I was out of sorts. My novel completed, out seeking a partner to bring it to readers. Tightening and polishing rejected short stories. Planning my next novel, its first draft to be typewritten during November’s National Novel Writing Month. Falling behind in my reading. Seeing my work through a new writers groups’ eyes. It felt like I’d stepped beyond the point in the lake where the bottom dropped off, my feet no longer planted, my arms splashing to keep my head above water.
I needed to breathe.
I’ve been reading The Great Spring: Writing, Zen, and This Zigzag Life by Natalie Goldberg. It triggered the memory of another book of hers; The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language. A book about her True Secret of Writing retreats.
Flipped my calendar open. The coming five-day week had no court appearances. No appointments. No Detroit City FC matches. Wife out of town for the month. House completely to myself.
A Zen/writing retreat. Exactly what I needed.
Since her seminal work, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Ms. Goldberg has taught an approach to writing as a practice. Influential to my writing, back when I first discovered this book, was the following passage:
When you write, don’t say, “I’m going to write a poem.” That attitude will freeze you right away. Sit down with the least expectation of yourself; say, “I am free to write the worst junk in the world.”
I didn’t have to write something great each time I put words to paper. Freedom.
She also presses handwriting for writing practice. Back then, I did. For a spell. But any insights were lost due to my illegible handwriting. For the retreat, I would type.
After purchasing lunch in the Guardian Building, I pulled out a pen and opened my notebook.
Had to rest in the quiet and cool atmosphere of Cobo Hall. Walking from the Guardian Building, past the Spirit of Detroit statue, through Hart Plaza, along the river to Joe Louis Arena, I looked forward to riding the People Mover back through the area. However, rail replacement closed the public transportation, making for a long walk back under the blaze of the mid-day sun. I wrote this in my notebook as I cooled.