Inspired by TWC’s upcoming writing retreat, Michelle offers a whimsical fairy tale…
Once upon a time, there was a timid young woman with a yen for writing and a monster desk-drawer dragon that fed on her work and kept her voice hidden from the world…
If I were writing a fairy tale about my writing life, that’s probably how I’d begin it. But then….
A fairy godmother came along – an accomplished and generous published author who told the young woman: “to become a true writer and defraud your monster drawer, you must go forth and find others with the same quest. Only then will you find your voice and defeat the dragon…”
It does sound like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? But this actually happened to me – in slightly less poetic terms, of course. The very act of “going forth” changed my life. It’s hard to hone your writing skills when you close yourself off from the community of other writers. For years, I sat at home and fiddled with poems, short stories, even novels. And as for trying for publication? Well….
The timid young woman found a deep, dark well and thought: this must be the place of sharing. So she threw her writing into the well and called down it. “Anyone there?” But all she heard back was the echo of her own voice: “there…there…there…” She waited and waited and the voice drifted away in the wind.
So how did meeting other writers make such a difference? For one thing, most writers I know were extremely generous to those who are taking their first tentative steps in this strange pursuit of ours. I have a list of heroes and heroines that I keep close to my heart – people who recognized my talent and taught me what to do with it.
“You’ve overloaded your verbal sword with too many adverbs,” said my newfound companion. “You’ll never conquer the dragon that way. And you must tame your inclination toward passive voice. Be active! Jump around! Stab and slash!”
But even more than the training – and that was key – was the companionship. Let’s face it, we writers live a lonely existence, if you don’t count the characters and conversations we walk around with in our heads. Finding others who struggle as we do, talking over both the very technical and the deeply philosophical, seeing that others take what we’re doing seriously – all of that gives our writing meaning. How exciting it was, the first time I attended a retreat, to sit at a table with fellow writers and take part in conversations that mattered so much to me. Seeing the same light shine in others’ eyes. There’s absolutely nothing like sharing a passion…
The campfire crackled and all around it, the companions shared bread and wine and stories. The timid young woman felt timid no longer. She was filled with a sense of well-being, of exhilaration and of a deep satisfaction. She was home.
Every writing retreat I’ve ever been to has felt like coming home. For me, these brief escapes from everyday life led me to better writing, to finding lifelong friends in the profession, to imbibing knowledge from writers I admired greatly. They introduced me to what I like to call “the writing life” – a life very different from the desolate world I had inhabited before.
In the spirit of generosity of so many of my own writing mentors, I extend a hand to all of you. Go forth. Seek writing companions. Find your way home.