One day, back in the years when I taught writing in various adult-education venues in my home community, I opened my back door to find a young man on my doorstep. He was one of my students, and his face was creased with concern.
“Marion,” he said, “how long does it take to write a novel?”
I might have laughed except it was so serious a question. He was working on a novel, had been working on it for some months, I knew, and his girlfriend, his parents, his friends had all ganged up on him.
Aren’t you finished with that thing yet? What’s wrong with you? Why are you wasting your time?
I invited him in and assured him that his process, the length of it, the difficulty of it, was absolutely normal. And when he left, I held him and his bewildering isolation in my heart.
Writers need other writers!
At whatever stage of our careers we find ourselves, poking a toe into the cold water of a first manuscript or polishing a story for an impatient editor, it is too easy to drown in the isolation our work demands. And the truth is that most of those we love and live with don’t get it! They don’t have a clue about and sometimes even resent the way we spend our days, and if we try to bring them into our circle, their eyes have a way of glazing over.
I remind myself from time to time that there are many others who can’t share the details of their working day with those they live with, often because their work is so technical that other folks wouldn’t understand if they tried. But most of those people have co-workers around them during the day, others who do understand their process, who appreciate the significance of their work.
They don’t spend their days alone in a room rummaging through the contents of their own minds day after day after day.
I’ll say it again. Writers need other writers!
Over the years I have satisfied that profound need partly, of course, by searching out other writers and keeping them close. But because writers tend to be scattered, I have also served my need for legitimization, for understanding, for authentication by teaching.
Teaching developing writers keeps me in touch with others who love writing.
I have taught in many different venues, including my last and most satisfying position with Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. When I left VCFA, I was ready for retirement and glad to be able to focus entirely on my own work. But while I continued to value my freedom from the demands of an MFA program, isolation crept back in.
Is there anyone else in the world doing this thing I am attempting, day after quiet day?
That was until my good friend, VCFA grad, and National Book Award finalist, Debby Dahl Edwardson, came to me with her dream. Debby lives in Alaska now, but she grew up in Minnesota. And she used to spend her summers on Elbow Lake in the pristine wilderness of northern Minnesota. That place became part of her writer’s soul, and she has long wanted to share it with other writers.
Debby’s dream came to fruition as LoonSong, a writer’s retreat, and LoonSong has brought me back into the company of writers, writers talking writing. What a blessing it has been! This coming September, from the 6th through the 10th, we will gather for the third time, and I can already feel my energy rising as I move toward the event.
The retreatants come from every part of the country and represent every level of experience. The faculty is always stellar. (Check the website, www.LoonSong.org.) And the conversation—oh, the all-day, all-evening conversation!—is nurturing and challenging and the best way I know to break through writerly isolation.
Come join us. It’s a very small retreat, a boutique experience, and there are still a few slots left.
I would love to meet you there.
I would love to sit down and talk with you about this unique, blessed, complicated work that occupies our lives.
And then we will carry one another home in our hearts, banishing the isolation for another year!