Interlochen: Writers’ Retreat

[Note: My first podcast interview went live this week! Stream it free from iTunes under the title “What the Glass Contains” or tune in at Sound Cloud right here. The interview is about my life on the road and my work writing about war. The audio improves after the first 15 minutes.]

One of my favorite things to do when I find myself surrounded by published authors (or, say, living in a historic lodge on the shores of Green Lake while directing the Interlochen College of Creative Arts Writers’ Retreat), is to pick their brains for kernels of wisdom about the writing life. This week, I’ve been with Patricia Ann McNair, Philip Hartigan, Jaimy Gordon, A. Van Jordan, and Anne-Marie Oomen. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

(Good company helps with learning, but a good view sure doesn’t hurt either…)
  • That sometimes it takes the death of a dream, the death of a marriage, or the death of a loved one to get you to realize what it is you really want out of yourself as a writer…and to start making it happen.
  • That if it’s time to go to press and you still feel the tiniest itch of uncertainty in the back of your brain, you might be better served to cut the whole manuscript by 15-20%.
  • That even today, some folks still treat poets like kings, especially if you win this.
  • Quoting Van Gogh, “If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” Or as Jaimy Gordon put it to me: “Katey, if you can figure out how to fix our shower like you did, there’s no reason you can’t write a novel.” All of which is to say: never say never.

  • That there’s nothing like a good prank, an inside joke, or a little plastic toy to keep things in perspective.
  • That self-doubt is always with us, but if you connect with other artists in true community, their voices will rise up like a wall around you and keep the doubts at bay. (Sometimes that looks as simple as this: four writers sitting around a table, slowly waking up together, their coffee mugs steaming, their Facebook pages flashing, little sighs and chuckles interrupting the sounds of the lake lapping the shore, and occasional bursts of wisdom mumbled between the clicking of keys.)
  • That our best writing–when it’s doing what it should–leads us to the next creative task at hand, even if it’s not the one we planned on.
  • That even writers who have already soared to heights I can only imagine (Oh the number of books they have! Oh the awards they have won! Oh the reviews their work received! Oh the way they light the path!) are never too cool to ride in THE CLAW…

Showing 2 comments
  • Lynn Lovegreen

    Awesome! Thanks for the words of wisdom.

  • holly

    Wonderful to meet you at Interlochen Katey! Amazing week! Thanks for the inspirational memories!

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