Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Motivational Mondays: Alliances

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Oct• 27•14


Storms sent from Tropical Storm Anna roared through here last week leaving behindstorm sky a soggy, tousled world and scattered, fallen branches. On Saturday we took down bird baths and feeders and anything that could fly around in our yard, and pulled out flashlights, matches and candles. On Sunday after the storm passed through we walked in the park, marveling at the wind’s power, at the swept-clean feel of the air.

The big storms began on Wednesday, a day I ate lunch with four former students. We met at a restaurant perched above the Columbia River. Below us, a huge paddle wheeler was docked, the river rocked and churned, and the sky was low and chalky as rain blasted down. It was catch-up-on-each-other’s lives session and so much had happened in the intervening years that I’m still sorting it all out. There was the death of a spouse, breast cancer and a mastectomy, a marriage, illnesses, moving into a new house. Ross had lost his dog and a friend of more than 47 years the previous week so we talked about those losses. We discussed writing that was languishing and writing that was moving ahead. We talked about what we’d been reading, passed around a book, mentioned titles of must-reads, talked about grandchildren and medical marijuana and hard topics like religious differences and writers with personality disorders.

Our talk kept coming back to our former sessions and what was forged there. I’ve led critique groups for years and this particular group met in a charming yellow Victorian in a yellow room with lace curtains. We met every Wednesday morning for several years in the Victorian located in southeast Portland. We reminisced about other writers who had joined us, our shared joys and distractions. How other writers’ stories had not been forgotten.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA     What became clear is that  these critique sessions are  stamped in our memories via  our senses. The sun would  filter in through the lace, the  room would smell of coffee and  still-warm from the oven lemon  scones (I rented the room from  a marvelous woman) and we’d  laugh a lot. The writers were  working on memoir and  nonfiction pieces and topics ranged from a religious fundamentalist childhood to birding in Kansas to surviving medical school as a single parent. A lot of compassion and kindness and magic happened in that yellow room in that yellow house.

I drove home in a downpour that made it difficult to see the road ahead. Our full and fragile lives seemed crowded in the car with me as I navigated the freeway. The storm breathing down on me, I thought about how Ross was writing about his recent losses. I’d quoted Shakespeare’s  “give sorrow words” to him.

In all my years of teaching good writers, great writers, beginning writers, stuck writers, and not-so great writers, I’ve learned that you need comrades in the writing life. People who will laugh with you, will suggest ways to make your story better, will accept where you are in life. People who will care if you write or don’t write and will root for you to bounce back from whatever ails you. Allies, kindred spirits, writing partners, connections. If you haven’t found these folks yet, I urge you to seek them out, and hold onto them when you find them.

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