This picture of my mother and two sisters jumping rope, probably at Stinson Beach or another of our beloved northern California beaches, automatically makes me happy. I can see the joy of my mother jumping and remember the salty smell of the kelp jump rope, the wind and the fun of it, but there is also a sense of work in the picture, the vigorous business of turning the heavy kelp, the precision and concentration needed to keep time. Have you jumped rope lately? There’s a knack to the thing, and before it is remembered there are some misses. That kelp packed a wallop.
I am fortunate be a part of two writing critique groups, churned up in the wake of writing classes. From a master class in fiction taught by Ed Skoog at Hugo House in Seattle, I found a small but steady group of fiction, non-fiction and and memoir writers. They are devoted readers and steely truth tellers. I wish there were more of us, as that way my turn on the table wouldn’t come up so often.
From a Bellevue Community College extension class in writing for young people taught by Peggy King Anderson, I happened upon another serious group of writers, some writing picture books, some early readers, some YA. They are kind but equally stern in their criticism, though they not surprisingly offer a different point of view. I take the same material to both groups.
Jump rope? A metaphor of course. I am not talking about that wet, sandy kelp tail knocking you on the side of the head. No, my writing groups are the turners, and also the jumpers. They keep me jumping, help set the rhythm of my writing and offer a healthy dose of peer pressure to my practice. None of them are writing exactly what I am but all of them are writing.
Especially in the kidlit and YA world, writers are all about solidarity and community and celebrating each other. All of us make the work in solitude if not silence (I can write on the bus but I would never willfully seek out a noisy coffee shop playing any kind of music), and every single writer I know has dark, unpublished and unread moments in their practice. Giving up moments. I’m-such-a-fool moments.
Here is where the writing groups help. They provide order and expectation that you will continue to write. Of course you will write, it’s your turn to bring pages next week. Writing peeps model the work ethic. It’s rare that everyone hits bottom at the same time, so there is usually a booster, if only for the idea of writing. When you suck they tell you, but because they care (honestly). You still suck, but these writers have helpful suggestions for decreasing the suckage. See? They’re turning the rope, even as it hits you in the ankles. Jump!
On this Independence Day my wish is for more interdependence: creative work still visualized and/or made alone, but a bigger sandbox to work in, with lots of shovels and toys and damp sand, and those awesome kelp jump ropes. Cheers.