Somewhere in a place between a daydream and another life, I am writing from a comfortable chair in a modest cabin facing a lake (think Thoreau’s Walden Pond or even Fonda’s Golden Pond – you get the idea). Everything around me is quiet save the breeze murmuring through the trees and the birds whose every chirrup and whistle inspires my next line.
It is the perfect writing realm except for one thing: it is not a sustainable model for the typical modern writer. I am not Thoreau nor am I independently wealthy. I am a full-time working mother and an avid volunteer who happens to love the craft of writing. I have to (get to) write every day, and I can’t jet off to New England every time I need inspiration (i.e. every day). The writing has to happen right now, right here, wherever that may be. Standing up in the kitchen. The car (when someone else is driving). The bathroom floor during my son’s tub time. Anywhere that can temporarily serve as a desk. I am sure you can relate.
Chirrups and whistles? Not so much. Try my three-year-old shrieking in frustration because his older sister gave him one too many kisses on the cheek. The other noise I hear is not a gentle rain on the roof of my quaint cabin. It’s the toilet running because neither my husband nor I have time to replace the doohickey inside the tank. And my next line? Like a matching sock, sometimes it’s difficult to find.
As nice as the cabin and the lake sound, there is a more realistic source of inspiration all around us, no matter where you live. What can sustain writers in the bustling day to day is this: community around the craft. I find my writing community at work and within my MFA alumni cohort. And whether for a single session or for an entire semester, a community is also what I hope to create through my writing workshops as well. Sure, genres, elements, techniques can be customized for every workshop depending on goals and interests. But what makes workshopping a particularly effective form of practice? The coming together to have a conversation about the craft.
That’s even better than birds serenading you on to the next chapter — because writing is meant to be shared.
Workshops give us an opportunity to set aside time to focus on improving our craft, and we need that if we expect to be better all the time. Like Asimov said, “It’s the writing that teaches us.” I think he was speaking about the practice of writing as well as time spent reading and studying the work of those who do it well. Imagine, then, in small-group settings what we writers can learn from each other.