Sat 6 Jun 2009
I have started giving writing workshops in my house, which is the most wonderful thing.
When I have given writing workshops before, they have been held upstairs in bookstores, or in public museums, or in conference rooms of libraries. All of these are very nice places, and I have had a good time there, surrounded by books or stuffed birds or intercom systems.
But now, with the writing workshop at home, there’s a different kind of magic. We drink tea and lemonade. We take off our shoes and spread out. Some people gravitate to the back porch, which is a very nice place as long as it isn’t raining, since the skylights there tend to leak just a little. Other people like the discipline of the dining room table, while still others curl up on the sectional sofa, surrounded by pillows.
I give them prompts: Write about your name. Tell us about the dinner table when you were a child.
While they are writing, I take out my notebook, too, because there is something just amazing about being in a space where absolutely everyone is working.
It reminds me of a story Arlo Guthrie told, when I went to see him in concert. He told of a time when he and Pete Seeger would get together each day to write songs. They sat in a cabin together, and every day, Pete Seeger would just write and write and write as fast as his hand would move across the paper, while Arlo sat and fidgeted.
At last he realized what was wrong. Pete was sitting closest to the window, and so he managed to catch all the good ideas that floated in, trap them into songs, and so none of them got past him to reach Arlo. They had to trade places.
But that’s not what is happening here. The way I see it, when these rooms are filled with people writing away—some of them tapping on their laptops while others’ hands are racing across the pages of their notebooks—I think the ideas are coming through the window, getting caught by the ceiling fan, and spinning out to be sprinkled over everybody.
We gather at the end, and the people who wish to share what they’ve written—which is to say, the brave ones among us—read to us in quiet, questioning voices. They are writing first drafts and they are scared of the tumble of words coming through, but they know they are onto something, and so they are powerful.
We tell them, “Keep going,” and “Wow—you wrote all that, just now?” And “I can’t wait to hear what you do with this by next time.”
And then they pack up their notebooks and their laptops and go home, and the ceiling fan, which has dispensed so many words on so many people, still has a few left for me.