Three Hundred Words, with Ray Tatten

I didn’t plan to write anything.

But when my daughter, KT, was eight, she opted for horseback riding, and I found myself at a pink, picture-postcard stable where I watched her ride a priceless pony named Tinker Bell. I enjoyed the aroma-mix of horse and hay and grain and manure, and when I smoothed Tinker Bell’s hair, memories of my own pony, Tex, bubbled up with thoughts of my childhood on our family’s farm.

Soon after, at a Sterling Library book critique meeting, the facilitator passed out paper and challenged us to start our own story. What emerged for me were three sentences about Tex, fragments cobbled together with lines, and circles, and arrows and cross-outs, but when I managed to read it correctly, the reactions from the leader and other group members surprised me. One member said, “Come on, write some more….I want to hear what happens.” Her enthusiasm sent me home with a “buzz” and on my way head-long into the world of writing.

The memories kept coming, and the three sentences grew to many, with thoughts and phrases and sentences while I drove scratched on whatever might be handy: an electric light bill, the back of an envelope, a gas receipt. Sentences became scenes which grew to episodes I read to my wife, Linda, who noticed the new pile, the beginning of a manuscript, growing next to my chair. The more I wrote, the more I found I wanted to tell. I suppose that might be a similar story for most who’ve discovered writing.

Linda cut out a newspaper advertisement for a weekend writing seminar at the Fitchburg Art Museum hosted by Sally Cragin, followed by another notice for a writing group at the Thayer Library in Lancaster,  hosted by a new organization called Seven Bridge Writers’ Collaborative. I landed in a regular Thursday night class facilitated by Winona Wendth, with weekly prompts to direct my writing. Each group member read what they’d prepared, and Winona and the group criticized, sometimes a little harshly, seriously, every word. But over the year, the writing got better. Everyone’s writing got better.

Part of my writing journey has included a few online courses as well as three seminars with GrubStreet in Boston. I’ve found I love hanging out with other writers, and I learn to write better, listening to them and reading great works. And when I read my own for others, I learn things too.

It’s been five years now. Along the way I began sending out essays to local publications:The Bolton Independent, The Harvard Press, The Landmark Press, Meetinghouse News, along with a political commentary to The Worcester Telegram. I also submitted abbreviated chapters of my manuscript to Mused BellaOnline Literary Review and AdelaideLiterary Magazine. Each time a piece was accepted, the thrill was just as intense; I couldn’t get enough.

Many of my essays are responses to weekly prompts with Winona’s Thursday-night group, the idea to say it in no more than three hundred words, so many of my pieces are that… three hundred words. Some are longer, chapters in the memoir that grew from the first day, while others just happened, like a response to the 2016 presidential election or getting stuck behind a morning school bus. And then there’s the essay that was supposed to be an exercise describing a physical location that turned personal, and was shortlisted for “Essay of the Year” for AdelaideLiterary Magazine. Three hundred words.

I’ve enjoyed all the resources provided by Seven Bridge: visiting author talks, often hosted by Paula Castner, instructional seminars, open mics, guest visits and readings from successful authors as well as editors providing a closer look at the business of writing. I’ve offered my original manuscript, along with a second, for detailed critique with the group hosted by Hollis Shore, designed for extended works where Hollis encouraged, and Ann Frantz taught me what a semicolon was not. And I joined Lucinda Bowen’s Group with focus on extemporaneous writing; twenty-five minutes writing, ninety minutes critique.

So I decided, rather than leave my work scattered on thumb drives and paper all over the house, I assembled thirty-five pieces in a first book, AND ANOTHER THING  just saying…, self-published through Kindle Direct. I figured that way my offspring won’t have to cobble it together to keep in a box when I’m gone.

But the truth is, I wanted to see what it felt like to hold a book I had written.

I am thankful for this accident, discovering a consuming hobby, an unexpected way to “put myself out there.” And I’m especially thankful for the founders of Seven Bridge Writers’ Collaborative who have created a wonderful place, a local environment where people from all walks can learn about writing from experts, and each other, and feel the thrill of what our words can do.

For a reading of this essay, visit Ray here.

 

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