Go back and imagine that cold, dark time last fall when the pressures and realities of the pandemic began to settle their significant weight upon your shoulders. Maybe you lost your job but still had financial responsibilities that couldn’t be overlooked or put on hold. Maybe the nail-biting situation, already unsettled, morphed into a time of bleak desperation.
That’s where Hillary Leftwich, a writer well known in Denver’s literary community, found herself — out of work, with a son to raise and a fear of taking temporary work that would force her to brave public spaces every day while COVID cases were spiking. But she knew that as a writer, she’d developed editing, mentoring and lit-savvy business skills previously performed free for “friends, and friends of friends.” Hanging a shingle, going professional and charging for those services began to make sense. “I decided to make a business of it,” Leftwich says. “I definitely had skills that made me believe I could do it.”
After formulating a business plan, Leftwich launched her website, called Alchemy Author Services, last month. Her business initially offered practical help with substantiative and developmental editing, as well as marketing of manuscripts and one-on-one mentoring. “Basically, anything a writer is looking for,” she explains. “Twenty-four-hour emergency services, editing on a contest deadline, or just a second set of eyes.”
She’s now also unveiled a series of online expert writing workshops with sliding scale/donation/pay-what-you-can options. “I wanted to create workshops for people who can’t do an MFA program or fancy writers’ retreat,” Leftwich says. Also in the works are university internship programs for credit in collaboration with the Mile High MFA program at Regis University and with Wilkes University in Pennsylvania.
As part of her mission to serve struggling and marginalized authors, Leftwich trains volunteer workshop instructors from across the nation to use the kinder, gentler style of teaching outlined in the book The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom, by Felicia Rose Chavez.
What else does she have to offer, and how did she learn how to do it? Leftwich owes her knowledge in the field to years of experience. She’s been there. “I’ve been through not knowing where to send a story or manuscript, and the time constraints involved,” she recalls. “I was a solo mom for a long time, especially when my son was younger. I didn't have time to do anything and had a bunch of jobs.
"So I thought about what are my priorities,” Leftwich continues. “I started out volunteering for journals as a reader to learn the ins and outs. It’s a great way to learn, and you get to know other journals, too. It was interesting to learn why some work is rejected, and my first priority became finding a way to do that. Some can’t, or they don't want to.” That’s one way she can help other writers, doing the groundwork.
Leftwich puts no limits on what kind of literary problem she can help solve. “I can work with pretty much every client prospect you can think of,” she notes. “Anyone I can’t handle, I would refer to friends or acquaintances who run their own editing businesses. I don't believe in competition, and if they have a client they can’t handle, I hope they would think of me.”
With that in mind, she operates an egalitarian platform. “I understand language is essential when writing, and I am aware of a writer’s voice, style and dialect when editing a piece,” Leftwich maintains. “A good editor helps the writing to be better, not different. A great editor will never disrupt a piece of writing from its original authenticity regarding race, creed or sexual orientation.”
The last thing she wants to be is an editor who tries to reshape the writer’s essential voice, she adds: “This is only about the writing, and how to make the writing better — not change the writer.”
And after all, Alchemy isn’t just about a business run well. It’s also Leftwich’s way of giving back to her writers’ community.
“I’m lucky to be connected to so many others in the field,” she says. “We’re all in a hustle mode now, all of a sudden, and the fact that I can reach out and help speaks a lot about our community.”
Leftwich is here to help.
“Throw it at me and I’ll do my best,” she says with confidence. “There’s not much more I haven’t had the pleasure of working with, but we’ll see.”
Hillary Leftwich and BookBar invite people to a free virtual Alchemy Writing Workshop Launch Celebration
and reading at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 10, 5 p.m., via Facebook Live. Featured readers include Tameca L. Coleman, Steven Dunn, Jay Halsey, Te V. Smith, Pavlos Stavropoulos, Akusua Akoto, Byron Aspaas, Kris Hall (Barracuda Guarisco), Monique Antoinette Lewis, Deanna Rasch, Mary Harpin, Rogan Kelly, Jason Teal. Brenda S. Tolian, E.A. Midnight and Violet Mitchell.
Upcoming Alchemy Writing Workshops include:
Introduction to Dark Fiction, a four-week Zoom workshop with Colorado-based horror writer Brenda S. Tolian, 10 a.m. to noon on four Saturdays: April 17, April 24, May 1 and May 15. Find information and registration, $75, online.
How To Edit & Be Edited, a two-part workshop, via Zoom or WetInk, with cross-genre writer E.A. Midnight, noon to 2 p.m., Sunday, April 27. Find information and registration, $25, online.
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