Tag Archive for writing groups

I’M GLAD I DIDN’T CHOOSE POTTERY

 

This summer as I visit the Idyllwild Arts program, I realize that it has been twenty-five years since I first visited the campus. I am accompanying my friend to a jazz concert in which her teenage son is performing. The first time I came as a student myself. Only I was no gifted musician, nor was I a teen. Instead I was a newly married woman in my thirties with an extended summer vacation to fill. I perused the offerings at Idyllwild; music, pottery, drawing, painting, sculpture, writing. I did not think of myself as an artist. Rather the idea of a week in the San Jacinto Mountains exploring something new appealed to me. I signed up for a creative writing workshop, a decision which has impacted my life far more than I had imagined.

The workshop was taught by a poet who worked as an artist in the schools. Twelve of us sat around u-shaped tables and introduced ourselves. At least half of these men and women were published, even the teenager who sat to my right. The instructor announced that we would do a short 10-minute quick write. She looked at each of us in turn and mouthed an individual word. Although I no longer remember that instructor’s name, I remember my word, slowly. All I could think about was how much better off I would have been in the pottery workshop. Yet somehow I wrote the word at the top of my page and scribbled what turned out to be a tension filled piece.

During the week, our instructor cultivated our writing and our bonding through a series of writing prompts. As we participated in her “out-of-the-box” exercises, we were encouraging our unique voices to emerge. She taught us to get out of our own way, to let the writing emerge naturally. A group of us continued in a monthly writing group of our own for about a year until the demands of life, the limitations of crossing the vast Los Angeles area bogged us down more than it uplifted us.

It was our instructor who first introduced me to Natalie Goldberg. I became a devotee of Writing Down the Bones, and kept my hand moving as I lulled monkey mind to sleep and accumulated journal after journal of writing practice. I joined other groups, took the occasional class, but never really thought of myself as a writer. A writer was someone else; someone disciplined, someone with a story to tell, someone published. I was none of those things. I just enjoyed the company of writers. Most of all I enjoyed having a prompt thrown out, a timer set, pens scratching across the page until time was up. I marveled at the myriad ways in which a single word or phrase landed in our hearts, drawing a unique story into the world. I still do.

As a recent retiree, I moved to Bellingham and began the process of forming a life within a new community. I signed up for a Flash Fiction class at Whatcom Community College. Through that class I met other writers, became a part of the local writing community. This year I volunteered at the Chuckanut Writers Conference. During an interview with Jessica Lohafer, the conference chair, I was asked the usual questions writers get asked. What do you write? Why do you write? I told her I mostly write memoir, but I’m not sure I need to be published. While the validation of being published would be affirming, I balk at the work needed to achieve it. For me, it’s all about spending time in the company of writers, listening to their words. My heart opens as they share sacred thoughts couched in language that causes me to stop and think, “Yes, that’s exactly what heartbreak is like” or “I’ve never thought of that feeling as a color before, but you’ve nailed it.”

Jessica smiled and assured me there is no need to be on the publication crusade. While I know I don’t need Jessica’s permission, or anyone else’s, hearing that truth was somehow liberating. It even allowed me to think of myself as a writer.

debbie brostenAuthor’s Bio:  Debbie Brosten is a retired teacher, an inveterate traveler and a sometime writer. While she has had a few short pieces published in local publications, she has no book sitting at the back of her closet waiting for discovery. Instead she participates in two writing groups to keep her creative juices flowing. She also began a prompt writing group at Village Books. You can find her there at 4 pm on the second and fourth Monday of the month, when she isn’t exploring distant lands. Wherever she finds herself keeps an ear or an eye cocked for an unusual phrase that may or may not find its way into her writing.

Thanks!

When I signed up to write this blog post several months ago, it was at the Red Wheelbarrow Writer’s happy hour and—as I’d been indulging in happiness for well over an hour—I was, um… easily manipulated. And writing a blog post for a bunch of writers at some random future date seemed like a great idea. No problem.

As the deadline neared, however, the idea shriveled: what could I possibly contribute that could be of value to such an amazing group of writers, most of whom have been at this far longer than myself? I tried denying that I would have to do it: the project would be abandoned, no one would notice if I let it slip, the Internet might break, etc. Of course, Diane called me right on cue. Sigh.

But then it occurred to me that everyone likes gratitude, especially when it’s genuine and directed at them, and that would be my honest experience of the Red Wheelbarrow Writers – a great giant heaping serving of gratitude. I am perhaps on mile twenty of my novel-writing marathon, and I have high hopes of reaching the finish line entirely because of this great community. So here’s my thanks to you all:

Thanks for the start.

On October 31, 2011, Cami Ostman texted and challenged me to a Nanowrimo duel—odd, as we didn’t know each other well at the time, and I had never expressed any desire to write a novel. She must have had an intuition that I had a story lurking, or maybe that I am madly competitive, because I picked up the glove. Mostly from a desire to beat her daily word count, I began writing the first story that came into my head, and was surprised by the end of the first week to find a whole crowd of characters had woken up in my mind and were clamoring for freedom. I haven’t had much peace since.

Thanks for the community

As a professional creative, I’ve participated in any number of conferences and activities with other folks similarly inclined, and have always rolled my eyes at what can quickly devolve into—for lack of better words—a big ol’ pecker contest: who has been published, who is connected to which publisher or producer, who won the award, who is sleeping with the drummer. Ick. I prefer solitude. When I reluctantly joined in with my first RWW meeting, what I found in you all was instead a marvelous group of people, all in different parts of their writing journeys, but all wonderfully supportive of one another’s successes and challenges. Each time one of you has garnered an award or new contract, or even just finished the first draft of a difficult project, others in the group are genuinely thrilled as if it were their own success. What a delight to be welcomed into such a group.

Thanks for the stretch.

Just like a really good yoga stretch is often done with a little help from the teacher, and usually hurts, (but not too much) you all have helped me stretch, even when it might not have been comfortable. You’ve been brave enough to tell me I used the same phrase four times in one page, that my characters needed more fleshing out or that (thanks Laura) a whole four pages are a waste of narrative space. Critiquing another’s work honestly is a brave and generous act, and I so appreciate those of you who have been willing to make it hurt a little!

Thanks for the laughs

The group Nanowrimo novels. Enough said.

Thanks for the stories

When I head to Uisce on a Saturday, I no longer see a group of strangers, but feel as if I am entering a big top tent teeming with wild and colorful stories. Because of you all, I have experienced the Alaskan wilderness, the thrill of blue water sailing, the joy of running, and the delicate insights uncovered in a garden. I have bird-watched on remote islands, been a civil war soldier, an African diplomat, a displaced gringa, and a woman obsessed with Elvis. I will never again cook a king salmon without a profound understanding of its arrival on my plate. Thanks for becoming my friends.

 

AGabrielPhotobigAuthor Bio:

Andrea Gabriel has written and/or illustrated a number of picture books for children, and is currently lurching toward the finish of her first novel. She makes a living creating pictures and websites.