A couple months ago I was invited to join a private Facebook group called “What Would Virginia Woolf Do?” I didn't know anything about it at the time, but was immediately struck by the candid conversations happening among the other members -- and so I took a closer look.
As it turns out, this closed online forum for women over 40 was created in 2015 by Nina Lorez Collins in response to her aging body and a craving to talk about it with her closest friends--without apology. It quickly attracted more people, and to date, has grown to nearly 16K members with a companion book just published by Grand Central Publishing.
In the interview below, Nina brings the same intimate, candid, and witty talk to our conversation. You might even decide to become a Woolfer yourself!
In 2015, at 46 and out of the blue, Nina Lorez Collins started waking up drenched in sweat every morning at 4am. She soon discovered that she was entering peri-menopause, that netherworld state which will take her from relatively young to relatively old, and that realization jolted her into creating a closed Facebook group for her girlfriends so that she could ask some questions, commiserate, and get advice. She called it “What Would Virginia Woolf Do?” in what she thought was a funny nod to a brilliant feminist she admired, a woman who chose to end it all in her late 50s.
Her goal was to create a haven where she could talk about aging without feeling ashamed, and where she could get information and support that would help her on this rocky road to crone-hood or aged bliss. What started as a small network among her closest friends has since blossomed to nearly 16K members and counting, along with the release of a companion book by the same name.
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Karin Gutman: Oh my, what a phenomenon you’ve created… Is this what you imagined would unfold when you first set out to create the original “What Would Virginia Woolf Do” Facebook group back in 2015?
Nina Lorez Collins: Not in a million years—this was intended to just be a place for me and my closest girlfriends.
How do you think Virginia Woolf would have responded to all of this?
(Laughs) Hard to say. I do think she would applaud our feminism and study of our internal lives.
Who is the WWVWD group for and how does one join?
One has to be a woman over 40, ideally smart and funny and willing to be open and supportive. Just search on Facebook for “What Would Virginia Woolf Do?” and answer the three questions that pop up.
Totally off topic perhaps, but I loved learning that you received a Master’s degree in Narrative Medicine from Columbia University. I have been circling around it for some time. How does that inform who you are and what you do in the world?
Hugely. My mother died of breast cancer when I was 19 and she'd had cancer for years and kept it a secret from everyone including her children. I'm very interested in ideas around loss, transition, how we live in our bodies.
I am the kind of person who gets a little wary when online communities take on an aggressive edge. I know there have been some heated banters and conversations in the WWVWD Facebook group. What is your take on that, beyond “it's par for the course.” Is it constructive?
Of course it can be upsetting when things get ugly, but generally you can see that it's someone who has been triggered in some way—there's some pain underneath the reaction. We try really hard to soothe people, but sometimes it's just not a good fit and people have to leave.
Where will all of this go from here? Do you have a vision for the Woolfers? Also, what’s next for you, within or outside of this community?
I'm really not sure yet… I absolutely love the women and the conversation and take great pride in the fact that it's been so meaningful for so many women. I'm hoping we can turn it into an identity brand for women over 40 with a website, blog, podcast, etc.
I recently read about the recent break up of your marriage. How do you manage everything that’s going on personally and professionally?
It's been really hard, harder than I expected given that it had only been a four-year relationship. I'm wondering if these things just get harder as we get older? The feeling of failure, the missing him; it's all been pretty awful. I suppose I'm grateful that WWVWD has kept me so busy and been such a distraction and a delight. Also, I really have incredible support from so many women!
What I just asked feels like such a personal question, but you seem to be comfortable with self-exposure - is that true? If so, where does that come from?
Yes, totally comfortable. I'm much less comfortable when people aren't saying what’s really going on. I think our pain is what's real and it should be discussed; how else can we grow?
I work with memoir writers, largely women, who are looking to discover and write their truths on the page… and out loud. What advice would you give them?
Write every day. It's a craft and it's hard as hell.
It seems to me that there is a movement happening - women gathering with women - empowering each other to live out loud and speak their truths. I have been experiencing it in my ongoing memoir groups for the last 8 years and it feels increasingly like it’s part of a growing historical movement. What do you think?
I think it's certainly happening now but I'm not sure if it hasn't always been true in different forms. The consciousness raising groups of the 70s etc.
How did you land your book deal? I imagine having a background as a literary agent helped.
One of my oldest friends is my agent and we worked closely together and got lucky getting a deal.
With your background as an agent, what are your candid thoughts regarding traditional versus self-publishing?
It's all hard and sort of awful, but I'd say it's always better to go the traditional route if you can.
What does your writing process look like?
Way too erratic. I don't write nearly enough. When I'm working on a project I spend a ton of time in bed with my laptop, often crying.
What do you know and trust about your creative process?
It's new and I've barely scratched the surface. I need to work harder at it.
Tell me THREE WORDS you live by.
Honesty, bravery, love.
~ Meet Nina ~
Writers Bloc presents:
Nina Lorez Collins in Conversation
Annabelle Gurwitch and Sandra Tsing Loh
Friday, May 4th, 7:30pm
To learn more about Nina Lorez Collins, visit: www.thewoolfer.com