Posted by: jeannineatkins | June 8, 2009

Ways We Keep On

About sixteen writers met at Oak Grove School in Brattleboro, Vermont on Saturday, a group that was a merging of two critique groups and a stray several, like me, who are friends of Jessie Haas. The day was intended for discussion about how to sustain our writing lives emotionally, spiritually, and financially, and without too much ado, it seemed, coffee, tea and scones appeared in the morning, while others of us stashed things for a potluck lunch in the kitchen. After we gathered around pushed-together tables in the lovely library, someone thanked Jessie for organizing the day.

She laughed and said, “We’d better put organizing in quotes.”

“We’re here. We have tables. We have food,” others pointed out.

Introductions took a while, and we got into applauding for sold manuscripts, of course, but also for receiving an encouraging note or for keeping on after rejections. For picking yourself up after a wonderful editor left. For teaching kindergarten or running a library for decades, for holding five jobs (!), and for still making time to write. For twittering, for not twittering. For landing an eager agent, and for firing a less-than-attentive one. We were amazed at each other’s strength and creativity.

We critiqued a few query letters and we all learned from them: the art of being succinct and expressing a confident spirit: this is not the time for mights and ifs. We shared resources. Other practical things included being reminded of the need to follow up. Steve Swinburne told about giving out cards at IRA, and got a very cool school visit invitation (think the Caribbean in January) because he went the next step and followed up with an email. Lynn, who’d finished a novel involving tracking in the woods, wondered how to research agents interested in nature. Someone suggested looking for acknowledgements in books about the out doors, while I pointed out that an agent needn’t care about nature to want to represent her novel.

“Yeah, they don’t have to love nature, they just have to know what it is,” Jessie said.

We kept circling back to the question of what keeps us going. Michael Daley used time between writing science fiction to self publish a book about solar energy, which taught him huge amounts about the business. Some of us realized that sometimes what keeps us going – say, the community and information we find online – may be what gets in our way: too much time at the computer taking away from writing our books. Leda Schubert told of her resolve to approach her computer as two different people, and the one who logs on as a writer cannot access the internet.

We acknowledged that what we do is hard: when we sit down with a manuscript, we’re often facing crummy sentences, whole chapters that got very little across and our wondering – did we ever do anything right?
But we’ve gotten past this before, and we’ll do it again.

Most of us keep writing because we can’t really stop. We’ve all been visited by self doubt as well as some success, and, at least once in a while, we get to eat cream cheese brownies and laugh together. It was a good day.



  1. That sounds like a terrific meeting with terrific people! Good for you.
    And thanks for posting about it. It made me think.

  2. conference
    Yes you did get the gist of the meeting. The conference was magical. I made a decision to self publish Snow Secrets and I hope it will come out in the fall (?). Becky really inspired.
    Lynn Levine

  3. Good luck with these last weeks of school. And the writing, and the garden: YOU are such an inspiration!

  4. Re: conference
    Lynn, wow, that’s great that you were that inspired. Becky was amazing. It’s interesting to have come in with a query letter, and be motivated to change directions. I hope you’ll keep in touch about Snow Secrets!

  5. Sounds like a great day, and so heartening to see how many of us are on this journey.
    I definitely need to learn Internet balancing.

  6. “We’re here. We have tables. We have food,” others pointed out.
    Beautiful. I love how you fed each other (and us).

  7. This sounded like just what you needed, right when you needed it most.

  8. Yes. Wishing bliss your way!

  9. Thanks for commenting, Amy. I hope you’re feeling better each day, finding ways to keep yourself from obsessing about reports. Very hard. Esp will all this rain. The rhododendrons are all bedraggled here now. But we’ve got green. And that is my favorite color. And the grass smells sweet. xo

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