The Blue Chair Blog

It's not just about the novel

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Not so secretly, I admire you (repost from NaNoWriMo Blog)

A  few weeks ago, NaNoWriMo solicited folks to write “not-so-secret admirer” notes to people who have inspired them as writers. For my money, writing as part of a community is different, and better, than writing in total isolation. A lot of people and organizations have inspired me from afar and supported me up close, including Kamy Wicoff and, Russ Cahill, Deborah Harkness, Meagan Macvie and Off Point Writers, Hedgebrook, NaNoWriMo, personal friends who keep low profiles, and at least half of those I follow in my Twitter feed.

First and foremost are the five remarkable women who make up WISH, the Wild and Inspired Sisters of Hedgebrook. Here’s the note I wrote to them, which was published on the NaNoWriMo Blog today:

Dear Colleen, Kay, Niki, Teresa, and Traci,

Yes, my wild, inspired sisters—you are the reason I am able to write, not just reclusively as writers must, but also as part of a small but vibrant writing community. Aren’t I lucky to have this opportunity to write out loud about what a difference you have made in my life! 

How could we have imagined when we first met at Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers in Washington state, that we would still be in almost daily contact over a year later? We were together in a historical fiction master class for only a week, learning from the phenomenal Deborah Harkness and reveling in Whidbey Island’s magic. Although Hedgebrook and its dedicated staff remain close to my heart, you are the gift that keeps on giving. Even now that we are scattered from the West Coast of the US to Germany, thanks to technology we are there for each other almost every day, and sometimes even in the middle of the night.

What we have in common connects us — our obsession with historical fiction, alternating fascination and frustration with the writing process, and a passion for red wine with salt and pepper potato chips. I have seen most of you at least once in the intervening year and I cherish those times, too. Only with true friends can you meet and take up the conversation again without missing a beat. And what conversations! Encouragement, sympathy, understanding, humor — each of you has these things in abundance and shares them unquestioningly.

Thanks for always being there, convincing me I can succeed, and cheering me over all the hurdles. Maybe I could do it alone, but I’m glad I don’t have to try.



After telling the NaNoWriMo folks about WISH, I was excited to receive an invitation to write the note for publication and absolutely thrilled to wake up this morning and learn that it had been published. The blog’s headline writer got it exactly right. Here’s to writing groups who become true friends!

The original text of my note is here.

Hellebore on the farmhouse table



A different kind of connection

I just got back together with Natalie Goldberg. Even though I don’t know her, she changed my life.  At some point last year, I ran out of steam on my current work in progress. (I got back to it — all good for the moment, thanks.) Still, I kept on writing almost every day, thanks to Natalie’s sensible and transcendent first book, Writing Down the Bones. Because of that book and her wisdom, even in the throes of a creative dry spell, I developed a writing practice that got me through that fallow period and that has also has stood the test of time. The practice brought me a connection to Natalie — I often addressed what I was writing directly to her — and also to myself.

She can tell it better than I can, but what she has to say kind of boils down to this:

  • Find a cheap notebook and a fast pen
  • Write every day
  • Keep your hand moving
  • Don’t edit, don’t censor yourself, just write
  • Be specific

This approach appeals to me in part because I enjoy writing longhand. I think differently when I do. Yes, I use a computer for blog posts and book drafts, which suits the purpose but is not the same. Possibly the single best piece of advice as it applies to the content of writing is Natalie’s direction to “be specific.”  For whatever reason, I’m pretty good at not editing on the first pass. The rest is more about process and process is highly personal. This is what works for me.

I went through that book at the rate of about a chapter a day. When I finished, I decided to try a different author as my writing guide.  She’s as well-known as Natalie, maybe more so, and I believe her approach and techniques have been successfully adopted by many writers. But I found out, after working through a few of these new chapters and exercises, that I could not make a connection with this other writing guru. As a result, my writing practice fell off. I regretted that and felt guilty about it. I went back to my manuscript and let my writing practice become intermittent. Then one day not long ago, I picked up another of Natalie’s books, Wild Mind, which is about the writing life as well as writing practice. Or so it seems; I’m not through it yet.

What I can say is that beginning to read the Introduction to Wild Mind felt like a homecoming. Not so much the kind where you are greeted with open arms as a long lost relative, but more the kind when you walk in your front door, slip off your tight shoes,  sink into your most comfortable chair, put your feet up, and silently shout, “Hallelujah!”

I’ll certainly explore other writing books and teachers, but I think I’ll always come back to Natalie. Thankfully, she’s given writers quite a few resources. Even if she hadn’t, I bet I could pick up Writing Down the Bones and work my way through it again one chapter at a time to find new insight, inspiration, and encouragement along the way.

It’s Natalie who speaks to me, but the list of writers and teachers sharing their gifts is long, varied, and rich. I would love to learn about your favorites in the comments.


Only connect

If the online world sometimes seems both a blessing and a curse, this morning I know it’s a blessing because it connects me to other writers. In the real world, even. Like anything else, the more you sow the more you tend to reap. Writing comes first and reaching out does take effort, but it is SO worth it.  I’m still a little high from a terrific book event I attended yesterday evening at Third Place Books up in Lake Forest Park. The event was part of She Writes Press spring book tour and featured Kamy Wicoff, author of Wishful Thinking; Leanna Lehman, author of Vote for Remi; and Celine Keating, author of Play for Me.

It’s a bit of a haul from where I live up to Lake Forest Park and Puget Sound traffic is a bummer. Also, the weather was dark and stormy. Before I left, it hailed. Hard. And there were a million other things I could have been doing, including putting my butt in my seat and writing a few hundred more words.  But writers need to put some balance in their lives (at least I do, constantly) and they need to feel connected, because writing can be a lonely enterprise.

I was so happy to see a familiar face when I arrived — Louise from Hedgebrook, along with Bre, whom I had not yet had the pleasure of meeting. Pretty much everything Hedgebrookian brings me joy and of course there is a natural, sympathetic connection between She Writes Press and Hedgebrook. Finally meeting Kamy after reading and reviewing her book was a genuine pleasure. She, Leanna, and Celine gave delightful readings and of course I had to buy all three books. (An extra Wishful Thinking can’t hurt!) Writers are readers, too, and I imagine we all have tottering To Be Read piles, but isn’t that better than the alternative?

These warm, bright, and interesting women also know how to engage an audience!  All of  us (maybe 40 — I’m bad at estimates) introduced ourselves and shared what we were currently reading or writing. How much there is to learn this way! People were reading everything from mysteries to the sciences and writing about everything from nonfiction about serious illness to fantasy fiction. I was excited to meet the triple-threat writer, editor and instructor Lori A. May and hear about her book The Write Crowd, Literary Citizenship and the Writing Life (arriving on Friday, thanks to Amazon Prime).

Here’s to community and connection among writers. If you have suggestions for how to expand our connected universe, please do share them along with any other thoughts in the comments!