“Writing with Friends,” a guest post by N. West Moss

Soon I’ll be going on my own writers’ retreat, so I invited my friend, N. West Moss, to tell us about her recent writing trip to Florida.

I just got back from a great writing retreat.

What made it so great? Well, it was in Key West, where I was visiting an old college friend who’s also a writer. The people you choose to go on retreat with are vitally important to the success of the retreat. Here, I was with a serious writer who wanted to write as much as I did.

I once went on a writing retreat that was a disaster because I invited someone who had different goals than I did. She wanted to socialize, and I wanted to write like crazy. She got mad at me for going back to my bedroom so I could more work done, and the retreat tanked. I felt guilty, tried to entertain her (unsuccessfully), didn’t get much writing done, and our budding friendship stalled and never recovered.

This time in Key West was heaven, though. I was with a friend I’ve known for over thirty years, so I am relaxed around him. I don’t have to dress up. I don’t have to be anyone but who I am, and that kind of relaxation is great for creative pursuits. He’s also a serious, professional writer, who (unlike me) writes for TV. What we have in common, writing-wise, is that we both had several projects with looming deadlines, so we were equally motivated to put in the hours needed to get real, tangible work done.

Every morning around 7am, one of us would text the other and ask, “Ready for coffee?” We’d meet at the Starbucks on Duvall, and then walk back to his place together, chatting and caffeinating. His computer was set up at one end of his dining room table, and I’d set up my laptop and my stack of index cards at the other end. We’d chat a bit, and then get to the writing, and we’d both write for a few hours  before one of us might say, “I need coffee,” or, “I need a walk,” or, “I can’t figure out this scene.” We’d take a small break together, walking around the block and talking about the work, and then we’d get back to it. That’s how the day would go, with hours and hours of writing punctuated by coffee or a walk around the block. In the evenings we’d do something fun – go out to dinner or to a movie, or to a friend’s porch for cocktails.

Why was this better for me than writing at home? Well, I do most of my writing at home, but home for me is full of distractions. There’s the chair covered with cat hair that needs to be cleaned, and the pile of mail to be sorted. Everywhere I look is a chore or an obligation. When the writing gets difficult (which is often), I’ll choose to vacuum or clean the vegetable crisper rather than face the complex problems in my 300-page Work-in-Progress. Being on foreign turf means I am not thinking about anything but the writing all day long, for 7 or 8 hours at a stretch.

I crave this dedicated writing time, and I suspect that most writers do, and while I do apply and attend formal writing residencies whenever possible, I now try to have as many of these do-it-yourself writing retreats as I’m able to every year.

West (N. West Moss) will be at a month-long residency in Scotland during the summer of 2023, and will be Writer-in-Residence at Gladstone’s Library in Wales for a month in the fall. Her most recent book, Flesh and Blood: Reflections on Infertility, Family, and Creating a Bountiful Life (Algonquin 2021) was drafted at a friend’s house in Holland. She can be reached on Instagram @NWestMoss or via email at scoutandhuck@gmail.com.

On Becoming a Writer and Learning To Be Vulnerable: Guest post by Carol Weis  

Carol Weis is the author of the memoir, STUMBLING HOME: Life Before and After That Last Drink, published by Heliotrope Books in NYC. She also wrote the Simon & Schuster picture book, When the Cows Got Loose, and the poetry chapbook, DIVORCE PAPERS. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, AARP, Independent, Salon, ESPN, Guideposts, Cosmo, and numerous other venues and has been read as commentary on NPR.

Unlike many of my writing peers, I never dreamed of being a writer. I mean, I barely made it through college. As a former actor, professional cook and baker, I seemed to have a penchant for creative pursuits, but becoming a writer was never one I considered. Then I got sober. And found I had so much I needed to say. Words in the form of primitive poetry started making their way onto whatever scrap of paper was available. And upon mastering the art of revision, I soon had enough decent poems to submit for a chapbook. 

After unearthing some of my childhood trauma in therapy, I started writing children’s books to appease that ever-present three-year-old still squirming inside of me, the one who was abandoned by a mom sick with tuberculosis for a painfully long time. Her constant need for attention dominated my life and called the shots for many years. 

Writing kid’s books seemed to assuage some of her long-ignored angst. 

At least for awhile.

But when I realized there was always an addicted character showing up in my middle grade and young adult manuscripts, I sensed I needed to shift gears and write about myself. In an achingly honest way. At first, it came in the form of  journaling, and since my daughter had reached her teen years and our fights were more frequent and ferocious, I suggested she journal with me, which turned into a mother/daughter memoir project that still seeks a publisher. And thanks to my daughter’s incessant prodding, after years of telling my wild stories at family reunions and other gatherings, I started a memoir of my own, having no idea where it would take me. So frantic to get down all the memories as they rushed in, I finished the first draft in four months, something I would never advise anyone to do. 

I wrote mostly from my bed, which at the time I called my office. The vulnerability I felt from the words and scenes that poured forth made me want to hide forever beneath the covers. During that time, my body broke out in a vicious rash, with my legs, arms, and back erupting in what I surmised was the rage I felt from the writing. Exposing things I had buried for years. Things I’d even hidden from myself. It got to the point, I only wanted to take walks at night, so I wouldn’t run into any of my neighbors or friends who knew about my book project. I hadn’t felt that kind of vulnerability since I was a kid, or since I first got sober. 

I was writing the same way the memoirists that I loved to read wrote. In a way that made me connect with what they were saying, that took me to the pit of my darkest self. In a way that helped me let go of some of the shame I carried for so many years. In a way that made me feel a lot less alone. And as I wrote for those painful four months, and revised those equally painful four years, I hoped my words would do the same for others. Because making ourselves vulnerable on the page does just that.  

And after all, isn’t that the reason we write? 

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