North Salem writers group offers a creative outlet for those who have a story to tell

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Photo courtesy of Maryanne Damato

Every two weeks, a group of North Salem residents come together via Zoom to exchange thoughts, ideas and inspiration. Some of them are flexing brain muscles they never gave themselves permission to use before. Some are honing a craft. Some are advancing their profession. All of them are writers.

The North Salem Writers’ Workshop, a bi-weekly group hosted by the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library and led by North Salem resident Maryanne Damato, aims to help writers grow, and often serves to simply give people the permission they need to see themselves as writers.

“If someone has ideas that they come up with, the desire to write, or feels a need to write, that person is a writer,” said Damato. “Sometimes they just need to be told that they are writers.”

Lauren Rankel, 42, who always dreamt of writing, joined the group as a way to connect with people in town after moving to North Salem. “It seemed like a perfect fit to meet like-minded people and to surround myself with creative energies.” Rankel credits the group for her success in self-publishing her first book. “They helped with insight and editing, as well as building my confidence as I ventured into something new.”

Damato said that it is very important for creative people to find a group where they can share ideas with another, seek feedback and get support. “To be around other writers, it elevates your game,” she said, likening it to being on a basketball team, where being on a team of people who know how to play will naturally improve your own skills.

Each time the group meets, Damato provides a prompt for members to work on for their next meeting. A day or so before the meeting, members share their piece via email. Once everyone is together, members read their submissions to the group and solicit feedback.

“It often leads to wonderful, insightful conversations regarding the theme, writing style or our inspiration for the writing,” said Rankel.

Suzanne Rossel, 64, likes that Damato’s assignments push members to explore writing styles outside of their comfort zone. “In her soft-touch way, she presses us as individuals to explore and think differently with our writing.” Damato said that her prompts are meant to be hard, and to force members to try writing in a different way so that they can grow.

Barbara Latterner, 72, has been attending the Workshop for the past two years and has found the group helpful for her work on a children’s book and an essay on aging. “Mary Anne has a wealth of knowledge and shares the nuances one doesn’t necessarily consider,” she said.

Most of the writers who currently attend the Workshop are women, though Damato believes that may just be function of who is more likely to be available to meet at 11 o’clock on a Wednesday in suburbia. “I would love for more men to come back,” she said. “The more diversity that we have, the better it can be.”

During covid the Workshop, like so many other groups, has been forced to meet on Zoom. Damato has found that reading other people’s work and giving feedback lends itself wonderfully to Zoom, though the group was grateful to meet in person at the Library during the warmer summer and fall months last year. Rossel appreciated the more personal exchanges that would take place when the group would get together outside, be that walking from the parking lot or while waiting for others to arrive.

The North Salem Writers' Workshop meets last summer outside of the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library. Photo courtesy of Maryanne Damato

Despite inspiring so many people to produce great work, Damato herself has struggled to find time to write during this season of life. She is a parent to two high schoolers and also works as a consultant for Cultural Care Au Pair, which provides another avenue for her to satisfy her natural ability to connect with people and to support them as they step outside of their comfort zones.

“I find people’s stories fascinating,” she said. “Everybody has a story.”

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If you'd like to learn more about or to sign up for the North Salem Writers' Workshop, click here.

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