Why Riki Markowitz founded Professional Writers of Austin

Riki has radio face
In my humble opinion, I’ve got a face for radio. That’s part of the reason I decided to go into publishing. The other reason was default mode. In college (Temple University, Philadelphia), I was not what you’d call a stellar student. The only major that came easy to me – and easy was the only curriculum I could fit into my schedule of partying and underachieving – was English.

Little did I know that reading and writing was exactly what I was born to do.

Riki has words with New York City
I landed an internship at Philadelphia Magazine after graduation. Four years on I moved to New York where I started out as an editorial assistant at the now defunct Disney Adventures. From there, I climbed my way up the research/fact checking ladder, working on staff at Redbook, Stuff, Latina, and Family Circle before making the ballsiest move of all time – deciding that I would give freelance writing a try.

Riki gives freelance writing a try
The allure for me was that you could make more money, make your own hours and turn down jobs at magazines with a shipping schedule that ended at 3 a.m. The problem is, I decided to make that move on the cusp of the Great Recession, or, as I have referred to it on this platform before, The Great Magazine Genocide.

Riki gets to Austin as fast as she could
I’m an adventurer by nature: I’ve once left this country – post 9/11 – with an expired passport on my way to South Africa. I bravely ate bread from a baker’s cart on the “streets” of Fez in Morocco. When I knew it was time to sell my Brooklyn co-op, returning to my hometown of Philadelphia was the antonym of adventure.

So, on a hot day in August, 2009 a friend said I would like Austin. A day or two later I had a plane ticket to visit. I was here for four days.

By September 1, I was an Austin resident.

Riki establishes Professional Writers of Austin
I soon discovered that this is a city with so many writing opportunities but few ways of finding them. Networking and socializing was the only way I got jobs in New York and I’m hoping that will work for me, and you, too.

I also discovered that there are few cohesive, all-inclusive groups for writers here in Austin. In January 2011, I launched PWA on Meet-up.com and in September 2011, I got ambitious and relaunched it as an autonomous organization.

PWA’s goal is to develop an organization that gives the professional writing community a voice, a platform for their voice, and most importantly, a reason to get out of the house occasionally. It is only as good as the people who join it so please encourage your writing friends to become members. Don’t forget to tell them that membership is free .

Riki attracts an elite band of volunteers
Since the relaunch of Professional Writers of Austin, there has been a group of elite volunteers working on our website.  Our merry band is nowhere near capacity so if you have a skill – any skill – we want your help.

These are the people who are helping to shape the PWA adventure:

  • Justine Tal Goldberg, Owner of WriteByNight and Co-Founder of PWA: Justine is an award-winning writer and editor of both fiction and nonfiction. Her short stories have appeared in Anomalous Press, Whiskey Island, Fringe Magazine, and other publications. Her journalistic work has appeared in the Texas Observer, Austin Monthly, and Publishing Perspectives, among others. She holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College. She owns and operates WriteByNight, a writing center and writers’ service, and official sponsor of PWA.
  • Carolyn Jones, PWA Blog Editor: Carolyn writes about parenting, health and lifestyle and is working on breaking into the corporate writing world too. She’s been published in the New York Times, the Austin American Statesman and is a writer for two Austin-based lifestyle mags. She has both a professional website and a blog, only one of which is serious.
  • Allison Floyd, PWA Assistant Website Editor: Allison documents the experience of being a newly minted Austinite at Schadenfreudiananalysis. Her sinister alter ego documents being a misanthropist in the kitchen at eatdrinkbesolitary. Her poetry and short fiction has appeared in flashquake, The Iconoclast, and the Berkeley Daily Planet, among others.
  • Brian Huber, PWA Financial Consultant: Brian writes about finance topics for the blogs of several companies. His objective is partly search engine optimization but mostly he aims to conquer the challenge of simplifying and generating interest for investment, tax and small business subjects. He’s a firm believer that Austin is the best place for writers to enjoy living and he’s so grateful that the internet allows working as a writer in Austin.

Riki hopes to hear from you
If you have any comments, questions or brilliant ideas, please contact us.

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Austin Writers Loft Party Recap

On September 14th the earth’s core shifted a little as Austin’s writing community came together for the networking event of the century—the Austin Writers Loft Party, at WriteByNight.

Okay, the structure of Earth did not really move, and there may have been one or two better parties over the past hundred years. Obviously I have a slight exaggeration problem. But one thing is for sure—it was one heck of a lovely evening.

Close to 100 of Austin’s best and brightest writers turned out for the event, which was a collaboration of the Professional Writers of Austin and PWA’s official sponsor, WriteByNight. As many of you already know, Professional Writers of Austin has recently reformatted and re-launched its approach, and teamed up with WriteByNight in the process. (If you are not aware of this fact, read this riveting post about the origins of PWA now.) Originally starting out as just a group on Meetup.com last February, founder Riki Markowitz decided to move up and out when she realized how many people were showing interest. PWA is now a standalone organization that, with the support of WriteByNight, aims to unify the local writing community via networking, career-building, and good old fashioned solidarity.

The Loft Party brought these two organizations together, not to mention writers of all genres and experience levels, in a fun, relaxed environment. Soon after the 7:00 start time, WBN was packed with people, drinks in hand and writing on the brain. I got to man the front door, collecting donations and explaining WBN’s and PWA’s offerings. This also provided an excellent opportunity to talk with just about every single writer who attended the event, if only just briefly. I asked the question “What kind of writing do you do?” several dozen times, and the responses ran the gamut. Poetry, technical writing, blogging, YA, editorial—you name it, these partygoers wrote it, resulting in a smorgasbord of interesting conversations and excellent networking opportunities.

Between all the chit chat, the attendees perused the WBN space, exploring its awesome patios, admiring its collection of local art, and craning their heads back to try and take in the massive upstairs mural in its entirety—and resisting the urge to steal from its excellent collection of books. They sipped on Shiner Hefeweizen, snacked on everything from homemade cake to gourmet cheese, and even dipped into a smuggled-in bottle of vodka. There was laughter, there were tears; the sharing of stories and the sharing of dreams.

Okay, there weren’t really any tears … unless they were tears of joy at finally being united with a community that understands the need to check out a dozen library books at a time or gets ridiculously excited when the Texas Book Festival comes to town. The Loft Party was truly a successful joining of two amazing organizations who share a common passion for serving those people in Austin who love putting words on paper and getting their voices heard.

Did you attend The Austin Writers Loft Party? If so, we want to hear all about your experience, and what better place to tell us than in the comments section below.

Katie’s work has been featured in Austin Lifestyle Magazine, Redbook Magazine, Thrillist.com, and Homerun.com. She is also excited to be contributing to the new Austin publication BE Mag, launching its first issue this November. Prior to moving to Austin, Katie worked as an associate producer for an NBC affiliate in South Florida.

The Origins of PWA

In 2009, The Statesman reported that more and more writers are coming to Austin: “Over the past decade, Austin has become a hotbed of literary activity.” A growing number of journalists, screenwriters, novelists and memoirists are deciding to call this central Texas city home–permanently.

Had it not been for the literary slant, I could have easily been profiled for Jeff Salaman’s piece about novelists, short story writers and other literary stars who came to Austin and stayed put. I arrived in September of 2009, less than a year after what I call New York City’s Great Magazine Genocide. I had spent more than a decade toiling away at your garden-variety life and leisure, health and entertainment, weekly and monthly magazines. I never thought that would change. I never thought the world would change.

Print media, however, suffered terribly from the financial crisis and I was faced with few desirable choices. While I knew–on an intellectual level, at least–that I would eventually find another magazine job, I felt that if there was ever a good time to start over, it was now. A friend said that I would like Austin. I had never even been to Texas. Within four weeks, my zip code was 78704.

Starting over in this capitol city with a prominent tech industry is an extraordinarily challenging proposition. I thought that if I could socialize with other writers, I would have a better chance of finding work. A writer you don’t know is your competition. A writer you befriend is still your competition, but she may forward job leads.

By 2010, the only social groups I could find were for creative writers and those hoping to become writers. Meetup.com had groups for memoirists, poets and short fiction writers, but nothing for professionals, those who had already broken into the field. I decided to start my own group. The only qualification for membership in the Professional Writers of Austin Meetup group was that you had to be a professional writer or editor.

The positive response was instantaneous. I was joined by newspaper columnists and bloggers, magazine editors, Internet content creators, educational curriculum writers, environmental writers, grant writers, video game storyline developers, and so many others. In six months, we grew from one lone member to nearly 60.

Now, we’re moving on and moving up. Professional Writers of Austin, from here on out, is an organization independent of Meetup.com. PWA is for all writers of all levels. Our mission is to identify and develop a community of professional and aspiring writers, provide networking and social opportunities, and most of all, encourage relationships with colleagues you may not have otherwise known.

I am extraordinarily pleased to introduce Professional Writers of Austin and ProfessionalWritersofAustin.com. This is a collaborative effort between myself and Justine Tal Goldberg, owner of WriteByNight. We have been working hard and will continue to work hard to develop a thriving community of like-minded professionals, but we can’t do it without you.

So writers, you’re up. Click here to join PWA. Click here to share your ideas. Click here to volunteer your time and expertise. Comment below to let us know: What do you hope to get out of PWA?