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Standing Out in Thunderstorms


As all writers and artists and poets know, some of the good things about creativity are the same as some of the bad things: Creativity is murky, open-ended, risky, and uncertain. The metaphors we use to describe the creative life reflect this, as most of them involve opening ourselves up to an ungovernable force. Here, for example, is the poet and critic Randall Jarrell on the chances of succeeding at the art of poetry: “A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.” But though we all hope for the sudden bolt of inspiration, most of us understand that the real trick is not being struck by lightning, it’s getting ourselves out into the thunderstorms.


Whether it’s the first step into the storm or one in a long series over a lifetime, it’s easier to take that step in the company of others. The life of a painter or writer is a lonely one in today’s society, and we need a community to give us support and encouragement. Very few artists have managed to create and keep creating in total isolation, for art is above all communicative, a dialogue between creator and audience, and a work of art springs to life only in that space.


Working with a group can help anyone who wants to start writing or keep on writing. Attending a writing workshop is one of the best ways to begin forming a creative community, and an ideal way to find members for a continuing writing group. Critique workshops and groups can help us to see our writing with new eyes and to become a better critic of our work, using the revision process to make our poetry and prose become more fully realized. New-writing workshops and groups can help us to both expand and deepen our writing by allowing us to work in a different voice, to break through into new work, and to give form to the words and emotions and images that have been whirling around in the storm of our subconscious.


For many years, I have been part of a writing group that meets twice a month to critique our poems and prose. The membership has changed over time and our schedule is sometimes erratic, but the group goes on, and I’m not sure that I would still be writing without it. I do know that without the group I would not have written nearly as much as I have, and that the work I have done would not be nearly as good as it is.


About ten years ago, we began holding all-day new-writing workshops four times a year, inviting other writer friends to join us. We bring in exercises and write on the spot, and while much of work that comes out of these sessions never goes beyond first draft, some of it eventually becomes finished prose and poetry. Writing together keeps us all stepping out into the storm.

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