Thursday, February 13, 2014

Here's a Tip: Join a Writing Group

Here’s a tip: if you want to be buoyed, affirmed, celebrated, and connected to the creative spirit as well as those in your midst, join a writing group. And I don’t mean a critique group. Join a group (like an Amherst Writer’s and Artists AWA workshop, or one based on their principles) where you open a journal, or the lid to a laptop, or prop up your tablet, and write whatever comes to mind and heart in a room full of other people who are doing that exact thing, a place where no one is set apart, no one is exempt from being vulnerable.

Leave the dishes in the sink and the children with a sitter. Let your fingers fly or your hand sweep across the page for twenty or thirty minutes, as you write whatever comes without censoring. Listen to the comforting tap of other keyboards, the scratch of other pens, the occasional cough, the quiet tears, Kleenex shedding from the box, tearing of a tea pouch, the hum of central heat, as you would listen to the wind or expressway drone or your refrigerator hum after midnight.

And then, once the bell has rung or the leader's voice has summoned you to stop writing, look up from your spiral-bound notebook, patterned journal, metal and plastic electronics, and feel the vibration in the room. Smile at your radiant companions, all of you blinking and slick from sliding in and out of another dimension.

When the convener asks, “Who would like to share?” sit back, take a deep breath, and have the audacity to read those fresh-formed words aloud. When you’ve finished and the room is silent, stop your voice and hands from shaking, and listen to the response:

No judgment, no criticism, no mention of what is weak or confusing, no judgment about subject matter or language. Instead, you receive only positive responses: what is strong, what is memorable. Your voice is honored. Your words are heard and held in complete confidence (you will never hear your writing discussed in the supermarket or church parking lot). The focus is on the writing, not you; the story, not your life; the poem, not your circumstances (in the AWA method, we assume everything is fiction unless the writer tells us differently).

Whether the words are fiction or non, they are brave and honest and true, and the room is filled with wisdom and humor and original expressions and the dazzling raw power of first thoughts and drafts. You have the great privilege and gift of listening to stunning writing by the best and most humble writers you will ever meet. Stories and poems that may never be printed in a book or a blog, words that might only be uttered just this once before they’re safely tucked to sleep.

There is more light in the world because you have brought what matters to this table: your authentic self. 


  1. This is a gorgeous tribute to the AWA writing groups and the brilliant writing that comes each time we write together. I am always astounded not only by the quality of the writing, but the heroic, brave, and courageous strength of the writers. Astounding writing, week after week, always stunning, always breathtaking. Thanks for writing this. The AWA method is truly writing as a healing art.

  2. From this writing I'd say, wow, Cathy Warner must be a mystic--she knows how to allow the Divine to dwell in present time.