The writing process is a solitary endeavor. Sometimes it’s a struggle just to carve out a block of time in our busy schedules, but we do it. We open our notebooks or computers and hope inspiration will transform our thoughts into poems, essays, or books that will touch the hearts of readers in a significant way. We write, reread, and edit, tossing out unworthy sentences and perfecting ones with the most promise. We readily accept the challenge of becoming long-distance swimmers inside our imaginations.
In the past, I incorporated weekly groups and weekend workshops into my writing life. They provided much needed critique, support, and encouragement. I could not have finished my memoir without my amazing teacher, Ellen Bass, and dozens of talented individuals dedicated to their craft.
But the most rewarding experience has been the week-long writing retreat. Every year I make sure to attend at least one. In 2014, I studied with Ellen Bass and poets Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar at Mayacamas Ranch, which is set on a hilltop ridgeline just north of Napa Valley. Within this serene setting, I discovered the quiet my mind had been craving. I had the expansiveness of days without deadlines, leisurely drifting between suggested prompts and my own interior monologues. I swear by such unlimited freedom. It allows for intricate reflection and writing that is closer to the bone.
Last month I participated in Laura Davis’s “Writing as a Pathway Through Grief, Loss, Uncertainty and Change” at Commonweal, a cancer retreat center that welcomed writers from all over the country. Each morning Laura provided prompts for timed practices. At first, I thought, how can I keep my pen moving for ten minutes without stopping and crossing out words? Yet somehow I found my rhythm. Each exercise revealed emotions ripe with description and detail. Soon I had a mountain of material and pages bursting with a renewed understanding of myself. I don’t believe I would have achieved this very easily on my own. By writing alongside others and witnessing their grief and loss, I became a member of a community connected at the deepest level. I was humbled and gratified at the same time.
Now I’m back home with my notebook opened again on my lap. Sunlight through the guest room window flickers on the white paper while my Shih Tsu snores ever so slightly by my feet. I trust my pen will start moving. I’ll sit here until it does.