Wild Women, Wild Voices Mexican-style

La Manzanilla, Mexico, where you’ll find a beautiful beach, a mangrove that features 200 resident American crocodiles and dozens of species of gorgeous birds, warm Pacific waters with a gentle surf, jaw-dropping sunsets, friendly people (Mexican and otherwise), a vendor’s market on Friday, many good restaurants with freshly caught fish, and for a few intense and exciting days last week, a gathering of ten women who’d come for a writing retreat.
sunset la manzanilla
And write we did: a story from six prompts written in three-minute bursts; three-word sentences detailing a ten-year period of our life; answering the question: “Why I write,” inspired by Terry Tempest Williams’s gorgeous essay; writing “The Moment,” after which everything was different; responding to prompts and more prompts and reading our work aloud, not for critique but to hear the sound of our voices, and generally claiming our truths, telling our stories, and supporting one another as we did our work.
margaret reads
And we laughed—that raucous, from-the-belly, loud and bawdy laughter that happens when any group of wild women come together and share their stories. In fact, it may have been the vibrations from our laughter that caused the volcano at not-so-distant Colima to erupt on Friday afternoon.
patricia reads (laff)
There were tears, too, the kind that come when we go to those old and authentic places. This is when we understand how deep writing can go and the women hold the space holy and honor the story and the storyteller in silent support.

Judy & othersTen women times three full days of writing, plus good food, walks on the beach, a little shopping, a little music, a little dancing, and energy flaring into bright explosions of language. Ten women gathered on a shaded porch, creating community and writing their stories. This is Wild Women, Wild Voices Mexican-style.

Thank you Harriet, Judy, Jenny, Margaret, Sandy, Amelia, Patricia, Glenda, and Gloria for inviting me and for the unforgettable experience we created in La Manzanilla.

cafe @ cafe risa(My newest book, Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness, will be released in April, 2015. May there be many, many more Wild Women, Wild Voices gatherings.)

Temptation in a Storage Bin

Summer passes into fall. Birthdays come and go. A dear friend is stricken ill and dies all too suddenly. A baby is born. A book is finished.

Some urge pushes you to your storage unit to begin to divest; you swore you would. All those boxes and bins: notebooks, journals, photographs, mementos; nothing of monetary value. All sentimental, emotional, what if’s…. You bring three boxes home to go through, swear you’ll toss or give away or shred. Promise you’ll record all those old CDs onto your computer.

But this box:

Sleepwalking drafts Here is the long-ago novel you put away while you wrote its sequel. You open the box and swear you can smell the muddy water of the fishing camp where the story is set, swear you hear Ruby Diamond’s whiskey voice singing, “Crazy,” and Louise and Lilly arguing on the screened-in porch. You remember how much Anna misses her daddy and Roseann, lost in the woods.

Should you?

What about you? Would you?

Ten Daily Habits That Make a Good Writer (redux)

I may have been talking to myself as much as anyone when I compiled “10 Habits That Make a Good Writer” that first appeared in the original edition of A Writer’s Book of Days. Flannery O’Connor calls it “the writing habit,” others call it a daily practice, like meditation, like yoga. We know a regular practice, done with intention, can have a powerful effect on our well being.

Here’s a short-list of the “10 Habits”
1. Eat Healthfully
2. Be Physical
3. Laugh Out Loud
4. Read
5. Cross-Fertilize
6. Practice Spirituality
7. Pay Attention
8. Give Back
9. Connect With Another Writer
10. Write

Writers, like other artists and creatives, are easily seduced by our work. The creative process really can cast a spell. We forget to eat, forget to sleep, forget to move our bodies; we isolate, become self-centered (the work is everything). I think we forget we’re merely human—physical beings in a physical world, fragile and susceptible to all manner of ills, of the body as well as the spirit.

Balance. That’s what the “10 Habits” mean to me. Taking care of our bodies, not taking ourselves so seriously, filling the well that we empty by doing our work, participating in the world we live in. Our creativity is a gift, whether it’s writing, visual art, dance, music, cooking a delicious meal, crafting a beautiful vase, building a cabinet, decorating a room—all these creative gifts are meant to be shared. Give back to the world and the world will gain in ways we may never know.

Writers need one another’s support because creating our particular art is a solitary act and who can better appreciate that than another writer. Who can better understand the particular rigors, joys and disappointments of writing than another writer? Who better to help puzzle out a problem or to know what kind of celebration is called for when a poem is finished or a story or a book, especially when the writer herself is pleased with the work?

And that last “habit,” number 10: “Write.” This is what I find many who want to write don’t do—write every day. Even if only for ten or fifteen minutes. Give it half an hour; who knows what can happen. If we don’t write every day (or at least five days a week), we lose touch with our writing muscles, our imagination goes a little brittle, words hide out. The worst part about not writing, especially when we intend to write but somehow just don’t get to it, we feel bad about ourselves; maybe a little guilty, maybe embarrassed or ashamed to admit to ourselves or others. When we feel bad about ourselves it’s more difficult to get the pen moving. So we may miss another day, and then the next. The more we don’t do it, the worse we feel and the harder it is to “just do it.” But, by simply putting pen to page every day, or fingers to keyboard, even if what we write is what Natalie Goldberg calls “the worst junk in America,” we keep the creative muscles limber and the self-esteem healthy. The more we write, the better we feel about ourselves not just as writers, but in other areas of our lives, and so the more we write and so it goes. Daily practice. No judgment.

Download the completer version of “Ten Habits That Make Good Writers” here: ten habits