The week-end went by in a flash; six amateur writers gathered for two intensive days of trying to figure out how to write a non-fiction book proposal for a book into which we will pour hearts and guts, and, in one case, hopes for tenure tracking. I was seriously sleep-deprived and still jittery from a terrifying drive across Nebraska and Iowa; moreover, I was coughing up blood from the recent bronchoscopy and pulmonary biopsies and was probably feeling even more vulnerable than usual.
During interactions with writers over recent decades, it has become clear to me that vulnerable is what writers really are. Writers sometimes seem crazy, but crazy isn’t quite the right word. Crazies try to fix their internal brokenness by loosening the connection with external reality, whereas writers try to mend that brokenness using words to glue together the mental shards and produce some new coherence, however fantastical.
And so it was with this group, myself included. It was a group focused on non-fiction, but that didn't modulate the eccentricity of the voices or their urgency to be heard. The leader was a very pleasant and competent woman with a look of chronic concern (verging on suffering) etched into her face and eyes. Five women and a man were “students” in the group, all far beyond the age of normal studenthood. The man may have seemed more “normal” than the others, simply because he talked less.
In each there was some driving urge to tell or sell a part of their life or work, an almost desperate effort to make meaningful some fringe experience, all the while fearful that others just might not care. The “others,” in the first instance, are the agents and publishers who give writers the space and platform to offer their personal stories to readers who might just care.
I would like to have felt that we all made a potentially sustainable connection that week-end, although I don’t think that happened; it rarely does in short, structured writing retreats. I did, however, receive valuable feedback, particularly from the group leader--initially discouraging because it will entail serious restructuring and revision of the book on my Korean adventures. But I know she was right. So that will be a major project for this fall.