Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the April 3,
2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Making Room for Writers
Any contract writer who has been practicing his or
her craft for more than a year or two will tell you the business of
writing can be a lonely one: long hours in front of the computer
with communication limited to phone calls and E-mail. The human
the human touch, can often be missing from the writer’s life, and
it can be more pronounced if the writer is single, with no spouse
out there working a straight job to help support the household.
Given this lonesome reality, writers in central New Jersey and eastern
Pennsylvania can now take comfort in the Writers Room in Doylestown,
Pennsylvania. The Writers Room of Bucks County Inc., as it is
known, was born out of loneliness, explains its founder and director,
R. Foster Winans.
"The Writers Room is a manifestation of my gratitude for growing
up in a community like Doylestown, where I was encouraged to become
a writer," Winans tells me, following a particularly useful,
Writers Room seminar on interviewing techniques. The Writers Room
was a way for Winans to overcome the loneliness inherent in the
of writing from a home-based business.
Winans came back to Doylestown from a career in journalism in New
York City, which included a staff job at the Wall Street Journal,
and began writing books. "What I found here was a community that
was becoming more culturally diverse," he says. "The county
had rescued the County Theater from being destroyed and the James
A. Michener Art Museum is becoming very well known."
Winans founded The Writers Room in fall, 1998, when he rented the
storefront location at 4 West Oakland Avenue in Doylestown. His
a successful importer and wholesaler of tobacco pipes, who later
an art dealer in Cape Cod, had died the previous year and left him
a small inheritance.
"I deliberately rented a space that was too large for myself
believing that other writers would want to work in the same
he explains. His model was a successful operation he had joined on
Manhattan’s Lower East Side, at Astor Place, near Cooper Union; an
operation also called, "The Writers Room." Whereas the Writers
Room in Manhattan is a place for writers to write and to socialize
together at all hours of the day and night, the Writers Room of Bucks
County gives writers a space to write away from home, and also hosts
an impressive series of seminars and guest speakers.
Winans also helped revive the regional literary quarterly, the Bucks
County Writer, last fall. The second issue, published in January,
features a profile of Pipersville author and biographer William
a profile of Allen Hoey, Bucks County poet laureate, and an article
on self-publishing by J. Henry Warren.
Writers Room resident members pay $40 per month for 24-hour-per-day,
7-day-per week access to the space. Annual salon membership, for
to some 70 events programmed events, is $75. Non-member admission
to individual Writers Room salons is $5 to $10. Annual subscriptions
to the Bucks County Writer are $24.
"I grew up in a newsroom," says Winans, seated in a
office equipped with two powerful computers, a television, and a
"a room full of ringing phones and clattering typewriters, and
I missed that. I had been working from home for many years and I got
sick of it. One day I realized I hadn’t taken a shower in two days
and my social life was reduced to the checkout counter at the
"I was lonely and I started the Writers Room because I was lonely.
In the first year and a half it was very difficult to convince people
who live in 3,000-square-foot boxes around here that they didn’t have
enough room to write. It took some time for me to convince these
it wasn’t about room, it was about atmosphere, about synergy, about
getting away from the dryer, the washer, the TV, the kids, the dog,
After the first 18 months, Winans was running out of money to pay
the rent on his storefront, but by that point he had met a lot of
other writers and a few agents who had come down from New York.
the writers he met in this process, he decided to create a non-profit
"I asked them all in an E-mail: `What do you want?’ I’ve either
got to sublet and let the lease go or find some other way of raising
money," he says. "Everyone said they wanted more than just
space to write, they wanted seminars and writers’ talks."
The Writers Room program schedule, which runs from September through
May, is packed with sessions on fiction, non-fiction, poetry,
and marketing. There are also poetry readings and fiction readings
for writers to share. A complete schedule of events can be accessed
online at www.writersroom.net.
"I like the fact that the Writers Room is able to help demystify
the whole business of being a writer," Winans says. "It used
to be, unless you were being published or being paid, you were not
a writer. Now, that’s no longer true. I like the fact that people
who are emerging writers, who have ideas and books they are working
on, can come in here and find people like myself and others who can
give feedback that is helpful."
Winans argues the writing and publishing profession
has a tendency towards elitism, and he doesn’t think that’s a good
"I think it’s a good thing to encourage everybody to write, if
only for their own enjoyment," he says.
Over the years of its existence, the Writers Room "has become
a place where there is a lot of sharing and generosity," he adds.
At the seminar on interviewing last winter, there were eight or nine
writers in attendance. Winans led the discussion, yet he was careful
not to dominate the proceedings. He encouraged all to speak up and
share their experiences of their successful and not-so-successful
Winans was raised on a farm in Bucks County, before his parents moved
to Doylestown. He attended McGill University in Montreal, but never
completed his degree. He started in newspapers in 1968 at the
Intelligencer, worked at the Courier Times in Bristol, Pennsylvania,
The Evening Times of Trenton, The Austin-American Statesman, and a
Vancouver, Washington, daily. He returned home and worked in his
tobacco business for a time, then returned to journalism with jobs
at the Intelligencer and, later, The Trentonian. From there he went
to Dow Jones.
"At Dow Jones I worked for `The Ticker,’ and then I began writing
the `Heard On The Street’ column at the Wall Street Journal,"
says Winans, who speaks frankly about what was to become a
experience at Dow Jones. "The gist of it was that I was making
$28,000 a year, I was living in New York, and having lunch and dinner
with millionaires," he says. "It was the period of everybody
buying BMWs and condos, and the guy I co-wrote the column with was
making twice as much money as I was."
"I developed a sort of disaffection, and then I met a stockbroker
who seduced me — although I admit I was prepared to be
he says. "He convinced me that it would be no big deal if I told
him the day before what the next day’s column would be about. I gave
him that information, and he paid me $30,000 over a period of four
months. Ultimately, he was so aggressive about his trading that the
American Stock Exchange noticed it and they reported it to the SEC.
I was indicted and admitted what I did, but pleaded not guilty because
my attorney believed the government was not in a position to regulate
a reporter’s activities as long as he was not dealing with actual
inside information," he explains.
"As you may know, the column is gossip and we’re quoting a bunch
of analysts, not unlike what you get on TV now," he says.
"These guys were the insiders, not us, but the Supreme Court
agree with that, and they said I took something that didn’t belong
to me and converted it to my own use. The court argued what didn’t
belong to me was the publication schedule of The Wall Street
he adds. Winans served eight months in federal prison and then wrote
a book about his experiences, "Trading Secrets," a successful
venture that got him a national book tour. In a sense, his book was
a way to atone for past mistakes and also helped him move on.
"I don’t mind talking about all this, but I would encourage you
to focus on the volunteer efforts of a lot of people who work here
at the Writers Room," he says, growing a little uncomfortable
with the focus of our conversation.
Since the success of his book, "Trading Secrets," Winans has
written 13 other books, the latest of which is, "The Great Wall
Street Swindle." These days, he divides his time between
writing and ghost writing. His current book project is on child
As far as future programming for the Writers Room, Winans stresses
the place has a 24-person capacity, so he and others like the idea
of keeping the seminars intimate. Last winter the Writers Room hosted
a seminar on Internet research that was moved to a nearby Internet
cafe. The Writers Room anniversary party spilled out onto the
lawn out front. A recent reading by James McBride, author of "The
Color of Water," was moved to the more spacious setting of the
Salem United Church of Christ on nearby East Court Street.
So what does Winans get out of all of these seminars and talks? He
stresses they are led by many different types of volunteer writers,
all with different areas of expertise. "I like enabling other
people," he explains, "and I like hearing other peoples’
Winans insists he regularly gains new insights from his meetings with
cub reporters and wanna-be authors. "If there isn’t a revelation
or some kernel of knowledge that comes out in the seminars I lead,
I find that in my mind I’m refining what I do," he says.
"A lot of people have told me I’m a good interviewer," he
explains, "but I’m also a person who, up until two or three years
ago, could not stand in front of more than two people and talk. So
in a way, every time I do one of these seminars, I’m overcoming my
fear of public speaking."
"I’m not an expert, but I do have some experience and some
he says, "and I always learn something from the other writers
who come in here."
— Richard J. Skelly
Doylestown, 215-348-1663. www.WritersRoom.net.
a practical workshop with PR professionals Brenda Lange, Jobert
and Foster Winans.
Art and Commerce," by guest author Deborah Heiligman.
a peer critique group or form one of your own. Drop-ins are welcome.
White." White established himself with the publication of "A
Boy’s Own Story" (1982); his most recent novel is "The Married
Lucia and Douglas Deaville," area freelance editors.
Private script development group. For details write
held at Blue 52, a jazz club in Doylestown.
Corrections or additions?
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