I’m in Port Townsend on a little 3-day writing retreat. My dog, Abbe, is with me, providing good company and a fine excuse to get up several times a day to go outside, where the fall weather has turned cool and blustery. It’s the kind of retreat where I’m not doing much of what we actually think of when writing—hands on the keyboard, words stringing out along the page. It’s more of a “reconnecting” kind of work: reading over bits and pieces I’ve written in the past, remembering what’s there, feeling tentatively for the shape of what’s to come.
This kind of work can be difficult, as it’s not very concrete. It can be easy to give up, and play solitaire, and eat chocolate instead (though I’ve always maintained chocolate is an essential writing tool…) But I just keep breathing through it, and reading, and allowing myself to drift off as the rain hits the windows.
Luckily, many of my allies are here to support me: Abbe, and Holly who joined me for dinner one night. And my friend Sheila Bender, whose life revolves around writing and helping others to write. And serendipitously, one of my favorite writers, Kim Stafford, was here in town and gave a reading Saturday night.
We often quote Kim in The Pen and the Bell because his work is so much about connecting with what’s essential in our lives. He emphasizes the holy practice of writing for writing’s sake. And the minute I saw him in the wonderful bookstore The Writer’s Workshoppe (where Holly and I have also given workshops), I felt renewed and inspired.
He talked about the importance of a daily writing practice, a way to bypass the “percussive of the everyday” and tap instead into the gentle flow of creativity that always threads beneath this racket. He read several new poems that are part of his latest practice—what he calls “Citizen Poetry.” In these poems he writes for instead of about. He writes poems for people, for places, for animals. They are small gifts. He even wrote a poem for the Writer’s Workshoppe, which included these lines:
“….it is a chapel where pilgrims
murmur their prayers for being
known, understood, accompanied,
invited to join the bookish tribe.
I have seen saints come forth
no longer alone, carrying a new
gospel, a personal testament,
a passport for the new life.”
Once you set yourself assignments like these—such as to write a poem “for” something each day—your writing can take on a new focus. You now have a task to hold lightly through the day.
Try it: if you were to dedicate your writing today as an action of “for” rather than “about,” what might shift in your tone or perspective?
This blog post is for you, dear reader. May you have a day of good work,