I used to think that as a writer I had to hole up in my little room and write and write, and never come out until I was done.
But it dawned on me that unlike in journalism, with creative work nobody really cared if I ever finished something. That gets a little weird after a while. It turns out that’s a bad idea for me to hole up that way, and a bad idea for most writers. Think about it. Even in those first days in Paris, Hemingway got out of his little room and went out drinking, got great coffee in cafes, hung out with a writing group at Gertrude Stein’s place, and got into fights for fun and exercise from time to time.
This Tuesday is the first session of my Fall 2014 Kitchen Table Writers at Rosemary House workshop, and it’s always a great time to reflect on creating a writing community. What we do in workshops like this is provide the structure, the deadlines, the group support–and the coffee and cookies that every writer needs, whether she’s in Paris or Chatham County. It’s important to set goals, to finish drafts, to keep revising until that draft is really really good, then revise again. And it’s important to know that somebody cares if you finish, and if it’s really really good. In this room, we are all each other’s Gertrude Stein. Lucky us.
Some of my students have heard me say the magic number 26. That’s how many deep revisions David Huddle gave his first story, Poison Ivy. It was the story that won him attention, got him a book contract, and made his career. When he was done revising that story, he’d learned that it’s worth it to keep going, and I’m guessing it was just a little bit easier the next time.
So, for 12 Tuesdays this fall, we are going to be keeping each other going. We’ll connect on the level of the work — which is a great privilege. Good writing goes deep, and we get to know each other quickly through its pages. The writers’ passions will show. Also their blind spots. We’ll point them out to each other, but always with respect and support.
By December 2, our last session, I hope all the writers will have completed at least one revision. I plan to be inspired by their passion and discipline to kick in my own revisions on my novel draft. And I hope they will know that although we all have to sit in that little room alone to do the work, it’s actually really fun to come out and share your work when it’s ready to see the light.
And it’s especially fun in Pittsboro. To steal Carrboro’s slogan, this is my Paris in the Piedmont.
Something I learned in today’s workshop: in addition to giving your subconscious assignments before you go to dreamland each night (fix this character, what’s my next plot move, etc.), you can invent an imaginary group of mentors. Put your writing problems all in a line on an imaginary conveyor belt (yes, just like the luggage-go-round at the airport), then imagine they are all passing by your favorite writing/life mentors: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Gertrude Stein, Anne Lamott. They will do their magic and your work will be ready in the morning with blessings upon it. Be ready with pen and paper. You never know what might happen. Thank you, Adams!