Writing is, ostensibly, a solitary endeavor, but I think that any writer who keeps to herself all the time is doing herself a deep disservice. Getting together with the right combination of people to talk (some might say commensurate) about this silly little idea of a writing life can be a soul-renewing experience. That's usually how I feel after an evening talking to Betsy and Nancy. (The three of us met while in the master's program at Hopkins; we'd all had several classes together and I personally thought they were two of the most articulate classmates and among the strongest writers in the program. I honestly can't remember how we three came to form this little alliance--a triumvirate, perhaps?:) --but I'm grateful for it nonetheless). We meet when we can: When kids and horses and the general detritus of life doesn't get in our way. Sometimes we have manuscripts to read and comment on; mostly we just get together and talk. It's like a support group for writers. "Hi. My name is Bobbi, and...I'm a writer." "Hi Bobbi."
We met last Friday in our usual place (the Panera in Hunt Valley. Don't knock it. What it lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in free coffee refills). This week, we spent a considerable amount of time talking about instinct. I know I've written about this before--that elusive gut-thing that writers are supposed to listen to. Do we listen, though? Nooo. Often we don't. That's what I learned Friday night. We doubt our guts and that kinda sucks.
A few years ago, Nancy wrote a phenomenal story. Just an incredible story about an injured horse and the two riders who had to make difficult decisions about getting it down off the trail. What I remember most about it was the way she managed to convey the paradoxical nature of horses--on one hand, they are sturdy, strong. Beasts of burden. But they can be delicate too. Their skin is so fine, it tears so easily. Their legs--while the muscles are strong, the bones are fragile. I'm still kind of in awe when I think about how she did it. And the escalating tension was magnificent. I loved reading that story. But when Nancy workshopped it, she was told it "wasn't a story." WTF?? I really don't care that the person who told her that little gem is a published author. Writer-lady was wrong. I know it. Nancy knows it. So how could one person convince her otherwise? How is it that we let someone (often it's anyone and not just those who we look to as authorities) tell us that the opposite of what we know deep down to be true and right is actually false and bad? It can be devastating--not only to your ego, but to that voice in your head, that feeling in your bones that you're right. Gah. How do you get around it? How do we learn how to trust our guts?
Well, for me, talking to Betsy and Nancy helps. And I hope I help them (I'm hoping that Betsy and I convinced Nancy to query journals for that piece. It deserves a second chance!). It helps to know that I'm not alone when I doubt myself, that's for sure. And getting encouragement from fellow writers--people who want you to succeed and much as they themselves want to, is, as I said, good for the soul. It gives me renewed energy and the strength to keep trudging through, even when it feels like I'm trying to run through knee-deep mud.
Writing has to be solitary, at times. I have to wall myself off to get things done. But when I get to spend an evening with talented and articulate people, talking about craft and about our struggles and successes, I feel energized and ready to get back to work. So, thanks ladies!