Thursday, January 6, 2011

The magical fellowship of writers

The Sisters of the Quill share the magical fellowship of writers. We’ve been knit together by more than a decade of shared writing and experience and friendship into a tight and beautiful weave. A special atmosphere descends on our group, wherever and whenever we meet, a sacred trust. When we’re together and writing, or even talking about writing, all things seem possible. A writing fellowship feels a little like walking into church: the moment you enter, you see only the purest and best intentions of your fellows. Together you are free, emboldened and strengthened to strive wholeheartedly toward the goal.

This miracle repeats itself to some degree at every writing conference, be it Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers or Pikes Peak. It’s wondrously present in every workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. One summer my mother, daughters and I had the unbeatable experience of feeling it together. Miraculously, it eliminated our generational differences and reduced us to a common denominator: we were writers.

Once I had a remarkable experience with complete strangers that seems to confirm we writers share a certain understanding. It was an Algonkian Pitch Conference at a place called the Roundhouse in Western Massachusetts. Three stories high, this teepee-shaped log building had “niches” instead of beds; we crawled into them like squirrels into treeholes. Isolated together in remotest countryside, sock- or slipper-footed by house rules with the owner’s new puppies frolicking at our feet, we had entered a magical kingdom. It even snowed.

On a surface level, we completed writing assignments and honed our novel pitches to present them to top agents on the last day. But it was like a sauce at a great French restaurant: magically more than the sum of its parts. I’ll never be sure what added the crackle of energy to the air. No doubt many elements contributed, including the setting and our shared intense motivation. Some of it was brilliant organizer Michael Neff’s expertise in teaching and facilitating, and his own extraordinary passion for helping us get our novels published. The poetry group sharing the facility also added to the feeling of intense creative stimulation. But over the course of two or three days our disparate group of a dozen or so novelists—doctors, secretaries, stay-at-home moms, executives, full-time intellectuals, and a retired military officer—became connected spirit to spirit.

Miraculously, we could only see the best in one another. We genuinely cared as much for one another’s novels as for ourselves. It seemed we all felt the magic and understood this was a moment set apart in time. Though we would compete for the agents’ nod on the last day, there was not the least hint of competitiveness. If most of us had completed our writing exercises and honed our pitch for the day, but one writer was still struggling at midnight, we all stayed up to brainstorm. (I think the poets were up all night, every night.) We felt a strange sort of high, though no substances were involved. It was the pure joy of being constantly inundated in one another’s most focused creativity, the best we had to give. There was no attitude separating literary and commercial writers; we were writers, and that was all.

Writers, I cherish our mysterious and precious fellowship.

- Storm Petrel


  1. There have been several times in my life when I've been tempted to stop writing for publication. It has always been fear of moving away from my writer family that have kept me at it. Our writer relationships are special.

  2. How does one grasp magic? Create worlds from words? We are truly blessed with a fellowship in a solitary pursuit...