The playwright on creating the Brooklyn Writers Space.
Question: What inspired you to create the Brooklyn Writers Space?
Scott Adkins: Well, my wife and I had a child, our first son, and we realized that working at home and in the apartment wasn’t going to work for us anymore. So we needed a place to work and a friend of ours told us about The Writers Room, which is the first space of this kind I think in New York City that was made and we went over and talked to them about it and realized that the waiting list was way too long. At that time it was two and a half years to actually get accepted into the space. So, we talked to them and asked them what they thought about us starting up the similar space in Brooklyn and they responded very positively and said that would be great because of their waiting list. It would actually alleviate the pressure for them. So that was the inspiration.
Also, I had just lost my job, I’d been severed from a corporation. I was working for a financial company and I had started there as a temp and then very slowly the golden cage built up around me and I had been feeling trapped and complacent at the same time so it’s difficult to have the motivation or initiative to leave the cage so they did it for me and that was a major inspiration. Once I left there then I started thinking about how I wanted my day to be structured and what I would like to do. And so, it became sort of a great union in terms of creating the space, making that sort of the thing that occupied me to provide some sort of income and also having a space for us to make our creative work and to be surrounded by an incredible community of writers which has been an unbelievable inspiration that’s been totally amazing.
Question: What is the writer’s community like at the Writers Space?
Scott Adkins: It’s a fascinating experience.It’s as diverse as there are many kinds of writers. And some people don’t like to talk to anybody at the Writers Space but they will talk about how amazing it is to actually sit in a room with twenty other people working together and typing out their work and you sort of get this buzz, this undercurrent of energy even though someone might be playing solitare next to you. Well it doesn’t matter because you sort of project that they are doing this amazing work. It becomes this motivator for you to work really hard and in that sense you’re still solitary because you can’t see anybody in our space but you can feel them. And that’s a great experience. And then there’s another group of people who like to take breaks and they’ll come out until lunch and talk to other people and work things out verbally or vent about the current political things or whatever, whatever is on their mind and, and have great discussions about that and heated debate sometimes, and then they’ll go back and get to work on their fiction or their autobiography or whatever.
Question: How does the Brooklyn Writers Space foster creativity?
Scott Adkins: We try to keep a consistent environment as much as possible and I think that’s the key: allowing people to know what to expect when they come into this space. Consistency is important for fostering anything, I think. Changes are difficult for everybody. Anytime we change one little thing in this space there’s always a little bump and sometimes it’s a positive bump, sometimes it’s a negative bump and then everything evens out and everyone’s okay again. So, we just keep a clean space, we provide a place to put their food, a place to talk on the phone, to print their work, there’s no secret really. I also try and keep the walls blank as possible in the backroom, provide an eclectic collection of books which are completely random and found on the streets of Brooklyn so that also I think helps a lot too if someone gets stuck, they can just pick up this random book about mythology and start looking through it, or a quotation book and find some inspiration there that get the gasoline lit again.
Question: What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs?
Scott Adkins: Ah, yeah. I think the nugget is to, which was the piece of advice given to me from some folks at the Writers Room, keep it simple and don’t try to expand beyond what you’re trying to do which in our case was providing a desk, a lamp, and a chair. There really is no need to differentiate yourself in providing a space so whatever you do, if you stay focused on the primary objective which should be a simple objective, then you can do that really, really well. If you diversify too much, it could become an issue.
One of the other things is that when we first started the Writers Space, banks were very reluctant to even consider providing money to us. In fact, nobody gave us money. We had to put most of it on credit cards, luckily at that time it was all zero percent credit cards so we took a major risk. So we asked ourselves the one question of, if we put—I had a little severance package—we put all the severance into this and we come out of this with a major piece of debt and that doesn’t work, will we feel good about having done this? And the answer was yes, it would be worth it and if it’s worth the risk, then you can go for it; if it’s not worth the risk, then don’t do it. I did try to create a non-profit and the state denied it. They said that we were not a non-profit company, we were a for-profit company choosing not to make a profit. Interestingly enough, I realized from that and going over to the foundation center, that we didn’t need to be a non-profit. We were just following in the footsteps of the Writers Room which was a non-profit and so if you can think of ways to create an efficient model where you don’t have to have extra programming and extra sources of revenue—in terms of if you’re a non-profit you need a grant-writer so that person needs to write grants to actually pay themselves and then provide another stream of programming which could be unnecessary and more work than you actually need to do.
So, for us it really was one of these things of like, I need time to write and I need a place to work, and so we kept it as simple as possible and I wouldn’t consider that an entrepreneurial outlook. Actually it’s more anti-entrepreneurial. It’s more limiting and modest. And so I think it’s important to look at what your needs are, what your expectations are for yourself and go there and not try to say “In ten years I want to have yachts and extra summer houses and all this stuff,” if that’s really not what you want to do ‘cause first of all you can’t do that if you open up a writer’s space but if that’s the kind of business you want to open then you go down that path.
Recorded on: April 24, 2009