When I found the ROW80 website, I felt as though a door had opened at the end of a dark passage. For someone who was told by a thesis advisor that I had to marry the library like a nun marries Christ, the subtitle is downright stunning. A writing challenge that knows I have a life? Really? As I read the check-in posts, I became more excited. It seemed to be true, since several people had goals that would work for me. Much as I admire the NaNoWriMo writers of the world, it is not for me. I work at least 40 hours a week; I have a husband, kids, dogs, friends, interests (like sleep) and all the rest. And although my fondest dream is to go to a writer’s retreat, and leave the rest behind, I couldn’t really step out of my life for more than a week; after that the pile of email at work would choke the life out of me. I have had years of practice at fitting my writing into corners, so why did I run down that dark passage to join ROW80? Let me give three solid examples.
1. ROW80 gives me a community. Writing is a lonely business. My alarm goes off two hours before the rest of the family. Not even my dogs stir for long. They open one eye; I can almost read their thoughts, “Oh, that crazy human, she’s doing it again.” They snuggle back into their curled shapes, and sigh back to sleep. My family is very supportive, giving me multiple passes on cooking and cleaning, for which I love them dearly. They give me so much, but they cannot be my writing community as well.
I work full-time, but writing “popular” works is not something I can share with my colleagues, who have all gone through the strainer of academic life to see only nuggets of peer-reviewed footnoted work as valuable. The rest of the outside world is not easily accessible for me, either. But with the magic of the internet, it is at the touch of my fingertips, isn’t it? Consider that first blog post, when one contemplates the abyss to which one is sending cherished words. Is there anyone out there? Will anyone read this, and even if they do, will it touch them enough to elicit a response? ROW80’s smaller group of check-in posts in the wide, wild universe of blogging gives me someplace to hang my hat, which I find immeasurably reassuring.
2. ROW80 also gives me accountability. Wanting to look good, serious, and committed will overcome every perfectionist, procrastinating cell in my being. I want to convince you of my worth in this group, so I cannot slack for too long or too consistently. I’ve been in writing support group meetings where many of us will shuffle our coffee cups nervously before finally admitting that we only started writing, researching, or revising yesterday or the day before, out of sheer reluctance to show up empty-handed. Although I do not have to face you across a table at a coffee-shop, I have to write in words what I have done, to a group of people who are knowledgeable of the power of words. I can’t fake you out, which is a very good thing.
3. ROW80 gives me models. I’ve been writing as long as I can remember, but it’s been a secret from nearly everyone I know. I did enter a poem in a competition in college; it was published in the college literary journal, so at least twenty people have seen it. Professionally, I’ve given papers, published essays, taught classes; privately, I am breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of really sending my work out there. It helps immensely to know that all of you do it. The goals you set for yourselves help me to see that I can do the same: I can sit down to write every single day and accomplish that goal. You also model that it is okay if I don’t meet my goals at times; that all of us write pages that we read later and wonder what the heck we were thinking; and that nevertheless, we will sit down the next day undeterred. Many of you have succeeded by doing this, and doing it well; that gives me more hope than you can possibly imagine.