Monday, September 22, 2014

The Way to Write is to Write: Writers Support Workshop, Session I with Petals & Bones

Yesterday was the first session of my Writers Support Workshop in Santa Rosa, just 20 minutes along a back road from my farm cottage. Four women writers gathered around a table after-hours at the Undercover Baking Agency in a newly hip corner of town: SOFA, or South A Street Arts District, featuring the highest concentration of artists' studios in Sonoma County, as well as the Spinster Sisters restaurant, where I had a bite to eat afterward and took more notes from the session.

Writing facilitator extraordinaire, Leilani Clark, coached us with a couple prompts that weren't typical of a writing workshop, since this one's really about finding ways to be accountable to our work rather than a focus on the craft itself, although we will be exchanging a bit of writing for feedback and suggestions. First, we listed what gets in our way, leading to 'failure' to write. Here's mine:

  1. Prioritizing everything else (work, finances, home projects, exercise, trip planning, emails, family, social life, recreation, house cleaning, gardening, etc.) before writing.
  2. No writing schedule. I leave it for after work or weekends (too busy, too tired, no time).
  3. Unrealistic expectations/ambitious goals create pressure to complete a finished, polished product that's publishable vs. approaching writing as daily or weekly exercise and practice.
  4. Creative writing at my desk at home, which I associate with writing for work
  5. Isolation: nobody is offering feedback or insisting I write (no deadlines)

After we each shared our laments on procrastination, Leilani validated the difficult nature of self-discipline: "No one's waiting for these essays to get out." Harsh as that may sound, it's the truth about writing, unless you're in a program or class... or support workshop. So we're to team up in pairs that check in each Sunday evening on the week's progress, as well as set goals for the week ahead.

My goal this week: delve into some interesting or problematic string to solve for half an hour each morning--before work begins. My fear is that I'll get so involved that half an hour won't be enough. But, hey, I've been working more than my minimum hours this month so there's wiggle room.

Leilani read aloud a poignant essay in the Poets and Writers column "Why We Write" about a writer whose father called her from India each morning to make sure she was writing until she finished her novel, which was finally accepted by a publisher the day her father died.

As an exercise, we wrote and shared our own "Why I Write." Mine took a surprising turn toward the copywriting I do for a living. What pushes me to write for pay are the billable hours I log, the deadlines documented on spreadsheets and the expectations of others who edit my work that gets posted weekly. When I count up the hours and multiply them by what I make, I think, "Wow, that wasn't so hard." But when it comes to creative work--that gut-wrenching, imaginative or stuck-in-the-mud mind-work on a piece that's personal--well, that's another story. Then it's entirely up to me.

Leilani reminded us that there's value to simply writing, even if it doesn't ever make it out into the world, and I found it freeing to reconsider how I want to approach the task. My ambitious goals can motivate me, but all too often they become obstacles in this game of self-sabotage. I want to bring the playful curiosity back into my writing work, which in itself is what feeds me.

Here's another tidbit from the magazine's "Writers Recommend" section:
"Writing is about getting to a place of deep mediation. The writer’s job is, at a fundamental level, all about finding the habits that will get you there—somehow. Human beings are, fortunately, trainable animals."   
                                                           -- Peyton Marshall, author of Goodhouse: A Novel
As Leilani said, "The way to write is to write."

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