NYWC Tell Your Story Campaign: Kate Payne on asking the right questions

This July, eight NYWC workshop leaders will share stories about the powerful and transformational workshops they facilitate and participate in each week to raise awareness and much needed revenue to support NYWC’s ongoing programs.

We’ll be posting these stories throughout the month, here, and on our campaign page. Read their stories, follow the campaign, and support NYWC by making a donation and following the NYWC Tell Your Story Campaign.

This piece is from former NYWC Workshop leader Kate Payne, who led  youth workshops at the Brooklyn Public Library in Bedford Stuyvesant from 2009-2010 and workshops at our Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival.  Kate Payne is an author and freelance writer, and a frequent consultant for design, decor, cooking, and crafting publications and sites. She lives in Austin and teaches classes on food preservation and other topics both privately and at culinary centers across the country. Her book Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking (HarperCollins, 2011) is available wherever books are sold; her second book, Hip Girl’s Guide to the Kitchen will be available from HarperCollins in April 2014.

We are knee deep in capital, our own, others’, accessed, unrealized or deliberately missed. Amidst the hustle of living with price tags everywhere, sometimes it helps to be asked a question or two.

When I came to NYWC, I was riddled with questions like: how to be a poet in a world where no one seems to pay attention; how do I choose words and pay rent; how do I find a way of communicating all that’s burning inside me; and what do I really have to say anyway?

The NYWC method helps us climb out of the can’t’s and shouldn’t’s that accompany the decisions we make about the value of our time. Even if you scale the first wall and actually carve out time to yourself to write, the itty bitty shitty committee (Anne Lamott’s oh-so-apt term in Bird by Bird) sets on us like a moat of self-destruction. Shouldn’t you focus on ‘reasonable’ pursuits, like earning money so you can buy more stuff?

NY Writers Coalition asked me the right questions at a time where I was exasperated by the ‘reasonable’ path. I worked with kids and led an after-school workshop in my not-so-ritzy Brooklyn neighborhood. These kids weren’t likely aspiring to be writers, but that’s not the point. Our most basic understanding of the world and ourselves is based upon an ability to articulate and communicate our impressions of those things. Developing the capacity and voice to speak our truths no matter what our current or future careers may be is fundamental to our relationship with ourselves and the world at large.

By encouraging the kids to dabble in fiction, poetry, playwriting and simple self-expression, I couldn’t help taking my own advice. I soon faced the glorious, open-door question of why not? The “Oh, I can’t…” and “Well, I shouldn’t really…” slowly transformed into “Well, why not try…” and “Oh, what the hell…” I set out on a path of writing my story. My story happened to be what was most present before me, literally underfoot, my relationship to my home.

When HarperCollins made an offer on my nonfiction book project, it seemed surreal. Though after the scintillating shock, it soon surfaced that I already knew a whole slew of someones who believed in my story beyond my new editor. Having the guts to put it on my editor’s desk in the first place goes back to all the evenings in a circle with fellow NYWC writers, with my wild Brooklyn kids who wrote about their inner landscape (so truly and without hesitation) and didn’t fear reading it aloud to a half-interested crew in the afterschool dungeon of the library basement.

I had support, was able to climb out of the itty bitty shitty committee’s grips and let a simple idea grow from fragile seedling into a tree that stands on its own now in the sun.

Price tags don’t leave us, not yet at least. I hope you’ll join me in tossing a little something into the hat for NYWC to continue the work they do. I can’t thank them enough for asking the right questions and helping me to reshape my answers.

Support the NYWC Tell Your Story Campaign and help NYWC continue to provide free, unique, and powerful creative writing workshops to those who need them most.