campers to choose a daily goal (like writing for 30 minutes before work or revising two pages of a screenplay) and to post “Did it” when they accomplished that goal each day.
Creating accountability over the summer was one of Sayre’s main reasons for starting the camp, since she’s noticed that writing groups tend to fall apart during the summer because of vacations and hectic schedules. Participants agree that they needed this camp to keep up a creative routine.
“I think it’s easy to let the summer go by and not get anything done,” Conrad said. “So when Tracy said that she was thinking about a writing camp, I was like, ‘Yes, please.’”
The camp was a “trial run” for a program structured around weekly events, Sayre said, and people’s excitement about it inspired her to develop it further.
“Once I was actually doing [the Writing Camp for Adults], I really fell in love with this program,” Sayre said. “Having a weekly creative event to look forward to was really nice for me.”
She is now planning a similar program that starts in September based on the idea of the fall semester, capturing the “back-to-school” feeling that “this is the year everything’s going to change,” Sayre said. She wants participants to be motivated by thoughts like “This is the year I finally finish my novel,” or “This is the year I finish a first draft.”
The fall program will include events like apple picking and a literary tour of haunted spots in New York City at Halloween time. Sayre wants people to not only get some writing done but also just get out, experience new things and “fill your well” as an artist.
“Most importantly,” she said, “I want people to leave my writing events with a new friend.”
Anyone interested in the fall semester program can sign up for the Writers Work newsletter on writerswork.org or like the Writers Work Facebook page for updates.
Wish you could have been at the beer writing class? Sign up for Sayre’s Aug. 27 beer writing class at Q.E.D. Astoria, 27-16 23rd Ave. It takes place from 1 to 3 p.m., and the $35 ticket includes beer. Purchase a ticket here.