On New Year’s Eve, my good friend Jenny Marrs shot me a text: did I want to sign up for an upcoming six week writing workshop hosted by another friend, the fabulous Lela Davidson?
Within the hour, we were registered. As a hint to others who may want to twist my arm, it’s very easy to get me to do things a) at the beginning of a new month b) at the start of a new school year and c) at the shift into a new year. There’s nothing I love like a fresh start and a blank page.
The day before the first session, Lela and I were gabbing over coffee in what I like to think of as our occasional two person support group, and I asked her what to expect the next morning when I arrived at her house with a new notebook (yes, paper!), a pen and the giddiness of a school girl.
Her response? “I run a tight ship.”
Perfect. That’s exactly what I was seeking – accountability and space carved out to just write.
And she wasn’t kidding. One of the things I love about Lela is her matter of fact nature. As a rebel (based on Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz and book, a topic for another time), I actually seek out the people who are willing to hold me accountable and call me out. Lela joins a list of about half a dozen (including my mom, sister and husband) thus far. Case in point from our SSWW welcome email:
I might have snacks, but please come with your own beverage, not that I don’t want to make you coffee, but here’s the thing I know about writers: We will do anything to avoid writing. We will clean toilets and reorganize the pantry. We will make a trip to Walgreens or call our mother in law. We will suddenly notice the dog needs grooming. Most especially we will indulge in pleasantries and coffee making with like-minded souls. Which is we won’t linger in my kitchen over the Keurig or the Nespresso machines, or the percolator. (Yes, we have caffeine issues.)
Several of the premises and promises of the Second Story Writer’s Workshop were also intriguing to me. For example, we’d treat everything as fiction. This almost kept me from enrolling, because I have a mental trunk full of real life, stranger than fiction stories from my childhood in Jamaica, Suriname and beyond that I am trying to tackle.
A road block I encounter often is the sense that someone in my family or someone present in the time and place I’m depicting will call out an error, an inaccuracy or something I’ve conveyed incorrectly.
But as usual, Lela’s feedback (she is an excellent teacher) was spot on: these stories are mine to tell, and my version of them (even if I’m fuzzy on a detail) can be my fiction. I need to share them as they looked and felt and sounded for me. This is a simple but incredibly freeing fact.
I loved the tenets of the Amherst method that guided our time together (i.e. Everyone has a strong, unique voice. A writer is someone who writes.)
Lela kept us on time, participated along with us, nudged and coached. I left the workshop with 101 (!) pages of writing, countless ideas and essay concepts to revisit, the motivation to relaunch and rethink my blog, confidence and enthusiasm that had been otherwise waning, and something else I didn’t anticipate:
I gained an intriguing, diverse, supportive group of writer friends.
Most I knew before the first session when we pulled our chairs together in that cozy room for the first time, but I met a few fresh faces and got to know others a bit better. Six weeks later, these eight women have shaped my tone, helped me hone my voice and given me incredible tips, warm suggestions, candid feedback and much laughter.
Last night, most of our group gathered to celebrate the completion of our formal time together with an evening out together – these women with vastly different upbringings, politics, careers and stations in life all gathered together – and it was good. The best summary I can offer is the sappy note I sent them at the end of the night:
You guys. Here’s how I judge the caliber of an evening: on a scale of 1 to 10, how badly does my face hurt from laughing? Tonight was a 10.
On a related note, Stephenie said something interesting about friends: I’m not going to read too much into it, but I think I know where she’s coming from.
A couple of years ago, I took stock of my circle of friends. I ran them through the laundry, wrung them out to dry, laid them out all out on the line, and realized that some were in need of mending. Some were in need of new homes. I kept just the ones who fit me and made me feel my best, and I let many find new homes. I haven’t looked back.
I’m a huge fan of these circles of friends who meet to do a common thing over the course of years and life changes (see: Shauna Niequist). At risk of sounding sappy – I realized tonight that y’all may be that group.
In case the moral of the story is unclear, you need to sign up for Lela’s next workshop if you’re local and have even an inkling of desire to write. She will get you pointed in the right direction. If you’re not local, her blog is not lacking in savvy tips and life lessons. Just head over there to visit and she’ll take charge (like she does).
If you don’t have access to Lela, I have to encourage you to find other writers and convene. There’s something fantastic about people with a common purpose coming together. You’ll be better for it.