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Field Notes for Writers

Writing is the act of sitting alone and trying to connect with other people, some of whom may not even be born yet.

By necessity, writing is a solitary enterprise. When it comes time to put words on a page you have to go somewhere and be by yourself.

Nevertheless, writers need other people.

The introspection and self-awareness required for writing can easily become self-absorption or self-flagellation or self-indulgence. Without other voices speaking into your life and work, it’s easy to lose heart or lose the path or lose perspective. It’s one of the great ironies of the writing life: it requires aloneness, and yet aloneness is one of the great dangers of the writing life.

If you are a lone genius whose vision is utterly unique, feel free to ignore my remarks on this score. True, Flannery O’Connor came to value her isolation as a necessary condition of her art, though she didn’t choose her isolation. (And furthermore, she wasn’t truly isolated.) In any case, I’m not Flannery O’Connor and you probably aren’t either. I don’t think I could descend into the writer’s cave if there weren’t people just outside the entrance, calling me back into the bright life of the world.

Most of us mere mortals need other people, and especially other writers. Yet other writers aren’t always easy to find.

It has been my hope that Field Notes for Writers, the online membership that I lead, would be a gathering place where writers could learn together, find community, and give each other just a little more courage.

I’ve been adding to the Field Notes library every week since September, and for the foreseeable future I will continue to add to it weekly. But it has occurred to me that the real value of the library is to give writers something to gather around and discuss.

If you haven’t joined the Field Notes community, now would be a good time. Below is a trailer that tells the Field Notes story. I’ll be sharing on social media and elsewhere in an effort to grow the community. If you’re inclined to share it with your writer friends, I’d be most grateful.

In these last few months, the library has grown to a respectable size—over ten hours of video, plus quizzes, discussion questions, etc. The library is currently divided into four categories:

Line Edits These are short (10-15 minute) videos in which I pull up a story or essay from my extensive collection of online writing submissions and talk through the revisions that I recommended to the writer. There are currently five of these videos in the library.

Comparing Notes These are podcast-style interviews in which I sit down with a writer friend and talk about writing….and I am happy to report that I have some very interesting writer friends. The five that are currently up are:

  1. Rebecca Reynolds, author of Courage, Dear Heart.

  2. Sam (S.D.) Smith, author of the Green Ember series.

  3. Heidi Johnston, author of Life in the Big Story.

  4. Dave Radford, singer-songwriter and the husband half of The Gray Havens.

  5. NEW THIS WEEK: Helena Sorensen, author of the Shiloh series (this one is great, by the way).

Webinars Once a month I host a webinar on a writing topic. These webinars are free to all comers, Field Notes members and non-members alike. After the live event, I add a recording of the webinar to the Field Notes library, where you have access any time, whether you attended the live event or not. There are currently three webinars in the library:

  1. Writing Vivid Description

  2. Writing Better Dialogue

  3. Writing Better Places (Setting)

  4. COMING THIS WEEK: Understanding Narration and Point of View

The February webinar, just in time for Valentine’s Day, will be about writing better love letters.

Grammar for Writers If you join Field Notes before the end of February, you will have access to Grammar for Writers for as long as you remain a member. This is a great deal, by the way: the standalone price for Grammar for Writers will be higher than a year’s subscription to Field Notes. The first two modules (28 lessons) of Grammar for Writers are currently up. The remaining two modules will be up by the middle of February.

Office Hours Every couple of weeks or so, I hold “office hours” via a Zoom video chat in which the Field Notes community can gather to ask questions, discuss a topic, etc.

Book Club Our first Field Notes book club started this week. We are reading through Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water together. It’s not too late to jump in.


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