The Accountability Project

In the last days of 2018, at a small gathering of writer friends, I mentioned I was thinking about starting an accountability project for 2019. Would they be interested in joining me?

All four of us are working writers, but it’s not all we do: Two have full-time jobs unrelated to writing; one is an artist in residence for the state going here and there, teaching in a variety of capacities; one has numerous health issues, but is also active in the community working diligently for good causes. How to make sure that writing still gets done, that we move forward on our projects, that we don’t get overly discouraged alone at our desks after a long day of doing all the other parts of our lives? I knew I needed a boost, and I thought maybe they did too.

Here’s the structure I set up for our little group:
1. At the beginning of each month, I send out an email to the group saying what do you want to accomplish this month? Each person responds when convenient with a goal or two or three, putting it out there safely among friends who are invested in our writing.

2. On Sunday of each week, I send a quick email check-in asking how did it go this week? Each person checks in to encourage others and share their own progress.

3. During the month, we each send along links to articles, blogs, pictures, whatever comes our way that seems relevant to our journeys. It’s a simple way to say, I’m here, I thought of you, I thought you might enjoy this.

4. We meet in person when possible, trying for once a month, to catch up, share publications, responses from editors, contest successes, those pesky problems and “no thank yous,” and the ultimate glory of tea, coffee, critique, and hugs that only being together in person can provide.

At this point, on the last day of January, we are a month in. I’ve met some of my goals, but not all. One of our group finished a draft of a novel a week early! Another has a bad case of the why bothers? The other member has been braving ice and snow to develop workshops for the spring season, and dabbling with the beginnings of new poems. We have all reached out to one another to share encouragement and empathy. Mary Oliver‘s death prompted many emails of articles, poems, remembrances, and inspiration. All of us dabbled with the Writers Happiness Movement (Thank you Lori Snyder!).

On Friday, February 1, I will send out that new email, saying what do you want to accomplish this month?

It’s like a reset button. After today, those January goals are gone. Sure we can carry things over, but we don’t have to. No matter what we did or didn’t accomplish in January, February is a clean slate, a fresh start. Like when a new coating of snow settles overnight, we get to make our own tracks. Yesterday’s muddy footprints are gone.

So as the polar vortex goes back where it came from, and the groundhogs debate spring, take a moment to consider:

  • What do I want to accomplish this next month?
  • Who do I want to help me be accountable?
  • How can I support others on their creative journey this year?
  • When and where can I meet with creative friends to share the ups and downs of this wonderful/horrible thing I am called to do?

I’d love to hear what you come up with or what you already do.

Stay warm. Stay safe. Keep going.

Where in the World Have You Been?

Good question!

I definitely have been absent from my blog, but lots has been happening.

I survived the end of the school year, and drove off to Maine the following day for a writing retreat and workshop with dear friends. This gathering is an annual ritual that marks the transition from my day job to my heart job, writing! Each year our little band of writers invites a mentor to join us and guide us in seeing our manuscripts in new ways. We have worked with some fabulous folks over the years including Laura Ruby, Louise Hawes, Clare Vanderpool, and this year, Sarah Aronson. It is always such a treat to gather around the old farm table in the kitchen, or on the breezy porch by the bay, or to scoot the chairs and couches of the great room into a welcoming oval, and delve into the days’ manuscripts. We laugh, we cry, we inspire each other. We have built the kind of rapport and trust many writers only dream of in a critique group. I think each mentor who joins us soon feels like part of the tribe. We are blessed.

Sarah Aronson and Tessa Elwood talk writing Photo credit: Cathy Lentes

 

 

After a fabulous and inspiring week, I extended my stay just a bit, staying with a good friend from the group who lives nearby. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who had trouble saying goodbye to Maine, as we caught up with a few of them in Bar Harbor where Michelle Houts, one of our crew, was signing books.

Michelle Houts, Ann Mack, Sally Stanton, and Cathy Lentes together again in Bar Harbor Photo credit: Maggie Houts

 

 

It’s pretty easy to feel supported and motivated when I have this great group of writers in my life, especially when we are all together, and the help I need, the listening ear, the new perspective may be as close as the chair, or room, next to me. But now I’m home, and I’m happy to be, but it will be harder to keep things moving forward. Today, for example, I spent the morning taking down my old mailbox, and trying to put up a new one. Just like with writing, there were setbacks (and a nasty blister. I’ll spare you the picture of that one!) and it would have been lovely to ask a friend for help with the task. Writing can be a lonely job (as can home repair), and I need to remember that I don’t have to do it all myself. Though my Mainely Writing friends are scattered across the country, they are only a text, or email, or Facebook post away when I need them for writing support.

The 2017 Mainely Writers Photo credit: Helpful waitress at Seng Thai Restaurant (Belfast, Maine)

 

 

Do you have a creative tribe you can call on when needed? If not, it’s time to start gathering. Find your people!

And let me know if you find someone who is good at installing mailboxes…

 

Equinox Blues

After days of sun and seventy degrees and the first blossoms of spring pushing up through muddy ground, this day is cold and gloomy with a mix of snow/sleet/rain, just when the seasons are supposed to shift for good. This cloud-heavy, wet morning matches my mood. I’ve been sick and the effects linger, but it’s more than that. Today the past is also in the room, the house is filled with memories and the weight of years. For some time, I’ve felt the need for change–of location, of focus, of light. I’m not getting any younger and I’m tired of patching things together, constantly stitching old cloth. 

Last weekend, I spent some time with three dear writer friends in a cabin surrounded by woods. It was wet then too, but warmer, and we were cheered by each other’s company and excited by the words we shared. Too soon it was time to go our separate ways. We stay in touch by email and on social media, but it’s not the same as gathering on the porch, in front of the fireplace, or sharing homemade chicken tortilla soup at the kitchen table.

Gathering with others who share our passions can be a lifeline, especially for writers, who by necessity spend a great deal of time alone. But we also have to learn how to care for ourselves and to craft our lives as we craft our stories, poems, and memoirs by cutting what doesn’t work, streamlining what does, and making it the best it can possibly be. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at doing that on the page, but I need to do better in my daily life.

I live in an old house on an old farm which I love and hate in equal measure. I have had some of the absolute best times of my life here, and some of the worst. But as the only one still living here, my rooms and thoughts are burdened by other’s leftovers and too much stuff I no longer want to care for. Today, as I said, those memories, those years, those belongings, without benefit of sunshine and cheer, fill the corners of each room, the outbuildings, the bookshelves, slink out from under the couch and bed, hover in shadow just out of sight behind me like a felt ghost or menacing intruder. 

And I think, just as in my writing, I may be ready for some edits, possibly a fresh page.

My mother was a quilter, a saver, a never-throw-anything-away-er, having grown up during the Depression. But I’m living through a Depression of my own right now and I want a clean slate. I want to focus my time and energy on my passions, on the people who raise me up instead of those who bring me down, and I want a new view, preferably of water, one where I can make new memories. I want that kitchen table where my beloved friends and family can share a meal, laughter, and good conversation. I need that porch with just enough room for four or five writers to spread out and scribble away at their new stories, comforted by each other’s presence, but with enough space to dream big. And I desire that stone fireplace with the warm cheer of dancing flames. I’m in search of a new source of light, of warmth, of possibility. 

Maybe, just maybe, you feel this way too.

I don’t have answers today. Just lots of questions and what ifs. But just as I would when beginning a new writing project, I’m starting a file, grabbing  a fresh notebook, clipping and bookmarking items of inspiration. And perhaps, most importantly, I’m opening myself up to what comes next. Universe? Are you listening?

 

Hello, hello…Goodbye

IMG_3316 Saturday, I said goodbye to a cherished writing mentor, Julia Marie “Judy” Klare, age 93. Though to be honest, those of us who counted on her poetic brilliance, her ability to define a line, her complete dismissal of ellipses, lost her several years ago as the mind we revered gradually spun in ever dwindling circles. Yesterday’s celebration of her life was full of poetry, that found in verses of the Bible, songs sung, and moments of her own poetic observations of the world read in others’ voices.

I first met Judy by name only in the list of winners and honorable mentions of a Writer’s Digest yearly poetry competition. We were both in welcome positions closer to 1 than 100. New to southeast Ohio, and the mother of three young children, I was in desperate need of a writing group to sustain my practice and stretch me in new directions, and quite honestly, starved for deep, grownup conversations. In a moment of bravery, I wrote to the judge of the contest who I knew taught at a nearby university, and asked if he could connect me with any local writers. Graciously, he responded, putting me in touch with Judy who also miraculously lived in the same university town. Continue reading Hello, hello…Goodbye