The connection goes back many years. In our book group, we identified each other early as like-minded readers. Aligned on many levels, we were not surprised to discover that we both enjoyed writing. Our daily lives did not include it, but we wanted them to. We didn’t know how this could happen, or if we could justify writing at all. We had other responsibilities – work, family, community commitments. They loomed large and constant and contracted and expanded with each passing year. We dreamed of writing but did not commit to or attend to this dream with any consistency.
Then a friend self-published a book, without hesitation, or permission, or perfection. We read it, and asked ourselves why we harbored any hesitations, required permission from anyone, or expected perfection to write something. What were we waiting for?
That was the beginning. We agreed to meet once a week, to read one another’s writing, to offer support and encouragement, and to hold each other accountable for putting in some time in the chair. A meeting we thought might take an hour ended up filling several hours, without any lull in the conversation. Right away, we were able to answer the big question regarding why we weren’t writing and what we were waiting for, and the answer was difficult to face. We were afraid, and that fear had stopped us in our tracks. Side by side, the challenges seemed less daunting, even surmountable.
Each week we take turns focusing on the other’s work in progress. One project is a collection of personal essays, the other a children’s chapter book. We email pages the night before to allow the reader time to peruse it at her leisure. Then, at the meeting we are able to discuss it in detail. The criticism is constructive, considerate, honest and direct. We never rewrite a sentence in our critique, only request clarity, make suggestions or point out inconsistencies. Respect and compassion are a given, and we delight in the development of one another’s work. When it isn’t going well, we make no excuses. We acknowledge that it is difficult and try again.
Just the act of writing, with no expectation of outcome, is courageous. In writing we put ourselves on the page, and for it to be good, there is no hiding. Having a partner keeps us honest and provides some sense of safety. This is the paradox of the Mandala Writer’s Circle, that in attaching ourselves to it we have freed ourselves to create far beyond it.
Leah and Carolyn