Writing, Wildflowers, and Community

I’m home after five days in soggy Austin, Texas, where I participated in “Stories From the Heart,” the every-two-years national conference of Story Circle Network, an organization whose mission is to nurture women’s voices in writing. 

The conference was packed full of information and wisdom, encouragement and connections, friendships made or renewed, and just plain fun–like the opening to the workshop on marketing by Deborah Winegarten, where she had us up and dancing to a video featuring teenagers rapping “It’s all about the book…”

Which of course was the point of the workshop–marketing is in fact, all about the book and our message. (I have no idea what I was doing with my mouth while dancing in the photo above–apparently finding my rhythm required a lot of concentration!)

My comadre-in-writing, Dawn Wink, and I taught our popular “Place as Character” workshop on finding and articulating the heart of the landscapes that inspire our work, to an enthusiastic group so large that I ran out of handouts. (If you’re one of the participants who didn’t get a handout, or if you just want to get a sense of the workshop, my handout is here.)

And since we roomed together, Dawn and I got in a lot of catching-up time, and also reviewed the editor’s suggestions on our first joint publication, an essay called “Mother Tongues.” (More on that closer to publication time.)

Brooke Warner, Publisher of She Writes Press, opened the conference with a rousing talk about why she left Seal Press to found an author-supported publishing company focused on finding and nurturing great women’s writing. In describing the changes in publishing as the big houses have consolidated into bigger houses and then into international publishing conglomerates, Brooke said that the increasing focus on blockbuster books and celebrity platforms has often marginalized women’s voices and left editors unable to publish “passion projects,” those books that might not sell huge numbers right off, but might still be extraordinary stories, writing that could change our lives and the world. 

Susan Wittig Albert, New York Times bestselling mystery author and founder of Story Circle Network, closed the conference with a talk on why community is crucial to women writers. While writing is inherently a solitary pursuit, she said, we write better with each other’s support, encouragement, and shared wisdom.

Together, we reach farther with our writing, go deeper, and dream bigger–our stories expand as our vision of our work does. (Clearly, we dance more fearlessly, too!) 

The day after the writing conference, Jude Whelley, another attendee and a writing friend and I braved rain and flooding creeks to drive out to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for an immersion in a different community, the community of the land. We spent a glorious–if quite soggy–late morning touring the Center with Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Director of Horticulture.

Texas Paintbrush (red), composites (yellow), and Texas Bluebonnets (blue) swirl around a prickly pear cactus in the prairie around the Center’s parking lot.

The wildflowers blooming in the Center’s formal gardens and restored Texas prairie and woodland areas were so breath-taking that Jude and I kept stopping to shoot photos, which meant that the short walk from the parking lot to Andrea’s office took us almost 20 minutes, making us quite late. 

No matter: Andrea greeted us warmly and was generous with both her time and her deep knowledge of the Center and its work restoring native prairie, harvesting rainwater, pioneering sustainable landscaping, and reconnecting kids and families with nature in its inspiring new Luci and Ian Family Garden, an inviting place where natural prairie melds with play lawn, and woodland becomes playground, where watering cans demonstrate how aquifers work, and wildflowers peep out of every nook and cranny. 

Texas Bluebonnets, rain-drenched, but still beautiful.

As Jude and I drove back to the hotel to catch the shuttle to the airport, I thought about how the community of those who love and nurture native plants and the land is as warm and welcoming as the community of women writers. I am blessed to belong to both, and both keep me sane–and hopeful–despite the craziness of politics and world events today.

May we all find such community in our lives, networks that inspire us to add to the ocean of love and kindness in this world, and help us to leave our part a more beautiful, blooming, and nurturing place for all…