Spring tonic: writing with accountability

A pasture in Ashe County, site of Table Rock Spring StudioWe had a fabulous gathering of dedicated writers this September at the Table Rock Writers Workshop. I have heard from so many Table Rockers that the week was life shifting, changing, transforming. Pick your present participle. Everyone contributed to the community and the experience.

Now it’s November, one of those milky, damp days brightened only by the lemon-colored leaves that are left on the trees here in the Piedmont. Our fall workshop seems far away. I have been traveling around the state, promoting the second volume in the Literary Trails Guidebook series, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont. Every time I pick up a copy, I am struck by how heavy the book is–all 455 pages.

Now, facing the task of finishing the third book in the series, this time on eastern North Carolina, I can’t quite imagine how I wrote either the first or the second volume of Literary Trails.  That’s how it is with writing. You are always starting over. Square one. The blank page.  The long hours. If it seems to be getting easier, then you’re probably repeating yourself, or at least that’s my fear.

Writing is hard work. Period.

So what’s the tonic?  How about a Spring Studio for writers?  What’s a spring studio, you may ask.

Here’s the idea: We’re going to gather on the campus of an art school on the Blue Ridge Parkway in a village  called Glendale Springs, almost at the Virginia line.  It’s a pristine location where many painters have found their Muse, including the world renowned fresco painter Ben Long, who once thought he might become a writer when he came under the influence of Duke’s Reynolds Price.  But Long instead took up an ancient form of painting and became an apprentice in Italy, learning the art and craft of fresco painting. One of his first works in North Carolina, painted in 1980, is in the Holy Trinity chapel in Glendale Springs. The work initially caused  a stir, because Long invited the folks who lived near the church to serve as his models for the disciples in The Last Supper.  Then, when the local rector forbade Long’s dog from being with his master in the chapel during the long weeks of painting, Ben simply painted his dog below the supper table so that he would be in that church for eternity.  I love that story.

But I digress.  We are going to the mountains this May to write every morning with religious fervor.  Then we’ll have some lunch and each person can continue writing into the afternoon or opt to take a little guided excursion in the mountains for inspiration.  Then we’ll reconvene for THE HOUR OF REVISION, in which folks can look over their morning’s work with a fresh eye.

After supper, we’ll gather to discuss the craft of writing, the discipline, tricks to keep you writing, and how revision is an entirely different practice from drafting. Among those who will be speaking to us will be Darnell Arnoult, Joseph Bathanti, and Jim Minick.  Our  closing speaker is Lee Smith.

This schedule is not like our fall workshop when you give most of your day to classwork.  This event is about quiet writing time.  A chance to practice the practice, so to speak, in the company of others who are doing the same.

I once got a writing fellowship and took off alone  for six weeks to New Mexico to write. I felt such pressure to perform in those six weeks–spending the precious fellowship dollars, taking the time away from my job, all in solitude–that I choked.  I didn’t get anything of consequence written.  What I did instead was begin a lifelong love affair with New Mexico. That’s why I think this retreat idea in the company of other writers is a much better idea than the solo escape. We offer accountability to each other.  We’ll have our meals made for us. We’ll have a space to write and we’ll know when to quit and do something else. We’ll have veteran writers to talk about getting in the groove and staying in it. We’ll have inspiration and that glorious golden green of spring to watch as it climbs the hills around us.

Doesn’t this sound good? May 16-20, 2011. See http://tablerockwriters.com/studio/index.html Please consider joining us!

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