Every Tuesday, our writers group meets in Taos, New Mexico.
Unofficially, I call it The Little Engine That Could, in honor of that small, cornflower blue engine in the children’s book and its uphill-going chant, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”
We deserve that title because we are all working, without much support, on different kinds of non-fiction pieces, often parts of what will be full-length books, often variations on the theme of memoir: disciplined and acute writing about illness, accidents, addiction, the challenges of growing up, cooking as a cultural definition, and adventures in the wilderness, to name a few. Challenging material that must be treated with skill and detachment.
We are blessedly free from the dictates that have governed other writing groups I’ve joined and failed to stick to:
- We always meet, even if only two or three of the group can attend.
- Each of us pays what we can to SOMOS for the use of its space, usually twenty dollars a month.
- We don’t discuss publishers, deadlines, agents—all of which are far beyond our control and deadly to deal with.
- We are free of the competitive spirit that causes cruel or dismissive reactions to pieces that are often coming straight from the heart—and we have become close and trusting friends through the process of sharing our work, although I live sixty miles away and no one in the group sees the others on any regular basis.
- At each meeting, each of us reads five new pages, hot off the computer, which keeps me moving steadily along on my new project, a short memoir called “Little Brother” which I plan to finish by the end of the summer.
Comments are often revelatory, as when Bob, last evening, pointed out to me a truth I’d failed to perceive about what I was writing: that my family was at its best when performing.
A revelation that will shed light on the rest of my book.
I’m particularly grateful for these Tuesday evenings because I finished four years of work on Doris Duke: The Invention of the New Woman last week and sent the manuscript off to Farrar, Straus & Giroux, my publisher, in New York.Some of you have been faithfully following the long, twisting path that has led to this conclusion. For you, I’m adding a photo of the piled-up research that resulted in my 365-page manuscript (shortened by strenuous editing).
Without my Taos group, I would probably now sink into that slough of despond where I sometimes lie for days or weeks when I’ve finished a big project.
I don’t have time for that particular immersion in mud. Here, instead, is the start of something new, with the glitter and shine the new always has before time, effort, editing, and uncertainty about the end result wear it off.
For any of you who think, or have thought, about starting a writing group, here is a model that works.
And we owe it all to that genius teacher and writer, Bonnie Black, who founded the group three years ago.
So, don’t hesitate. Go at it. As we all know, writing is inevitably and necessarily a lonely business, and so a once a week reprieve with your fellow toilers is what we all need, and what we all deserve.
But do follow this model.
[For more on my Taos writing group, please see my post, What It Takes to Be a Writer]