When I take a trip, I like to travel with someone. It’s enlightening to have another person’s perspective, to see things through someone else’s eyes, to be encouraged to go a little further when I might have given up. Writing is a journey on which I also benefit from having others travel with me.
A decade ago, I struck out on a new road, a journey of creative writing. A 30-year career in public relations ensured that I wrote plenty, but business writing and creative writing are quite different ventures. Business writing is a bit like going to the convenience store. Get in, get out, quickly, concisely, and persuasively. In less than one page if at all possible. Creative writing, on the other hand, is more like a road trip on which you spend hours exploring some unexpected hole-in-the-wall museum. A five-minute experience may expand across pages.
I’ve been fortunate to have many travelers join me on this journey. Many have been short term tour guides who helped me explore aspects of creative writing ranging from humor to personal essay, from ‘taking a smaller picture’ to developing extended metaphors. These knowledgeable guides joined me through well-known programs like the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Iowa City and various writing seminars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They also include a rich underground writing culture in my own backyard in Des Moines. Workshops held in home basements and church halls, places where other travelers gathered to explore prose styles, spiritual memoir, and story telling.
All these tour guides not only added to the suitcase of tools I use in my writing, but also expanded my awareness of myself and the meaning of my life experiences. The perspectives gained in these workshops have been as eye opening as those I gain seeing other cultures during travels through foreign countries. I have come away from every workshop experience inspired to keep on exploring, keep on writing.
Equally important, from the early days of my writing career, has been the chance to hook up with like-minded fellow travelers who have been an ongoing source of insight and encouragement. Several of us formed a writing group that agreed to meet every two weeks to share our writing. With very few breaks, we have kept to that schedule for nearly five years. While some members have come and gone and come back again, two of us have held the core together.
This writing buddy and I spent four days this summer sequestered at LaCorsette Maison Inn, a wonderful bed and breakfast in Newton, Iowa. Our intent was to write, and write we did.
After an early morning walk and breakfast provided by our hosts, we applied ‘butt glue’ (one of my favorite terms picked up at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and also known as dedicated effort) and applied our fingers and our minds to our keyboards for the rest of the morning.
Endless cups of coffee later – along about noon – we printed out the fruits of our labor, read each other’s work, and provided feedback. Then we headed back to the computers to continue writing through the afternoon, until ‘the sun was over the yardarm,’ as my friend who spent years sailing said, and it was time for cocktails. Which we usually sipped as we continued to write, throw out plot challenges, and work through possible solutions.
The outcome of this concentrated block of time was that we each brought home greater understanding of our characters and the stories we are creating, in addition to several chapters of new writing.
Our hosts joked that they could market retreats like ours as ‘Writer’s Blocks.’ I like it! Instead of viewing writer’s block as a problem, now I will think about writer’s block as the solution. It’s all in the perspective. New learning gained from traveling another road.
The result of my writing journey has been gratifying. I published a memoir in 2008, as did my writing buddy. My stories about growing up on a family farm in the middle of the country in the middle of the 20th Century have sent me on another journey to learn the ins and outs of book publishing, distribution and promotion.
What I have been learning on that journey, I have been able to share with my friend who subsequently published her memoir about leaving a secure job on Wall Street to sail around the world. A journey, I can imagine and live through her writing.
My creative writing journey is far from over. The world offers endless places to see, writing offers limitless worlds to explore. I trust I will have travel companions to ensure I make the most of both.
Carol Bodensteiner is the author of Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl, a memoir published in 2008. She writes from the acreage near Des Moines where she lives with her husband. Her website is www.carolbodensteiner.com