Crescent Dragonwagon's Virtual Fearless Writing changed my writing life. It gushed out and, of course, refreshed my regular life too. How could it not? Initially, the "virtual" part of it sounded too phantom-like, "probably not 'real' enough," I remembered thinking, when I first heard it was an "on-line" workshop. Could it be a good fit if I’m not sitting in the same room as my teacher? Could I really connect with other writers “virtually” that were struggling with the same fears and roadblocks?
The opportunity to take the workshop came to me last September at a time when I was losing hope for my writing, sinking once again into believing it (aka "I") wasn't good enough to write anything resembling a novel. I was hoping to find a way out of my fear ~ the very real fear of failing to write and finish a story that I once loved and believed in. I had tried so many other techniques but nothing was reaching me. And I had wasted so much time and money chasing things that weren't advancing my writing.
In order to open myself up and let the possibility in that I could become a ‘real’ writer, I had to fully allow myself to be immersed in learning a new way of thinking about the writing process. As interested as I was to be in this workshop for 36 days, it was unlike anything else I had tried. That was hard, letting go of the old paradigms about worthwhile writing, even though those 'old' patterns had clearly held me back. The “hard” stuff was also very painful at times, I won’t sugarcoat it -- and when I felt a breakthrough coming on, I probably resisted the process even more. I later realized that it was because I was trying to cover up my past, specifically areas of my youth that I wanted to bury and erase. It felt weird, at first, uncomfortable, something I wasn’t sure I really wanted to experience as Crescent asked each of us to do the exercises she designed to exemplify what the process is or can be. I finally just let go -- finally stopped trying to control any of it, and I just did what Crescent kindly asked me to do without judging it. That’s when it changed. When I broke through the chain link fence that had been shutting me down and shutting my writing out. And I have no shame in admitting now that I needed to be changed in order to change the experience of sitting down every day to fill up the blank page in front of me.
The added bonus I had hoped for, but didn’t think could actually be accomplished “virtually," was in connecting with the other writers in the workshop. It happened only because they were also willing to immerse themselves in the process, fully putting themselves out there. I think we were all hoping to find a way out to the road together... to make our own tracks in the snow visible, yes, but to also collectively discover a creek that opened up to a wider river of new ideas and new ways to cherish our writing so that we could keep going. It was all new to everyone but we found them… the roads that led to the creeks and the rivers by following our own tracks and instincts, and by sharing our struggles and our triumphs along the way.
Additionally, but maybe more influential than all the other ingredients in VFW, I found the strength to be honest again, thanks to Crescent’s down-to-earth way of teaching. That’s how I made it back to richer storytelling, with all of its twists and turns and discoveries. Any good piece of writing offers that, be it short or long. I've chosen the long road this time around, attempting to write a novel, but I can still cherish its process if it’s authentic, if I find pure adventure in it and the excitement of discovering every day what’s out there hidden in my own garden of words. It’s a scavenger hunt. Truly, a scavenger hunt ~ what I now realize is my hope for my novel when it’s finished ~ a scavenger hunt sewn together by the patches of my very own personal fabric. That’s what I found in Crescent’s method of teaching fear-less writing, the authentic fabric that is developed when you pull from the threads of your own life stories. This fabric may or may not fit or resonate with a reader. That’s okay. Keep writing anyway. But, when the fabric does fit, that reader will try it on and move comfortably and honestly with you through the story.
That's what the VFW Workshop experience really was for me… a surprising, cherished, scary-as-hell-at-times journey where I left my fear of the unknown behind. Don’t be fooled, though, the fear is still there following along – it may never go away, but I’m not sure I want it to anymore. I’ve made friends with it. Not good friends, the way it used to be, we’re just acquaintances now. I nod my head and acknowledge it, smile sometimes if I see it standing there waving at me during the day, but then I go and sit at my desk or on the floor and pick up my pen, an old friend who was there from the very beginning. Or I place my hands around my new found friend, my wireless keyboard, who also wants to play with me but sometimes also picks a fight with me. But we are playing again, the words and me, and just like in any relationship with a loyal, trusted friend, there will be lots of ups and drastic downs that appear in each chapter of our life together. The same way a good plot can and should be.
Christophe "Bill" Henry, our snowman with the red Captain Marvel cape, melted last night, pounded by rain and wind in the wee hours. We found his carrot nose floating this morning in a muddy puddle that used to be his life.
Like Christophe William Henry’s nose, I too have floated in puddles like that, face down in muddy transformations, having moved too many times in the last four years ~ the first of which I found myself loading and unloading boxes in three different houses, in three different neighborhoods, in two different states. When you start over that many times, in that many places, there is bound to be a cesspool that forms around you, each place still clinging to you like algae, muddying-up the next “new beginning” that would much prefer to swim in fresh, clean, purified water.
So as I passed Christophe this morning after driving the kids to school, I slowed down and took a picture of him for posterity. I didn’t want to forget him, move on so quickly to the next place I had to be. I wanted to remember how handsome and strong he looked last night, even though the new morning had erased most of him. After all the time we'd spent building him in the late afternoon, we ran back to the warmth of the house in haste, forgetting to take a picture with him. Instead, we patted him on the back, kissed his soft white cheeks and wished him a peaceful night, leaving him all alone near the road. But he was a renegade snowman.. a pioneer, really. He insisted on going without a traditional scarf or a wool hat, preferring instead to brave his new, uncertain conditions on the East Coast with some of the favorite things he’d acquired along the way. I knew exactly how he felt. I just wish I had the guts to do it in a cowboy hat and a cape that said, "Shazam!"