writing workshops

Talking back to the darkness

In difficult times, two workshop instructors say, writing can illuminate corners of the mind and restore a sense of possibility

In these difficult days, most everyone is looking for a way to cope, to find peace, to make sense of things. For some, it’s taking a walk, paddling a kayak, or learning a new skill. And for some, it’s writing. In the near future, Nancy Linnon and Kim Stafford will be leading writing workshops at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. I talked with them about writing your way out of darkness and how to defeat the demons that hold people back.

Linnon’s online workshop, “Changing in Place,” runs this weekend, Sept. 5 and 6. A writer for nearly all her life, Linnon has long had a practice, especially during tough times, of writing daily. But when the pandemic struck, she’d let that practice lag.

“I wasn’t giving it the attention it needed, given how chaotic and painful things were,” said Linnon, a writing instructor of 25 years. “My yoga teacher immediately went online daily, so I was doing my yoga practice daily. I was like, ‘I can do yoga every day, but I can’t write every day, when writing has been my practice?’ There was a lot to digest. Things were starting to pile up internally. I brought that practice back into my life. Nothing sees me through like writing.”

Nancy Linnon will teach a writing workshop at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology.
Nancy Linnon advises writers, “Before you sit down, tell yourself you are free to write the worst junk in the world.” She will lead a virtual writing workshop this weekend at the Sitka Center.

Linnon thinks of writing as a tool, not just to express what is there, but to discover what you didn’t know was there. It’s a sort of flashlight moving around inside, illuminating corners, she said. For her, one corner was a troubling connection with a family member who lost her mother when she was barely more than a toddler.

“My oldest sister’s mother died in the polio epidemic” of the mid-20th century, Linnon said. “I’m in the middle of this pandemic and not drawing the connection that an epidemic like polio had touched my father’s life. It was in the writing that I had that ‘A-ha.’ Probably if I had talked to my sister, it would have come up. Instead it came up in the writing, keeping me present in myself in a way nothing else really does.”

For those new to writing or intimidated by it, Linnon likes to draw on the teachings of author Natalie Goldberg. While some may insist writing is as simple as sitting down and picking up the pen, Linnon acknowledges it’s not always that easy. One important tip is to keep your hand moving.

“The other thing is, before you sit down, tell yourself you are free to write the worst junk in the world,” Linnon said. “All these voices in your head come and say, ‘You’re not describing it right.’ This isn’t the place for that. Don’t cross out, don’t think, don’t get logical, don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. When the critical voices come in, either put what they are saying on the page, or notice them and try to write through them. Go where your mind takes you. Another thing Natalie Goldberg says is, ‘Go for the jugular.’ It doesn’t matter what you start writing about, it’s the flashlight thing again.”

Stafford’s online workshop, “Pandemic Diary for the Earth” is set for Oct. 10 and 11. Like so many in these challenging times, Stafford said he finds himself starting the day with a sense of being surrounded by dire news.