Wow. I’m surprised to find it’s been over seven months since I wrote a blog post!! Apologies—to my readers, to myself, and maybe, to my blog.
Last week I attended a 6-day in-person writing retreat with my teacher, Miriam Hall of Herspiral Contemplative Arts. At these retreats, we meditate, write in response to prompts, share what we’ve written, and give each other feedback. Later in the week we also share longer pieces we’ve been working on. There are a couple of chunks of time every day for “solo silent practice” – to do whatever we want, but Miriam encourages us to include some meditation, some writing, and some body care in each solo period. This year, my solo time frequently included a swim in the spring-fed pond on the beautiful land where we were staying.
Miriam also does some teaching about writing, on topics like dealing with the inner critic, and care and feeding of the muse. She suggests we think of our writing as a being, with which we cultivate a relationship. Here is my 15 minutes of free-writing on the prompt, “this being called writing.”
This being called writing?! This ‘being’ called writing. This, being called ‘writing.’ This being called – “Writing!” Each of these feels like a different prompt. If writing is a being, is it calling me? Am I calling it?
This process of writing, this practice of writing, this prowess of writing this patience of writing, this pattern of writing. This way of parenting myself, of counseling myself, of listening to myself, of hearing my own secrets, of inviting my dreams and fleeting fantasies into physical form, if only as squiggles of ink on the page. What this being, this way of being, called writing, wants. Wants of me, what I want of it. Of her? Of them? I think here of God, of spirit, its lack of gender. Maybe a muse is like a spirit – but is writing itself?
I suppose every being is really a process rather than a thing. A set of complex interrelationships, rather than an individual. Being, the verb form, rather than the noun. As in, we are humans, being, rather than human beings.
I thought I was going to write the quote, ‘we are human beings, not human doings.’ But instead, a new, different, fresh line came out.
Who are you? When you sneak in like that, you feel like a person, or a spirit. Who are you, writing? Who am I, when I move this pen? Am I you, writing? The breath breathing me. The writing writing me. The writing writing we.
Okay, but my thumb hurts. You take a turn.
[Switching to my non-dominant hand, picture it really messy and big]:
My thumb hurt earlier. Now not so far. I can let writing write.
Let writing be.
Let writing free.
The fact is, other than my blog writing, my relationship with my writing has been thriving. A year ago, I started doing regular zoom writing dates with two other students of Miriam’s. We’ve done them nearly every day for a whole year. We check in, write, and read aloud to each other sometimes. Between this group, my monthly feedback group with Miriam, and classes with her, I have written and revised over fifty thousand words of my novel in the last year. This is a very substantial portion of it. There’s still a lot to do to finish the first draft, and it will be way too long for a first novel, so there will be lots more revision. But I’m learning to trust that the things I haven’t figured out yet will emerge, and the feedback I’m getting from these very supportive fellow writers is that what’s emerging is interesting, enjoyable, and meaningful. Worth finishing.
What’s more, I feel I’ve developed as a writer. My first drafts of scenes are better than they used to be. I’m better at including sensory descriptions, at keeping the scene anchored in the physical reality of the protagonist. I can predict pretty well sometimes which parts of a scene will need more revision. Of course, the input from others is essential. The kind of help Miriam and my fellow writers give was described well in a book I’m reading, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. Lerner quotes an author, Charles McGrath, talking about his editor, Robert Gottlieb:
Bob has an uncanny knack for putting his finger on that one sentence, or that one paragraph, that somewhere in the back of your mind you knew wasn’t quite right but was close enough so that you decided to worry about it later. Then you forgot about it, or you convinced yourself that it was okay, because it was too much trouble to change. (p.203).
Being part of Miriam’s writing community is like that for me. Of course, my teacher and writing buddies also frequently see things I didn’t have in the back of my mind and didn’t anticipate being a problem. Which is awesome. It means I don’t have to try to foresee all the problems and try to fix them before I show my work to anyone. I can just write. I can let writing write. I can let writing free.
Of course, being this connected to a community of other writers isn’t always easy. I got triggered and cranky a few times at the retreat, having to coordinate and negotiate boundaries (including covid ones). My daily writing dates take time to schedule, and time to support each other when things get rough. But on balance, it’s obvious to me that my writing and I are benefiting immensely from being part of this practice community.
Lerner also talks a lot about how editors have to deal with the emotional needs of insecure or overly self-confident writers, all of whom seem to be isolated. Well, I don’t feel isolated at all. There is a deep intimacy that develops when we share our writing with each other in this safe space (with strict confidentiality guidelines in place). I feel very well-connected and well-supported in my writing, despite the pandemic. For this I am profoundly grateful.