Time to write

The Kenyon College campus, about 40 minutes northwest of Columbus, Ohio, offers a tranquil environment for writers.

Kenyon College, about 40 minutes northwest of Columbus, Ohio, offers a weeklong residential program for writers.

By Rachel Lippolis

As a child, I was especially fond of corners.  On the playground, where two chain-linked fences met at a 90-degree angle, I crouched and watched—who played with whom?—who teased whom?  I catalogued their gestures and their strange and natural ways of speaking.

Everything for them seemed so spontaneous, and this fascinated me.  I was too shy to join them, but by observing and recording, I shared in their experiences.  This is what writing became for me—a way to participate.

As an adult, writing has taken a backseat to whatever else has been happening in my life: going to work, spending time with friends and family, going on vacation, dating, and getting married. I would try to find ways to squeeze it in—I blogged for the library where I worked; I wrote reflective pieces that helped shape my teaching; and for about 8 glorious months, I wrote the first draft of a novel while working at the library only twenty hours each week.

Lately, I get a couple hours on Saturday mornings; I get an hour before I have to get ready for work (well, 45 minutes—I stare blankly at the screen for 15 minutes as my coffee takes effect); I get random spare moments in the evening when I’m able to push out the rest of the noise and focus.  Any time I spend writing and revising and thinking solely about this stupid novel feels like a gift.

Rachel Lippolis relaxing in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove of Kyoto, Japan.

Rachel Lippolis relaxing in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove of Kyoto, Japan.

 

In June, I gave myself a weeklong gift when I participated in the Novel Writing Workshop at Kenyon College, and it was better than just about any other present.  I spent seven days and six nights focused solely on fiction writing—my own, the other participants’, the instructors’, and more.  We lived in dorm rooms, toting our laptops 15 minutes across campus for workshops and lessons and exercises that were so much more relevant and practical than anything I’d done before.  The other students were kind, intelligent, curious, and often hilarious in an introverted writerly way.  On evenings when no activities were scheduled, we still gathered together with our laptops and wine (when there wasn’t coffee, there was wine) to write and laugh and write some more.

Today, I’m closer to producing a final manuscript that I’m proud of and that I want to share (someday) with others.  That first draft I finished so long ago has been shredded and rearranged.  Some of my favorite paragraphs gone, my darlings dead.  I’ve even dropped what had been the driving force of the book. But in its place is something closer to what I had imagined all those years ago when I started.

I no longer need writing to participate in life from a safe distance.  Rather, writing allows me to be part of some wonderful communities and to meet some awesome people, from the folks at Kenyon and my fellow Voices of August participants to George Rede and Tonja, my friend and writing partner.  Now I am both crouched in my corner—watching, recording, and understanding—and planted on the playground—teasing, engaging, and empathizing.

Rachel Lippolis and her husband recently celebrated their second year of marriage with a trip to Japan, traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto to Hiroshima.  She continues to work at the library and enjoys being an aunt to two nephews.

Editor’s note: About six years ago, soon after I started my blog, I stumbled upon Perfect Sand. It was an engaging compilation of posts about books, current events and writing. Through it, I came to know Rachel, the Ohio-based author. We still have yet to meet but I imagine we’d get along well, both of us having moved out from our respective corners of the playground.

Tomorrow: “Sons of God” by Parfait Bassale

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11 thoughts on “Time to write

  1. Good for you for giving yourself this gift of a full week dedicated solely to you! Your essay resonated with me on so many levels. Long ago I aspired to be a famous writer. During my undergraduate studies in journalism and English, I was accepted to a writer’s workshop in Taos, NM, in the summer of 1980, one of only 12 participants nationally in the poetry group (there were two other groups of the same size … fiction and something else). To say I was flattered would be an understatement, and that I was not worthy is true, but it remains one of my most-amazing life experiences – a full week cocooned with other writers during the day for lectures, blocks of time for writing, guest writers speaking to and visiting with us nightly. The memories restore the glow! Then I was one of the first people I knew to buy a word processor (not sure they were called computers then) to ensure I achieved this dream of being a famous writer. I learned quickly and with much sadness that this machine required my participation to write words … gasp! Needless to say, this thing called life intervened and the dream was packed away. Now I write for myself alone, and once a year am privileged to write for Voices of August. I’m not a famous writer, but that’s OK. Best to you and your book!

    • Thank you! The workshop in Taos sounds amazing — one of my earliest memories from childhood was traveling with my parents and brothers in our station wagon to Albuquerque and Taos. It’s been a privilege for me to read your VOA contribution each year.

  2. What a perfect story to describe this thing many of us love. Some people hear that I write and immediately say how lonely or boring it must be; how they’d hate it. Deadlines aren’t fun, but writing is the time I feel most engaged in life. I love putting thoughts in written form, and all the learning that leads up to it. Words are my friends and accomplices.
    When I was recovering from a traumatic brain injury, I was afraid I’d never be able to think a thought long enough to communicate it on paper. I could barely move one short sentence from my head to my mouth, after all. I couldn’t remember when I last ate.
    I sat down and tried to write a few months in. That is when recovery started to take off: I think in part because words are my friends and accomplices, and writing is the time I feel most engaged in life.
    Thanks for the idea to hole up and write one week! When my kids are 18? 🙂

    • What a great way to put it — “writing is the time I feel most engaged in life.”

      When I was a teenager, I was hit by a car and suffered a brain injury: I remember how frustrated I was sitting at a piano, knowing the piece I wanted to play, but my fingers unable to find the right keys. Eventually I healed–I could walk again, talk again, and my fingers found the right keys again–but for a few months my identity had shifted. The brain is awesomely malleable and resilient, isn’t it?

      Hope you don’t have to wait too long for that week 🙂

      • Rachel,
        I had the same ivory keys experience! (That hasn’t improved much for me. Gigue gets two bars if it’s lucky.) Thanks for sharing that. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, for sure. The brain is soooooo amazing, adaptable and strong.

  3. What a great picture! In Chinese movies the scenes in bamboo forests rate high on my list. It is a great idea to go somewhere and write for a vacation. It never even occurred to me. Going somewhere to write, yes. Going to a week long workshop never crossed my mind. I will make that a goal. I wish you luck with your new book. Let us know when it comes out and we’ll give it the Northwest treatment.

  4. Thanks! This was my first workshop outside of undergrad. For some of the participants, it was their 3rd just this year – I can see how attending workshops could become addictive 🙂 I bet there’s some amazing writing retreats and workshops in the Northwest.

  5. Maybe you need to connect with VOA writer Jennifer Brennock on Facebook. From a recent post: “Okay, writers. Ready to make some amazing writer artist events happen on Orcas this fall and winter? I am. And I got us a house. Who wants to make workshops of an epic nature? What have you always wanted to teach or present? Hit me. I can house you in paradise and give you an audience.”

  6. What an amazing experience, to be able to participate in the writing program at Kenyon. Like you, I am more fortunate than most, as a result of my professional role as a public educator. Once in awhile I get to participate in workshops and seminars targeted towards language arts instruction. Just this past week, my school district allowed me to experience a two-day training on the Writers Workshop model of Columbia University’s school of education. I do not take the time to write much anymore, and there are reasons for it, but the two-day training is causing me to reconsider.

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