Me and my writing comrades in summer 1989, at the
California Scholastic Press Association workshop.
Me and my writing comrades in summer 2008:
(font row) Zu Vincent, Ruth McNally Barshaw, Vicki Coe,
Erin Murphy, Audrey Vernick, Kathy Duval,
(back row) Jeannie Mobley-Tanaka, Robert Kinerk, me,
Olugbemisola Amusashonubi-Perkovich, and Anne Broyles.

I’ve been a serious fan of writerly get-togethers for as long as I’ve been serious about writing, and lately I’ve been seriously fortunate to attend three. In recent months I’ve posted about the Austin SCBWI conference and the Awesome Austin Writers Workshop, and last weekend I got to enjoy another.

It was a terrific two-and-a-half days spent with my literary agent and nine of her other clients at the Rolling Ridge Retreat Center in North Andover, Massachusetts. We talked shop, we cut up, we woodshedded, we bonded. (Anne Broyles has more details.) I, for one, came home with a list of ideas, inspirations, and to-do’s that I’m still not even done processing, let alone following through on.

Did it make me a better writer? Do any of these get-togethers with other writers make any of us better at what we do? In my case, I believe they absolutely do — because I know I’m not going to be able to justify going to these things if I’m not making progress during those hours when I’ve got a keyboard or a notebook in front of me.

I’m also a big believer in taking the time to pull yourself out of your routine and opening yourself up to sensory inputs that you wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

Example #1: At Rolling Ridge one morning, I saw a groundhog. Honest, it was just waddling around out there in the open. I didn’t even know what it was — a low-riding beaver with a fluffy tail? — until Anne mimicked its movements and identified it for me. Not a huge deal, but also not something I ordinarily get to see — which I guess applies to both the groundhog and to Anne’s pantomime.

Example #2: This quote from Fletcher Steele, the landscape architect who designed Rolling Ridge early in the last century, as recounted in this book:

“I believe there is no beauty without ugliness and that it should not be otherwise. Both are capable of stinging us to live. Contrast is more true to be than undeviating smugness. The chief vice in gardens … is to be merely pretty.”

Example #3: This possible recipe for happiness, which occurred to me as I walked the labyrinths at Rolling Ridge on our last morning (and jotted down — hastily and barely legibly — as I was barraged by mosquitoes the moment I stopped moving):

Find things you love to do.

Find people you love to do those things with.

Live each day in such a way that allows you more time and more opportunities to do those things with those people — and in such a way that allows the rest of the world to do the same.

And now, back to work on that thing I love to do.