It is my pleasure to have back with us, Michael Diebert, Poetry editor for the Chattahoochee Review. His last post is very popular with my readers and I'm sure you will enjoy this one.
Gulf Shores, Alabama, January 19. As I draft this, my feet are propped on a leather ottoman in a house not my own. I face an empty fireplace. I hear a pen scratching paper and the thwack of a knife chopping vegetables for dinner. I see four fellow writers hunched over monitors and notebooks, in pursuit of the proper word. Outside, Mobile Bay is our backyard. There’s a pier over the water, a covered porch, a pool. Pelicans roost on posts near shore. Past the RV park next door is a little lagoon where mullet arc out of the water and herons troll the surface. The Gulf of Mexico is near, but we’re not here for the big water or the beach.
I am here on a writers’ retreat with four dear friends; we have been retreating together since 2011. Our travels have taken us to northeast Georgia and here to coastal Alabama. We gather for a long weekend; we bring suitcases, food, and writing essentials. We cook, laugh, go for walks, stare at the water, work on our writing, and share. Sometimes we read other poets aloud. Sometimes we fantasize about winning the Pulitzer. One hard-and-fast rule: the TV stays off, and phones are set to silent. The mood is relaxed, the body and the mind are receptive, and much gets done—more than can get done in our busy day-to-day lives.
The complaint is familiar: we live in a world where it’s hard to make the proper time for writing. The common lament of our email correspondence to each other is “Man, am I ready for writing time!” So we make the time. We gather; we exit one world temporarily, and we enter another. When we retreat, and when the writing is going well, we are, again, in that most exciting of places, the realm of receptivity. And when I’m receptive, I’m nicer to others and to myself, and I become a better writer.
I was lucky to be asked to join this group eight years ago, and we have maintained the same core group since. There have been necessary, regrettable absences—schedule conflicts, health scares, children moving off to college—but we continue to meet, write, and exist in each other’s company twice a year. Chemistry, that ineffable ingredient, has been present in our group from the beginning.
I write this post to encourage you to find your own group and cultivate it. This takes time, but it’s essential. You don’t necessarily need to retreat far—your house, your local coffee shop, a park. The support of a few like-minded friends, engaged in the same pursuit you’re engaged in, can bolster your motivation and keep it going. And above all, that’s the trick when our day-to-day comes calling again, all too soon: to keep the buzz alive, to be able to retreat to that place of receptivity even when we’re not there.
Michael Diebert is the author of Life Outside the Set. He serves as poetry editor for The Chattahoochee Review and teaches writing and literature at Perimeter College, Georgia State University. In recent years he has led workshops for Writers Circle around the Table, the Chattahoochee Valley Writers' Conference, and the Blue Ridge Writers' Conference. Recent poems have appeared in Free State Review and jmww. A two-time cancer survivor, Michael lives in Avondale Estates, Georgia with his wife and dogs.