I spent many years participating in career days at local schools, asking classrooms at every grade level the same question: What tools do you think a writer must have? For kindergarteners, the answers were always basic: You need to know the alphabet, they would say, or You need to learn to read.
From there, I’d steer them to other writing tools. Writers need, I’d say, to learn the rules—and when to break them. We need to learn to work with others, as we often find ourselves working with teams, some of whom may not like what we turn in. We need a healthy dose of play—inspiration can come when we stand up and move, or simply hang out for a while in a world that does not include a computer screen.
Recently, I realized that I had failed to tell them about another essential part of a successful writing life: the presence of a creative community, either in person or online. For years, while coping with the stresses and hilarities of managing my large family, my writing friendships simply vanished. The isolation meant I had no way to share my voice, or learn from others.
Fortunately, Ruth Schowalter, an Atlanta-based artist somehow found me and invited me to join her Facebook group, The Daily Creative Practice, which now has nearly 800 members from around the world. In the months since joining, I’ve found a receptive and responsive group, with a few members who reliably and thoughtfully comment on my work.
I’ve been inspired by their art—their paintings, sculpture, and fabric art have piqued my interest—so much so that, despite my own limited drawing skills, I have tried my hand at Zentangles. Over the summer, while in North Carolina, I met Trish Weaver, a paleontologist who blends her scientific writing with her own singular take on photography and play.
We visited a gallery where she persuaded me not only to look at the art, but to enter it. We are talking about the potential in a children’s art appreciation book, with ordinary people posing beside our most extraordinary art. More recently, I’ve been trying my hand at writing haiku to superimpose on photographs by friends and other artists. The process creates a call-and-response, opening my writing in ways that are new to me.
I’ve also begun to make more of an effort to attend writing programs in my own community. By listening to other writers share their work—and, often, their process and their intentions—I reflect on and practice my craft.
People have so many images of writers: we are all tortured, drunken, solitary souls. In fact, most of the writers I know treasure solitude and reflection—but thrive in connection with other creative people, and crave the ideas the world tosses up.
And so that is the latest bit of advice I offer to my young writer friends. In addition to exhorting them to write every day—something, anything, a few lines or a paragraph or a doodle—I advise that they find people who may not be like-minded, but who share a love of language, and who celebrate the possibilities contained by words and stories, who lean in close and say, “Want to hear a good story?”
Below a photo of me by Trish, and the haiku I wrote to accompany it.