Rise. Walk to the kitchen. Stumble to the table. Pick up a pen. Pre-dawn settles on the page and makes its own illumination.
This blog is a place to gather my thoughts about the writing discipline, provide a gathering place for writers in my workshops and a showcase for occasional short pieces, a place to talk about books and recommended reading, a record of the ordinary life of a writer who loves to teach. I’m about to publish a new book, so my adventures and travels will find a place here.
An amazing thing happened to me last summer. A cutback at work and looming bills forced me to get creative. How to bring in income in a way that supports my writing life, and allows me to stay in my community? I decided to start teaching my Kitchen Table Workshops again, something I’d loved in the past. In 2003, I’d created my first Kitchen Table Workshops by inviting writers into my home to write and review manuscripts – bribing them with the promise of big pots of soup for lunch. Making soup is one way I nurture myself, and I knew that writers need nurture. And truthfully, I wasn’t sure if anyone would keep coming unless I fed them! I needn’t have worried.
It was an amazing experience—I found that I loved how this created an “instant writing community” that nurtured both my student writers and me. I had to shut them down to focus on a book tour, but I’ve always wanted to get back to it. This time my house was under construction, and I needed other places to teach. I started scouting my neighborhood.
My local café offered the first workshop location: The General Store Café, the place where all the hipsters meet, and my “office in town” when I’m doing community organizing, fundraising, or event planning. I love this place!
I scouted the rooms, found a quiet corner with good light in the section that’s closed in the morning. This is important because we have a confidentiality rule. I wanted writers to feel safe to go deep and share personal stories or wildly imaginative fiction.
Other workshops started up in short order in Siler City at the NC Arts Incubator
We gather in a room used for life drawing classes, Wednesday mornings at 10 am. In November, we had a “salon” gathering with visual artists and students from the class reading their work and talking about process.
And at McIntyre’s Fine Books in Fearrington Village, Keebe Fitch and Pete Mock graciously allow us to use the large table in the reading room. Thursday afternoons, 1:30 pm. See a cool story about this place in Our State magazine.
Workshop writers came out of the blue – only one had been to my workshops before – they were friends who’d always wanted to write, retirees who’d been writing for years, college professors, closet novelists, former journalists and teachers, a practicing Santa, and some brave souls who wanted to try writing for the first time. All had extraordinary stories to tell.
All summer I found myself rising early, piling up books and my teaching easel, reviewing my notes on student writing, and scouting books for new pieces of writing to invoke the muse. Then trundling it all to the car and heading out for the workshop space.
It’s one of the most exciting jobs I’ve ever had.
I use the timed writing method, usually providing a piece of writing by a poet, essayist, or novelist to prime the pump. Sometimes I provide the first sentence. Sometimes a structure. Sometimes just an idea. Then I set a timer and say Go. Amazingly, people write. And write. And when it’s over, they put down their pens and read to each other.
I wish I could tell you what it’s like to hear a group of incredibly diverse writers open their brains and hearts to each other for an hour and a half. We’ve heard Depression-era stories, growing up stories, work stories, buddy stories, smoking and drinking stories, love stories, grandmother stories, stories of loss, stories that made us collapse in laughter, stories that brought us to tears. What gifts!
Over the weeks and months, the writing began to break open like eggs, spilling out to make extraordinary omelets, soufflés, layer cakes, confections, confessions, and fabrications. Some writers began to think about how they could write a book, or improve a manuscript already under way.
Some of us talked about even want to write a book together: The Ten Dollar Wedding Dress: A Guide for Anti-Bridezilla, Bohemian, Broke, and Good-Hearted Lovers. Turns out a bunch of us had weddings like that!
This blog is partly in honor of you, my writers, and I hope you will honor this blog by allowing me to post your work from time to time.