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Writing Groups

Creative Process Writing Groups

The Only Writing Advice You’ll Ever Need

May 24, 2017

The following is a guest post by Joell Stebelton, who is writing a children’s book. She originally posted it as a freewrite in this month’s writing group (The Republic of the Body) and I knew immediately it was something I wanted to share here. Thankfully for us all, she said yes!

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Butt in Chair (BIC)

It is your practice that brings the pages to you. No writing book, no MFA, no writer’s conference, not even a writing mentor can give you the pages.

You wanna write a book? I’ll tell you what I learned after all of the above… well, except the MFA. (But I swear I’ve bookmarked at least a dozen universities.)

BIC

It’s the only advice you need. You don’t need shelves of books outlining someone else’s process, even if that someone else is a published author and you’re not. You don’t need to sell your mother’s Hummel figurine collection on eBay to fund a shwanky low-residency master’s program in creative writing.

Yeah, writer’s conferences can give you practical information on submissions, finding agents, and what to bring to your first book-signing. But no presenter can tell you what happens next in your story,  and while the most encouraging writing coach on the planet can help you come up with a plan, it’s up to you and you alone to get the writing done.

There is no magic formula.

Except BIC.

Butt in chair.

That, my friends, is how you write a book. Get your butt in a chair… or a treehouse… or a chaise lounge. Just sit down and, for the love of all that is holy, write.

When the itty bitty shitty committee shows up with their usual discouragement about the quality of your work, write.

When the phone rings,
when the dogs bark,
when it’s raining,
when it’s sunny,
(especially when it’s sunny),
when you’re feeling inspired,
when you’re feeling uninspired,
when you’re in a zone,
when you’re out of the ballpark,
when you’re wishing the Muse would remember your address,
when you’re tired,
when you’re sick AND tired,
when you’re thinking you should take up jiu jitsu instead,
write.

Write. Even if it’s just three sentences. Show up and write. And eventually, months or years later, you’ll have a first draft. A shitty first draft, perhaps. But a finished first draft. The end.

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Joell Stebelton lives in the woods of northeast Ohio with four dogs, a cat, and a woodpecker who is currently drilling holes into her library window. She’s a mama to an Ohio State Buckeye and a daughter who spends more hours at the barn than at home. She’s a writer, a reader, a yogi, and a closet nun.

The Body Writing Groups

Survival and Sunlight

May 19, 2017

“Life seeks fulfillment as plants seek sunlight.” ~ B. K. S. Iyengar 

{a 10-minute freewrite from today’s prompt in The Republic of the Body group}

My first wrinkle. Literally, the very first one that appeared. Mexico, the winter of 1997. My skin had turned a copper color and I walked everyday up and down those hills. I read Frida Kahlo’s autobiography and dreamed in Spanish and wrote poems about midwives and dogs howling and the moon.

Winters in northern Vermont. Short days. Brilliant blue sky How the sun was a gift then, a welcome visitor from far, far away. Don’t go, I’d cry, don’t leave me here alone. I don’t know what I would do without you.

The jade in my kitchen. It began as a small cutting from a thirty-year-old plant from my mother’s house. It is outgrowing the black porcelain pot where it sits in a kitchen window, south-facing, growing like crazy, always reaching for the light.

Cowering. Imploding. Moods. Black holes. Yoga mat. Hamstrings. Strap. Block. Pulling myself up and out of the vacuum that threatens to hold me hostage. Twelve minutes. It actually helps.

We are hardwired for survival, but just about everything else about our brains is a result of training and can change. My wife tells me we are a different person every single second, we are changing constantly. We think, “This. This is who l am.” We hold ourselves hostage to what we think we want and who we think we are and what believe to be true.

Lay it all out there. Not out there for the world necessarily but out there for yourself. One thing at a time. Question all of it. Is this mine? Do I still have a use for it? Did I inherit this and does that obligate me to keep it and cart it around with me to the end of my days, however long that may be?

Tension in my throat and upper chest. I feel the tightness. It is signaling me: “Hey, you. Yeah, you. Make some room for me today.” I make some room. Just a little, just enough. An opening where I can crawl out and have a look around the rest of the body, the wider landscape of whatever is happening within and without. Be the observer, I tell myself.

Constantly seeking safety and shelter will lead to atrophy. Of the spirit, of the mind. I do not want to shrink with time into a scared, small version of myself.

Space is internal; this much I know. I move towards it the way the jade traces the sun from east to west, the way a young woman once walked so close to the sun, the way a young mother once walked her babies bundled in snowsuits, the way a seeker craves silence and a song seeks its singer.

Creative Process Writing Groups

Feast On Your Life: A New Group for Not Doing

May 15, 2017

“Morning Musing” by Shelby McQuilkin | shelbymcquilkin.com

LOVE AFTER LOVE

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

~ Derek Walcott (1930-2017)

All this striving is killing us.

I’m not exaggerating.

It’s killing our spirits. It’s killing our creativity. It’s killing our ability to dream, to let our thoughts wander, to discover, to be awed. We’re so busy being busy that we are afraid of what will happen if we stop. Just stop.

Everything has to have a point. Be a means to an end. Result in something — an outcome, a benefit, a purpose. Our to-do lists are subtle oppressors we hitch ourselves to. We feel restless when we relax, if we even remember how. Even the things that once brought us joy become chores, or guilty pleasures. We speak of “stealing” time — to garden or nap or write. We can’t sleep. We check our phones first thing upon waking and last thing before sleeping. I’m talking about myself. I’m talking about you. I’m speaking in intimate generalizations. I’m concerned. I’m yearning.

“Simply put, creativity happens when your mind is unfocused, daydreaming or idle.” ~ Emma SeppäläScience Director, Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education :: read more

I want to lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling and have it count.

I want to walk in the woods after rain, inhaling deeply the scent of wet earth, ducking under dripping branches, stopping to look at the patterns of bark and stone.

I want to take a fresh peach in my hands and spend a few minutes touching its fuzzy skin, lifting it to my nose, and examining its colors and creases.

I want to put on a record and really listen to it — not as background music but as the thing I’m (not) doing.

I want to sit and feast on my life, as the late, great Derek Walcott memorialized in his timeless poem, Love After Love.

But how can I remember how to do this, if I don’t make time each day to “take down the love letters from the bookshelf,” read them one by one, without setting a timer, without punching a clock?

I want my writing to emerge from a place not of doing, but of being — but how will that ever happen if all I do is do?

That’s where you come in, and a brand new group.

Our lives are too precious to miss. But that’s exactly what happens when we feed the addiction of proving ourselves and how we “spend” our time, when we feel we must justify time off — and even the fact that we call it “time off” is so telling, isn’t it?

Come greet yourself.

Feast on Your Life

What it is: 
A two-week group where our focus will be on practicing the powerful art of being idle.

Each day will bring a different suggested activity, along with related readings and other supportive content. We’ll gather in a secret Facebook group to share check-ins about our experience as we go.

The focus here won’t be on writing as much as on taking some time each day to step out of the routines, the requirements, and the responsibilities — into a space that prizes a slower pace. Having nothing to show for yourself will be cause for celebration. Doesn’t that sound refreshing?

What it isn’t: 
Steeped in any particular tradition or dogma. We will draw on ideas from many sources and well as from each other’s experience.

Sign up if you: 

  • Are a chronic overachiever
  • Rarely put down your phone
  • Feel plagued by the need to prove something
  • Regularly sacrifice creativity on the altar of productivity
  • Long to feast on your life but secretly believe that’s impossible
  • Berate yourself for committing to things and not following through
  • Get nostalgic for some former self that used to listen to music, read poetry, and take walks

What are some example of “not doing” things?

  • Lying on the floor
  • Taking a slow walk with no destination (or fitbit, for that matter)
  • Napping
  • Listening to music
  • Saying no without a reason
  • Returning to something that once brought you joy
  • Sitting on a bench in the sun
  • Just calling to say hi
  • Doodling
  • Taking an extra long bath or shower
  • Eating a peach and calling it a feast
  • So much more… to be discovered together

Dates:
June 5-16

Cost:

With the intention of this group being widely inclusive, the cost is on a sliding scale. Simply use the button below to pay any amount been $49 and $149.

Dive Into Poetry Writing Groups

Where Does the Sky Begin?

March 13, 2017

Photo: Murashkame

Where does the sky begin?
Empiricists say, “Right under your feet.”
For additional answers, look within.

Ask a child and you’re in for grin.
With that kind of logic, you can’t compete.
Where does the sky begin?

Or is it sky, anything that’s not skin —
invisible source of rain, snow, and sleet.
For additional answers, look within.

Science sends my mind to a tailspin.
Poetry moves the chaff from the wheat.
Where does the sky begin?

Me? I’d rather read the notes in the margins
than believe everything on the bubble sheet.
For additional answers, look within.

Come sit and ponder, before we turn in.
This time by the fire cannot be beat.
Where does the sky begin?
For additional answers, look within.

*

Written in the Focus on Forms group during Week 3: The Villanelle. 

The Resistance Writing Groups

Sonnet #3: In Dark’ning Times

March 10, 2017

Photo: Максим Степаненко

We all know writing sonnets doesn’t pay
the bills for cable, food, health care, and heat.
A waste of time best spent another way,
for fools who feed on meter just as meat.
But soothing is the rhythm to my ear;
when all around the world has lost its way.
Would that a rhyme could take away the fear
of those whose rights are swiftly swept away.
There is no justifying this old art,
except to say it keeps the body calm
when hell has broken loose upon our hearts
by those who disregard shalom, salaam.
Whatever aids you in these dark’ning times
go deeper in and tell us what you find.

Written in the Focus on Forms group during our week of exploring the Shakespearean Sonnet. 

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