Writing space, not a group, is what I need

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“I believe in empty spaces; they’re the most wonderful thing.” –Anselm Kiefer

This week I said goodbye to my writing group. I have trouble adjusting to groups. This group was a good group, however. It was hard to say goodbye. While I feel like sometimes I need accountability, I realize I just need to write and I need to write on my own terms. The truth is, since leaving my MFA program nine years ago, it’s been hard to find solid ground. It’s been difficult to grasp who I am as a writer and to find the routine and find solid footing. I thought I needed to force myself into a literary community or something. I guess I created a picture in my mind of how the post-MFA me should be and I was not finding my post-MFA life living up to that.

Leaving the group is not about the group members. It’s about casting off the expectations. It’s about finding myself as a writer again. Admittedly, I felt lost. My novel manuscript I left the program with seemed on its way and then it floundered. It had gotten beaten up by some of the communities I thought I needed, and I stowed it away for another day. I made fits and starts on other projects. I cut those off at the knees with other communities I thought I needed.

To be fair, my kids were growing up while I was trying to find myself as a post-MFA writer and they needed me. I worked a full-time job as a writer and then as a teacher of writing. It left little time and energy to find myself. I had a nurturing community in MFA program and then I didn’t. I was doing the nurturing and trying to find a rhythm again. It has been difficult, but the other day I realized that I just needed time to write. I needed to create a routine. I needed space. I needed to breathe life back into this thing that I love to do so much. That routine meant I didn’t want to fit into any kind of shape that the group formed for me. I wanted to be free to work on the projects that I wanted to work on. You see, I write literary stuff, but sometimes there is magic in it or ghosts or whatever supernatural thing that pops up, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, it’s just literary. I just want to write what I want to write.

It turns out, I don’t really need a group right now. I could use a good reader or two, but not a group. I do have a group of sorts, the kind of group that I figure works best for me to stay on task, a goal setting group, a kind of support group for writers. I meet once a month with them, talk about what’s frustrating me about writing and what’s going well, and that’s good enough, but the critique group always seems to stop the writing in its tracks rather than feed it.

Today, I embrace the space, the space I finally realize I have needed more than the community. This space has helped me look back at that manuscript I shelved with fresh eyes and with a fresh approach. I can see those characters again. I see them in a new way, and I am excited. I need to sit with this excitement for a while, be happy that it’s back. I’ve missed this.

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Emerging From the Divide

 

I see a lot of mountains. I love mountains. I feel at home near the mountains. Some people feel at home near water. I like water, too, but I love the mountains. They represent so much. They are vast here. They are hard and beautiful. Here it is easy to leave the business of life and hit a trail for a while where there is no chatter. It’s easier to see there are bigger things than us.

There is no good segue from that to this, to discussing the way I have begun to let go and let myself dive into writing again. Maybe the mountains just represent the letting go for me. Maybe this picture of a great divide represents my own divide, or the process of dividing in half the way things were and the way things are now with something new emerging from all of it.

The way things were were tense and serious and hard, not that things shouldn’t be hard. I lived by a book that someone else had written. I learned from that book. Yes, I am talking about writing. I was serious about it. I wrote serious stories about life. My first book, which is in a drawer, is a serious story about a life I once knew, a life I needed to release in some way, maybe that way.

There is no good way to say this, but I the floundered. I floundered after grad school as I tried to figure out what to do with all of that. I jumped from writing group to writing group trying to find a good fit. I tried to find beta readers for stuff that had grown stale a long time ago.

Here, by the mountains, I found a little writing book, Benjamin Percy’s book Thrill Me. I hadn’t read a craft book in a while. I was pretty down on craft, confused about it. Percy gave me permission, permission to go where I wanted to go, to take my serious writing learning and find the holes in reality I was always looking for. That’s what I am doing now with the very real, very big mountains in view.

I’m in the midst of marketing my first book of poems, but already my focus is shifting from poems to time and divides and mountains and things that as I write I can’t really explain, and it feels good. It feels right.