Posted by: main street writers | November 30, 2012

The other side of writing

The other side of writing

I was surprised when I first heard that nearly half the courses in most writing programs are reading courses.  I thought Reading was cheating. Something that drew time away from writing. From really creating.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I began to see a parallel between the spoken and the written word.

We learn to speak…

…by hearing the words of people around us. Music invites music. And meaning invites meaning.

So how could it not follow that, in absorbing the flow of words on a page, we learn to listen more deeply to the flow of our own words as they appear at the edges of awareness?

Is it time yet?

And really – reading wakens, engages, and generally inspires the imagination. That can’t be a bad thing for writers… right?

More and more I look forward to kicking back and reading at some point during the day. Lately I’ve been reading books twice – once to find out what happens, and again to see (and marvel at) how the author creates a dimensioned world out of words and phrases and the pauses in between.

And the best part about reading is…

…it’s legitimate!  I’m not “just reading”; I’m broadening my writing skills. Without even trying.

Journalist, screenwriter, novelist, producer, director – and three-time Academy Award Nominee – Nora Ephron had this to say about reading:

Reading is everything.  Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disability medicates itself.  Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is


Two recent favorites of mine:  

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

The Manual of Detection, by Jedidiah Berry


So tell me…. how does reading fit – or not fit – in your life?  What are your favorite books these days?



Posted by: main street writers | November 16, 2012

Note from an Independent Artist

Noodling around on Facebook, I came upon a quote about – well …about something bigger than a bracelet or a book:

When you buy from an independent artist you are buying more than a painting or a novel or a song. You are buying hundreds of hours of experimentation and thousands of failures. You are buying days, weeks, months, years of frustration and moments of pure joy.  You are buying nights of worry about paying the rent, having enough money to eat, having enough money to feed the children, the birds, the dog.  You aren’t just buying a thing, you are buying a piece of heart, part of a soul, a private moment in someone’s life.  Most importantly, you are buying that artist more time to do something they are truly passionate about; something that makes all of the above worth the fear and the doubt; something that puts the life into the living.

 —  Rebekah Joy Plett

There are still plenty of times when I wonder about the value of a particular piece of writing I have created; but I never wonder about the value of creating it.

It’s about the changer and the changed: when a person creates something – anything – that matters, they offer up change to the world.  And in that process they are themselves transformed.  Maybe it’s about alchemy, after all;  maybe that elusive ingredient alchemists began seeking four millennia ago was “a piece of heart, part of a soul, a private moment in someone’s life.”

Thanks Rebekah –


You can read more about Rebekah and her work here.

And you can learn more about Main Street Writers offerings here.



Posted by: main street writers | July 26, 2012

Who do you like…?

I want that kind of job…

In one of the most interesting job interviews I’ve heard of, fellow writer Don Fisher was asked, “Who are your favorite poets?”

For Don that was an easy, if unexpected, question.  He rattled off a handful of names, the interviewers chimed in with a few of their own, and they all talked poetry for a while.

The job itself had nothing to do with poetry or writing. Still, it got me thinking about who might be on my list …in case anyone ever asks me.

The list Don shared with his interviewers is below, followed by my first run at a list. Take a look.  And just in case someone ever asks you… who are your favorite poets?

Add them to the Comments Box, below – and we’ll all have a few more poets to Google when we’re supposed to be working…


Don’s list:

Billy Collins

Thomas Lux

Tony Hoagland

Mary Karr

Russel Edson

Marie Howe


Kathy’s list

Billy Collins

Wallace Stevens

Grace Paley

ee cummings

Wislawa Szymborska

Bob Haas



Posted by: main street writers | July 9, 2012

Outdoor Voice: July 21, Quabbin

Can you spot the writer…?

One of the wonderful aspects of Outdoor Writing is the way the highly personal inner world mingles with the surroundings.

And when the surrounding is peaceful and beautiful, it seems impossible, at first, to write.  Short, stubby adjectives fall onto the page, and disappointment at their inadequacy is the only voice that speaks. 

Eventually, though, magic happens.  The contemplative landscape invites …contemplation.  The bullfrog’s song, deep and frank at the start, relaxes into a haiku of sound.  The monks speaking softly on a nearby bench sound like mourning doves from where I sit – under a pavilion that bears the mark of fire on its overhead beams.

Curiosity kicks in: what singed that wood …and is that foxglove waving in the tall grass? Whose hands edged this pond with stone, flowers, grasses?  …And the stories begin.

Each site has a history, and it runs like an underground stream throughout the day.  Peaceful sites often seem to spring from tragedy and loss.  The Peace Pagoda, where we held the June retreat, and the Quabbin Reservoir, where we meet in July, are no exceptions.

These aspects, too, find their way into the writing.  Or perhaps it’s the other way around: we find, in the settings, stepping stones into ourselves.

However it works, the unique experience of experimenting with craft in beautiful outdoor settings has a way of surprising, transforming, and sustaining us all – both as people and as writers.

You can find a sample of my writing from the June retreat, below – it happened as the stage of I can’t write here, it’s too beautiful! shifted, and the surroundings began to layer into stories. Enjoy, share your own experiences of writing outdoors in the Comment Box, below – and I hope you’ll join us for our next foray into outdoor writing:

July 21st

Outdoor Voice  –  Quabbin Reservoir


8:30 – 4:30

$125,  Lunch included



Information & Registration:

     (413) 221-4652



Peace Pagoda: prayer flags

ripple, swell

float, spill out:

love, longing, light


drift in concert

prayers singing

hearts rising


applaud the flight of dragonflies

the slow skitter of tiny white moths

curly-q-ing along the curves

of bird song


Peace Pagoda: prayer flags


giggle, snuffle, sing

their colored hearts out


up, down, sideways, and giddy

with lightness – held true

by umbilical cords


running tree

to tree, to tree


running tree

to tree, to tree








Posted by: main street writers | June 16, 2012

Main Street Writers Publish!

Main Street Writers Publish…!

One of the great things about life in the writing workshop is seeing members present their work to the world.  This week, Ann McNeal will be celebrating the publication of her new book of poetry, The Spaces Between, with a book launch party and reading.

Wednesday, June 20

–  7 pm –

Food for Thought Books

106 North Pleasant Street, Amherst


The quiet language of New England backyards and woods.

A number of the poems in The Spaces Between were written in workshop. At the celebration, Ann will share images from nature that portray subtle changes of weather – both external and internal. Observations of a quiet pond, mathematics lessons in grammar school, the poignancy of autumn – all become pieces that are at once meditative and accessible through Ann’s eyes.


Amherst Writers & Artist founder Pat Schneider writes: “The Spaces Between gives to the pilgrim, to the seeker, to the solitary heart in each of us, a map back to ourselves.”

You can read a sample of Ann’s work, below… and you can hear her voice and help us celebrate this coming Wednesday!


Join us this Wednesday for food, good company, and a reading with slides …!


As Is

Not enough

I think

not enough cleverness

nor glitter

nor style.

And with that feeling

the door closes

generosity vanishes.

If I can

if only find

the simple way

to give what I have

what I am

the messy colorful house

the bare-bones words

of daily poems


without expectation

something opens—

—  Ann McNeal



Posted by: main street writers | June 8, 2012

Outdoor Voice – June 23

Outdoor Voice  –  June 22 !

A little bit of history…


After the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945, a Buddhist monk named Nichidatsu Fujii built a pagoda on a nearby mountain, reviving a 2,500 year old tradition begun in India.  He consecrated the pagoda as a shrine to world peace and enlightenment.


Before he died at the age of 100, Fujii had helped to establish more than 80 peace pagodas around the world.  And one of them happens to be within 10 miles of Amherst.


10 miles from Amherst, worlds away from everyday.

Join us for a day of writing, reflection, and exploration on June 23 at the Leverett Peace Pagoda.  Tap stories of the everyday and the extraordinary in open green fields, alongside a quiet pond, to the rhythm of the occasional bullfrog song.

– Beginners and seasoned writers welcome –


Find your Outdoor Voice.

Discover strengths you already bring to writing, and experiment with new approaches in the company of fellow writers.  Enjoy a day of open air writing using the Amherst Writers & Artists method, at one of the most beautiful sites in New England.


Saturday, June 22

Rain date: Sunday June 23 

Leverett Peace Pagoda

8:30 – 4:30



Questions – Registration:

      Contact Kathy at

     (413) 221-4652



– For more information about creative writing retreats in the Pioneer Valley, click here.

– To read about Creative Writing as a form of Slow Travel, click here.

– And to learn more about the Amherst Writers & Artists method, click  here.



Outdoor Voice: Creative Writing Retreats

in the Pioneer Valley

with Kathy Dunn, Main Street Writers



Posted by: main street writers | May 2, 2012

Use your Outdoor Voice…!

Outdoor Voice

Day-Long Creative Writing Retreats

in the Pioneer Valley

–  20 miles from Amherst, worlds away from Everyday  –


June 24  –   July 21  –  August 26

Use your Outdoor Voice…!


Join us this summer for Outdoor Voice, a series of three day-long Creative Writing Retreats in the Pioneer Valley.

Experiment with writing and sense of place – in a protected wilderness area, on a hillside high above the Connecticut River, and in other nearby sites that are worlds away from the everyday.

Beginners and experienced writers welcome – come and enjoy a full day of Slow Travel through writing.


For location and further details, click on individual dates, above.


…You can read more about Creative Writing as a form of Slow Travel here.

8:30 – 4:30


$125 per day-long event

$75 Discount for series of three


– All sites are within 20 miles of Amherst

– You can sign up for individual dates, or all three – with a discount for the full series

– All settings are outdoors, with bathroom facilities and moderate protection (screen tent or pavilion)

– Unplugged – with no electricity, laptops need 5-6 hours of battery power …a great opportunity to experiment with paper and pen!

– Slow Lunch* provided

– If weather hinders, we will meet indoors, near Amherst center

Questions?  Registration:

Contact Kathy at

(413) 221-4652


* Slow Lunch: simple, traditional recipes, using natural and organic ingredients from local sources as much as possible. Wait – did I say ‘delicious’?  Also delicious.

Posted by: main street writers | May 2, 2012

Main Street Writers READ!

May 31st: a Rare Opportunity


Main Street Writers

will be reading at Food for Thought Books, in Amherst, MA.  It’s a fundraiser for the book store, and a rare opportunity to hear live people read work that will engage, move, surprise and refresh –


Save the date, mark your calendars, before they fill up with the usual flow of life…



Shift your focus, experience new paradigms, applaud our intrepid writers, and enjoy tasty tidbits!


Thursday evening: May 31st

7-9 pm

Food For Thought Books

106 North Pleasant Street

Amherst, MA


Further information:

(413) 221-4652


Creative Writing, Retreats, Editing, Coaching and More

An Amherst Writers & Artists Affiliate


Posted by: main street writers | March 4, 2012

Friday morning journal

2.24.12     Morning brings

a dusting of snow on the ground, and a light snow still coming down.  It’s good to have the snow.  I’ve been pretty callous about snow since the October storm that took out heat and water for seven days and six long, cold nights. I remember that Wednesday afternoon, when I said: to hell with it, we’ll open the damper, light a fire, and roast a chicken by the fireplace. It’ll be a feast.

And it was.  But all in all, the click of the furnace starting up that Friday and the hum of all things electric that drone through our everyday lives were beautiful, bone-easing sounds.

So I’ve been pretty callous about snow and ice – and the somewhat ominous lack of it – all winter long. Don’t need it, don’t miss it, New England’s not the least bit diminished for the lack of it.

And here they are, dots and dashes of snow – far from a torrent or a blanket – and it feels right. It’s about time. And could it be… I’ve missed it.

We’ve had all the rest of the wintry mix. Gray skies, dead downed leaves, bare stick-trees scraping the horizon for months on end. The February flu; the exodus of those-who-can’t-be-called-true-New-Englanders; a monotony of walks down trails that don’t change, variety coming only with the occasional cloud shift, high overhead.

And today the snow is marking space in the vast openness we call air, outdoors, February. Not a bad thing – not a bad thing at all.


Posted by: main street writers | February 23, 2012

Wednesday. Afternoon. Writers

Wednesday Afternoon Writers !

1:45 to 3:45

Around here, February

is generally known for its cold persistence.  Lasting way longer than anyone recalls from previous years, February teases our peripheral vision with thin washes of light that linger well past five o’clock – only to remind us how quick and deep the cold still falls by six.

February is what makes New Englanders ….New Englanders.  June is so easy to love, here. July and August, and well into the Fall, it’s just plain beautiful.

Then the crowds move south and only the hardened, moss-covered granite types are still kicking around. It’s not Alaska, with heroic snows up to the roof tops.  It’s New England, where dogs, work, and overflowing recycle buckets are about the only forces moving us out the door. Begrudgingly.

Still, it’s beautiful outside, once you get there. Nighttime skies so deep and dark, stars so stellar. Daytime skies all blue and open.

Sometimes – just sometimes – we get bigger than the cold. Hearty.  Happy.  Sometimes we get poetic. Sometimes the dog, reeking of something dug up in the woods and expanding, now, on the living room rug – well, sometimes even that’s OK. When you’re a New Englander.

This year, February

also brings Wednesday Afternoon Writers, an alternative to – what… cold dark muttering.  Ribboning grey skies. Cabin fever: a state not unlike itchy, damp woolen pajamas.

Wednesday afternoons. Write, listen, ponder. Explore new approaches; discover gifts you didn’t know you had.  Coffee, tea and cookies. Perspective.  The company of other writers.   ….Not a lot to lose, considering it’s February outside.

Come and give it a try – eight week series, just beyond downtown. 1:45 to 3:45, Wednesdays.  First visit’s free; can’t know if you like it till you’ve tried it.

Hey – We have a new workshop starting up:

Skip that nap on Wednesdays; now you have something better to do!


– Wednesday Afternoon Writers –

Further information:

(413) 221-4652


Posted by: main street writers | January 21, 2012

Tender Heart…

A poem from Peter Roarkethanks, Peter!


Tender Heart
Take caution,
For the Wolf lies waiting in the Moon lit shadows
Anxious Heart
Be wary
The Wolf can smell thee now
Alert and Ready
Racing Heart
Go slower
The Wolf glides faster
Panicked Heart
The Wolf’s jaws
As One
     — Peter Roarke
Posted by: main street writers | January 2, 2012

Hello and Happy New Year!

Hello – and Happy New Year!

Someone wise suggested that rituals are all about transformation. If January First marks the transition into a new year, perhaps New Years resolutions are the rituals that invite  transformation.

The Cart and the Horse

Over the years, I’ve made all kinds of resolutions.  Some stuck, some didn’t.  If I’m going to get the best out of it, though, I think I need to see resolutions as the “cart” – and understand that the “horse,” the driving force, lies in reflection.  It’s not so much about losing 10 pounds or drawing more often – it’s about the desire that underlies those ideas: having more energy, experiencing more joy.

So I’m off for the day.  Reflecting.  In the mean time, for everyone who’s considered blogging but hasn’t taken the leap, here’s the annual data for this blog.  I started it last March, as a way to reach out to a handful of new and familiar writers.  This morning, I find I’ve had readers from six continents – who knew?  This could be you….!

Happy reflections, happy New Year. May you find new opportunities to meander, dream, and create. 


WordPress Stats

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.


Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.



Posted by: main street writers | December 23, 2011

Main Street Writers Share…!


When Steve Jobs passed away last fall, Thursday Night Writer Peter Roarke wrote a tribute to him – on his iPhone.  That piece turned out to be the first in a series of pieces that can best be described as i-Poems.

Hot off the Presses

Well, we don’t have presses, or the heat therein, so much anymore… but here’s a new iPoem from Peter, fresh from last night’s workshop.  Thanks Peter, and happy holidays to all –   Kathy

You can read more of Peter’s writing, as well as work by other Main Street Writers here – enjoy!
Posted by: main street writers | December 6, 2011

Comment on the Writing Life

Fellow writer Donna Van Boom sent me the following quote:


“I was starting to wonder if I was ready to be a writer, not someone who won prizes, got published and was given the time and space to work, but someone who wrote as a course of life. Maybe writing wouldn’t have any rewards. Maybe the salvation I would gain through work would only be emotional and intellectual. Wouldn’t that be enough, to be a waitress who found an hour or two hidden in every day to write?”

― Ann Pratchett: Truth and Beauty


I love the idea of writing “as a course of life.” It pretty much explains how I come to have reams and reams of writing, with only an occasional thought to publishing. I mean, seeing my work in print is tremendously gratifying. And I learn about the writing – and myself – from every stage of that process.

But separate from that, writing, for me, is a form of circulation – like blood, like air, like love.


Writing offers new ways of seeing and understanding the world. New images and unexpected insights often hide, like ruffed grouse in the bushes, only to explode in a startlement of feathers when I wander near.  Suddenly everything is new, and my world has expanded.

Writing Invites the Bigger Questions

What’s important? Often enough I don’t know until I sit and invite an image or a story or a question to appear.

I can make up a character: say, a young woman with tangled, brown hair. I can sit her on a weathered, wooden bench. And through her window, I can glimpse an ancient sycamore tree. All these details make her a specific – and therefore a believable – character.

Still, if there is to be a story, I must also understand, or more likely discover, who she is: who or what does she love? What does she long for?  What secrets does she hold, and where does she stumble?

In other words, I need to explore what matters to her.

What Matters?

What might matter in a life? A Bigger Question has arrived. Characters, even fictional characters, ask this of us – because our characters cannot go down paths we have not begun to explore, ourselves.

Whether I’m writing an article, a journal, a rant, or a post card, the question, what matters? presents itself.

And if I don’t know what matters to me, or what might matter deep in my bones – well …writing invites me to explore that.

Writing Transforms

Who is it that said, “To ask a question is to begin to know the answer”…? Ask what matters, and the ruffed grouse of an answer just might appear.

And in providing new answers, new possibilities … writing transforms.  The characters, the writer, the reader: all undergo a shift in perspective or understanding at some deeper level.

So…What About You –

Every person is unique, and everyone plays with writing in different ways and for different purposes.

How about you…? There’s a Comment Box below – what role does writing play in your life?


Posted by: main street writers | December 2, 2011

Hiding from the Laundry

Hiding from the Laundry

Fellow writer Laura Bellusci sent me this photo last week… I’ve been musing ever since about the fine art of getting hooked on blogging.

It’s funny – I mean, I do laundry to avoid writing.  I let the cat out, check email, shovel dirt onto the garden, fix the hole in the porch screen – almost anything can trump writing. And I love writing.

But blogging…I can do that all day, any day, and long into the night. Blogging’s infectious.

It took me 3 months of avoidance to get started.  Then I tricked myself into “just looking at the colors and the layouts.” WordPress made it pretty easy to set up a basic blog, and then they had a whole bunch of really good stuff on figuring out what to write about.

It’s kind of like jumping on a saucer sled and pushing yourself over the edge of a long, snowy hill.  Hard to get started, but the momentum picks up – and suddenly you want to spend the rest of the day climbing up and sliding down that hill, like a happy fool.

If you’ve ever watched a dog riding in the back of a pickup truck…it’s like that.  Ears flapping, big smile, life is just too good.  Blogging can be like that – in a slower, quieter way.

What – Me Blog?

If you’ve thought about blogging, I encourage you to give it a try.  Invite a friend to help you get started; it’s good to have two sets of eyes on the setting-up process.  It’s also harder to dally with laundry when someone’s standing there waiting for you to sit down.

All blogs start with a hosting site.  WordPress hosts blogs – that’s what this one is. Blogger is another great host – somewhat easier to set up, less easy to post pictures, last I knew.  Shabbyblogs, creator of the photo posted above, is an example of a smaller host with a specific style.  Take a look at their websites, and go for the free blog option.

Web Log –> Blog

Now comes the inevitable:  the box for the first post sits there, big and blank. Don’t worry; you can set your post as “Private,” so no one can see it till you’re ready.  Take a deep breath and jump in.  Start writing – and enjoy. Your text will look really cool when you hit “Preview” and see it in blog format.

Need a starting point? Set the timer for 3 minutes, and brainstorm a list of things you could write about.  You’ll be surprised by what shows up.  Water boots.  Dreams. Jump rope songs from when you were ten.

Originally called  “web logs,” blogs are just that: a place to log your travels.  Every post is different: serious or goofy, long or short, pictures or words, fact or fiction, inner thoughts or worldly observations – it’s about what matters to you.

Like Right Now:

It’s Friday night.  By dinner time, I was really tired, and looking forward to that Friday night bed.  So I decided to just set up a blank post that I could fill in later.  It’s been way too long since my last post…and I had this cool picture about blogging to avoid ironing.

I’ll just upload that picture, see how it looks.  …And maybe write a line or two – to remind myself where I want to go with it.

And now it’s 12:01, and maybe this is enough, maybe this is the entire post.  I’ll take another look tomorrow.  And that article I’m supposed to be writing…?  Nah, I’m way too tired to do that.

That’s how the blogging thing works.

Shake Hands with a Fellow Blogger…


Half the fun of blogging is finding other blogs that surprise, inform, or inspire.   This photo comes from a blog called 52 Photos  …check it out!

There’s a comment box below – wide open, with plenty of room…so tell me:

What’s your favorite blog?  



Posted by: main street writers | April 16, 2011

Writing on the Slow Train

Writing on the Slow Train


“A good thought, like a good donkey, is something to be nurtured.  Neither likes to be rushed.”                                    

 –Slow Travel Europe

In the world of Slow Travel, getting there can still be half the fun.  And while some trips do require air travel, Slow Travel embraces the metaphor, if not the literal practice, of travel by donkey.

Creative writing is a lot like Slow Travel.  In many ways, it is a form of travel. It takes us to new places and offers up new perceptions.  It surprises and confounds and, more often than not, nourishes something deep inside.

Creative Writing explores inner landscapes, taking us deeper into stories we thought we already knew.  And, like Slow Travelers,  we are never fully in charge of what happens along the way – nor of when (or whether!) we’ll reach our intended destination.

Fast Likes Fast

Writing moves at donkey pace.  Sometimes that means a spirited trot, or a sure-footed climb up a steep, narrow path.  Other times it means barely moving, or stopping altogether to nuzzle sweet grass at road’s edge.

Writing is like that.  We have to receive it, encourage it, be open to its surprises.  Most of all, we have to not-rush it.

Fast, on the other hand, likes precision.  And promptness.  Fast is not very good  at meandering.  So if we all have fast lives, how do we make room for the unexpected? Travel is one way.  Writing is another.


You Don’t Have to Travel Far to Travel Slow

In the world of writing, Slow is about creating a protected space and time.  It doesn’t matter whether you sign up for the week-long retreat in Italy, or shove boxes into the corner of the spare room, set up a comfortable chair, close the door – and start writing.

Poetry, fiction, journal entries, dreams, questions, memoirs, lists, recipes, editorials, capital-T Truths, small-t truths, myths, rants, short stories, long lies, ads, gossip, epics, aspersions, eulogies, fables, lyrics, and notes you don’t intend to send:  carve out the time, and there’s no end to the variety of writing that will emerge.

Slow Travel in Your Back Yard

Sometimes all it takes to shift out of Fast is an unfamiliar setting.  If you do your laundry at home, spend a half hour sitting in a laundromat…and write.  Or spend an hour occupying a local park bench.  And write.  Or indulge: test the scones in a different bakery each week – and write as you savor. Settle in somewhere new and close your eyes: what do you hear, smell…taste?

Use Your Outdoor Voice

Mass. Dept. of Conservation & Recreation

If you live in or near the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, you can explore Slow Travel and Creative Writing through Outdoor Voice, a series of three day-long Writing Retreats at different sites throughout the region.

We’ll experiment with writing and sense of place – among flowering trees of early spring, and on a hillside high above the Connecticut River.

You can learn more about exploring and skill building in the company of fellow writers through Outdoor Voice here.

As Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini put it, you simply have to  “give time to each and every thing.”  The donkey, the writing, and the day.