Joyful Quill

Writing for dreamers, doers, and dabblers

The Joyful Quill invites dreamers, doers and dabblers to deepen their writing life. We welcome writers of all types and at all stages of writing, and offer Amherst Writers and Artists workshops, journal writing workshops, and our own Joyful Quill Joy of Writing workshop.

We’ll announce our fall 2017 workshops in mid-late August — happy writing!


Our latest post: Craft Matters: Timing is Everything. Or is it? (this is a repost from Lesley’s personal blog, the Art of Practice)

We whirl through our days amidst commitments internally- and externally-imposed; some weeks we have to squeeze in our writing while waiting for the doctor, the oil change, the vet and yes that is my upcoming week.

But this terrific post by Noa Kageyama, whose equally terrific blog, The Bulletproof Musician, frequently addresses matters of effective practice and discipline that applies to all of us aiming for artistry. This one looks at a study that examined how efficient learning is when it’s done at night rather than in the morning.

Don’t mess with my morning mojo, my writing muse whispered. You can’t write after three in the afternoon! I will not watch the sunset with you! 

No matter how gorgeous the sunset, my muse thinks evenings are Not a Good Time to Write. I'm going to see if she's right.

No matter how gorgeous the sunset, my muse thinks evenings are Not a Good Time to Write. Is she right?

 But the *evidence* shows that people learn and remember their learning more efficiently and effectively if they tackle it in the evening, go to bed, and then practice again in the morning. Huh. Is my muse really so special that she will be exempt from evidence-based research? Actually, is this really about my muse, that elusive spark of inspiration, or is this about the simple learning and practicing of craft?

I think it’s the latter. If I want to get the compound-complex sentence down cold (my current craft focus, inspired by David Foster Wallace’s jaw-dropping application of basic grammatical tenets), I need to learn its form and practice it.

Although I’d like to think I’m very special, I suspect that I’m no more special than anyone else when it comes to my grey matter. So based on Kageyama’s post, I am going to ignore my muse and set up some evening craft reading-learning-practicing exercise sessions for myself, followed by next-morning follow-up craft reading-learning-practicing exercise sessions.

I’ll let you know how it goes in about a month.

Writing Failure? Forgive yourself! (this is a repost from Lesley’s personal blog, the Art of Practice)

I’m playing with video because, y’know, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth at least a couple thousand. Includes terrific words on forgiveness by poet David Whyte.

(Spring 2016, a re-posting from Lesley’s Blog) Form!

Today my thoughts about writing are inspired by a stranger, a woman I see during weightlifting classes, usually Sunday afternoon, sometimes Wednesday mornings. She’s about my age — I’ve seen her in these classes for all the 15+ years I’ve been going — and we’re both starting look our half-centuries-old, though she far less than I. In fact, if you don’t look too closely at her face or her softening tummy, you’d take her for ten years younger that our late forties.

Weensy weights

Weensy weights

The nearer I get to fifty the more I find correct form to be critical to my day-after-the-gym feeling, aka good ache or ohgodIthinkI’mbroken. Form like not rounding my back during a dead-lift, not pulling from the shoulder for a bicep curl, not pushing my knees beyond my ankles for the squats. In the choreographed classes I favor, the teachers run us through the moves at a variety of tempos, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes a combination. For me, the coveted burn inevitably happens on the slow moves. Pushing weight up and down for eight slow counts requires more of my muscles than a one-two, up-down motion. I load my bar with only 12-15 pounds for squats, less for everything else. This is a puny amount of weight.

My fellow weightlifter, however, piles on triple those pounds.  She follows neither the instructors’ directions about form, nor their tempo. Her arms flare out during overhead triceps kickbacks, her back is the St. Louis arch when she dead-lifts, and during squats her knees overshoot her ankles by a good six inches. Until this past week, I hadn’t seen her follow the tempo; regardless of what the teacher says, she does the move in two counts, up-down, and then stands waiting for any remaining beats.

But Sunday’s instructor, himself a middle-aged fella, looked directly at her while addressing the class: “Don’t go faster than me. If you finish the move before me, you’re not doing the work.” She began to follow the suggested tempo.

Lo and behold: the first eight-count up and down squat, she barely made it back to standing. The eight-count squat immediately following she did at half her range. Then she skipped every other repetition. This continued for the remainder of the class. She wasn’t strong enough to lift her weight slowly, without resting in between.

But she looks great! So does it matter, really?

Enh, maybe yes, maybe no. If she’s not hurting herself, exercising with “incorrect” form is probably better than not exercising at all. Besides, everyone’s body is different, and perhaps form is all relative.


Revision notes

But I found myself thinking it’s a lot like writing. Sometimes when I’m inspired I throw words down and they look brilliant! They are fabulous! It is only when I re-read them the next day, with pacing and rhythm in mind, that I notice those slap-dashed words do not carry the weight of my ideas through to the end. And just as I love the burn of the slow moves in the weightlifting class, I love revising. I love looking for exactly the right word. I love playing with phrases and clauses.

I prefer to be able lift all my weight for all the repetitions, at whatever tempo is suggested. I prefer to have an idea about when to use a compound sentence, and when to use a simple sentence, and when to use a fragment. I’d also prefer to have the genius of Shakespeare and a muffin-top-free waistband.

Alas. Neither the muse nor the fat fairy has gifted me thus.

The burn ...

The burn …

No matter. I still enjoy the burn, and whether my words live on after my plump self has gone, I continue to find satisfaction in aiming to get the form right.

Writers are people who write

Jenny’s earliest memories of writing include making up stories with a plastic doll and a knitted giraffe as props for her characters. She also repurposed the flannelgraph images her parents used to tell Bible stories in Congo, Africa, where Jenny’s family was stationed as missionaries. When she was six years old, she wrote poems and stories on paper scavenged from the floor of the British and Foreign Bible Society’s printing press, adjacent to the converted bookstore that served as the family’s home.

Since she was forbidden to enter the front door of the press or bother the staff, she entered the side door, left open for ventilation in the humid, mid-80 degree temperatures, and slid on her stomach under one of the large printing machines until she reached the paper cutter at the far end. There she retrieved strips of discarded paper trimmed from the huge roll that hung on a heavy metal bar. Holding the scraps of paper between her teeth, she slithered backwards to escape, unseen, through the side door again. Safely back home, she would fold, trim, and staple the paper into writing notebooks. Though none of those homemade notebooks survive, Jenny continued to write and published several pieces in her high school years, and then starting a journal in her grandfather’s old business ledger. But she didn’t pursue writing after high school, instead obtaining teacher certification in Religious Studies and English.

Progoff book coverIn 1976, she moved with her husband to the US, and pursued psychotherapy degrees. However, she continued to keep a journal – moving to spiral bound notebooks after the business ledger was full — and attended Ira Progoff workshops as well as other writing workshops. Now, almost thirty years later, after closing her psychotherapy practice, she is returning to her first love: writing, and sharing her love of writing and journal-keeping with others.

Jenny sees journaling as involving several aspects: recording, exploring more deeply, visioning, goal planning and review, gleaning for seeds, and creative expression. Her journal workshops focus on one or more of these aspects, with structured experiences so participants can sample different approaches and leave with a set of tools to use after the workshop. Each workshop also provides opportunities for people to read their writing aloud so their words can be witnessed. For the current schedule of offerings, see The Joyful Quill.

When Jenny inched along under that printing press in Africa to gather paper scraps, she didn’t call herself a writer. But she was setting off on the writing journey that she shares with others today. That she would eventually invite others to express themselves in words seems like a natural outcome of her child’s determination to write, regardless of the scrappiness of the paper and the rules she broke to acquire it.

“Writers are people who write.”

February 6, 2015