If It’s Not Fun, Why Bother?
from Pen & Paper
Every corner of San Diego is filled with diverse and talented writers. Diane Malloy and her Pen to Paper group make up a portion of this fantastic SD writer population, meeting on Thursdays at the La Jolla Library. Though this group hasn’t always met in this specific location (they existed solely on Zoom for a good amount of the pandemic), the cultivation of a community fueled by creative expression has emerged and endured. Founder and leader Diane Malloy shares a whole host of lovely tidbits and history of the Pen to Paper crew here.
Meghan Coley: How long have you led this group?
Diane Malloy: I was happy to start Pen to Paper in July, 2011, which for the first two weeks met at the motorcycle/truck-noise-challenged Genesee, Starbucks plaza. When the summer Symphony departed the La Jolla Library they (and the Friends) welcomed, co-sponsored us, and gave us a perfect classroom setting.
MC: What are some of your favorite aspects of the group?
DM: My mantra is, if it’s not fun, why bother? I get excited creating the class plans, and waiting to see how our members will run with them. They never disappoint. The breadth of stories, usually from the same prompt is mind-boggling. Our timed session, especially when that final 2 – minute warning is announced, often leads to endings that surprise even the author. I love that there is genuine support for, and appreciation of, everyone’s writing. And of course, there’s all the laughter. It’s wonderful to see the many different personalities coming together to create a supportive, caring community. And in this mutually respectful space, all members can feel safe in exploring their authentic voices on the page. To maintain this, our guidelines preclude political or incendiary, “hot button” topics. One of my goals for our members is for them to further develop their creativity. Toward this end, I devise exercises, and change up the topics each week to keep things interesting. I’m always gratified that these guys are game for whatever exercises I throw at them, and they knock them out of the park. Because we learn and benefit from each other’s ideas, our group features a quick warm-up exercise that’s then shared – to everyone’s benefit. If I notice someone struggling with a particular aspect of writing, the next week, I may include a mini lecture on that area of writing craft.
MC: How do you see this group promoting community among writers in the San Diego area?
DM: Situated in the village of La Jolla, 2 blocks from the ocean, Pen to Paper serves as the north city “arm” of San Diego Writers, Ink’s ongoing programming. Without another writers’ class or workshop in the area, a need is definitely filled. In our almost 500 sessions, many thousands of Pen to Paper writers have written and shared their wonderful stories. And yes, we always consider it fiction unless the author reveals otherwise. Many have mentioned to me that when they were new to the area and hesitant to join, but did, class members became some of their first SD friends.
MC: What is one of your fondest memories or stories from the group?
DM: Certainly memorable was the first session we Zoomed during the 2020 shutdown. It was more group therapy, than writing, and went twice as long as usual. But it was the community we craved, all of us scared and needing each other to help get through. The following week, I curated and gave them 12 sound effects for a “settings” exercise, but we all knew it was to take our minds someplace else. Over the years, I’ve experienced the group’s empathy as we listened and watched tears stream after someone’s story about their mother’s murder, or a brother’s wartime death, and even a rape. A happier instance is when a young guy entered assisting an elderly gentleman for whom he was the caregiver. The young guy then sat alone in the corner. Seeing that, I welcomed him, smiled and said everyone in our room participates. He joined the group at the large table and proceeded to show us he was one of the best and funniest writers we’d ever had. I also love seeing so many quickly develop their own writing voice and style. It’s been my delight to teach this wonderful, ever-changing group and hope to do so for quite some time.
MC: Is there anything else you’d like to cover that I haven’t asked yet?
DM: Pen to Paper also had a few in-person park pandemic classes, even a hybrid one on Zoom plus real life. Everyone hung in but that was pretty crazy with construction and truck noise from the Art Museum remodel across the street, church bells chiming, squawking birds overhead, kids screaming at play and someone who walked up to join not realizing he needed a laptop to Zoom or pad of paper. Needless to say, we did not try that again. We’ve had around 512 classes and are now in our 12th year!
Be sure to join Pen to Paper this Thursday! You can visit the group’s page here.
Diane Malloy is the proud creator and facilitator of the Pen to Paper writing group and a member of San Diego Writers, Ink. You can read more about her here.