The Write Idea


Magazine Month

Apparently, March is a good magazine month for me. I’m grateful to the beautiful Laurel of Asheville Magazine for featuring my new book, Sacred Separations: The Divorce Ritual Workbook.

In addition, I have another article in WNC Woman, a lovely magazine where I’ve been privileged to write about several of WNC’s amazing women over the past few years.

The Laurel also listed my upcoming retreat with the fabulous Barrie Barton in the calendar, so that any of you facing the possibility of change (and who isn’t?), might come and find a way to move more smoothly across those choppy waters. Check it out and pass it along.




Introducing …

Filed under: sacred separations — ljcollins @ 8:45 am
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My new blog. Which you will notice is on my new website, which I also hope you notice is selling my new book. 


Dear Mary Karr

Filed under: book review — ljcollins @ 11:45 am
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Dear Mary Karr,

I take it all back. Well, maybe not all. I did say you create beautiful sentences and so forth. I stayed up much of last night to finish Lit. I sobbed and laughed and stopped again and again, breathless as I read and re-read some of those amazing sentences you can spin. I even fell to my knees in prayer at one point. (When in the world was the last time I actually prayed on my knees?) You have written a fantastically gorgeous story of addiction and recovery–which is to say of brokenness and healing, of insanity and sanity, of sin and redemption. Thank you.

Thank you for your honesty about how ugly life can really be. Thank you for the humility you wrestled so long to avoid. Thank you for the commitment to your craft that makes your story not only true, but also beautiful. Thank you for daring to get sober and get help and then for daring to tell us how shitty it really felt.

I don’t know if I would have appreciated this story as fully had I not read The Liars’ Club, so I don’t know if I should tell folks to read that book first, though it lacks the simplicity and clarity of this one, or whether I should tell them to skip on ahead to the best stuff. Either way, I’ll be sure to tell them to read Lit.

I’m sorry you had to live through it all, from the crazy childhood through the mental ward, but given that you did, I’m glad you turned it into something not simply entertaining, but saving.

Yes, saving. I’ve heard plenty of sermons in my 48 years, but it’s a rare one that sends me straight to my knees. So, thank you.

Your friend,



Memoirs Galore

This weekend I started three memoirs and finished one. First, the two I did not finish: finally getting around to Mary Karr’s Lit. Since I wasn’t wildly in love with The Liar’s Club, it took me a while to get to this one. Skipped right over Cherry. The other memoir is not one I would have found on my own, but I got it at a silent auction recently, along with a pile of other books by women authors, all donated by one of the wonderful local independent bookstores. Noelle Hancock has written one of that sub-genres of memoir where the author does something for a year and writes about it. Think Julie and Julia or the couple who decided to have sex every night for a year. Or Jesus is My Guru. (Oh, wait. That’s the one I’m writing this year. Never mind.) Anyway, Hancock has written My Year with Eleanor, in which she takes to heart Eleanor Roosevelt’s oft-repeated quote, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” She sets out to do just that for a year and write about it. I’m up to her swimming with sharks in month two.

So, the book I did finish is Backwards Off the Curb by Chris McMillan. I was fortunate to meet Chris not long after I moved to Asheville and knowing her sense of humor, her foul mouth and her sincere spirituality, I have been looking forward to this book for some time. What I didn’t know was of her poor Savannah upbringing.

In this touching memoir, Chris weaves together the story of the year she got in a van and took a two-month leave of absence from her marriage, with stories of her Southern childhood, her marriage and her years in business. Moving deftly back and forth between adventures on the trip, such as her first encounter with a convent, and the earlier stories of her life, Chris writes with honesty and humor. From running away to get married in Paris at age twenty to running away from that same marriage 34 years later, she lets us see her vanity and fear and temper and dreams. Determined to find passion and purpose in spite of a childhood that inspired anything but, Chris shows us the characters who shaped her and the struggle she went through to reshape herself mid-life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, a story of spiritual renewal and feminist empowerment, laced with a great deal of humility and plenty of laughs. Chris emerges in her 7th decade of living as a delightful new writer. Congrats, Chris!


The Day the Dogwoods Bloomed

Filed under: Poetry — ljcollins @ 10:59 am
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I rarely write poetry, but wrote this yesterday and got some nice feedback, so I decided to share it here.

One flawless day

when the dogwoods opened

their scarred hands

my dog and I walked

along narrow rhododendron

paths, familiar.


We paused at the small

cemetery where

Ellen and Henry Smith’s four babies

are buried, circa 1890.


In the fairy circle

of stone nubs rising from moss

a sudden shimmering

rose from the ground

brushed my skin,

hurried up my body.

It seized my heart

and I cried out,

“Daddy, where are you?

Are you OK?

Am I?

Daddy, I wish you would come to me.”


Astonished by this

unknown ache

I let a pine tree hold me

while I cried.

Sinking down

I grasped a worn down stone:

baby, name unknown.


My dog stood near,

a small statue

alert to bird calls

and the possibility of squirrel.

Also still, I squatted,

aware of the call of loss,

waiting for the soft signals

of presence.


Generous Writing

Filed under: Quotes — ljcollins @ 7:47 am
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It’s Thursday and maybe you’re feeling a little blocked or like you’ve run out of fresh words to write this week. So that must mean it’s time for a kick in the pants from the two Annies. Here’s a word from Lamott’s Bird by Bird:

“Annie Dillard has said that day by day you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects. If you give freely, there will always be more. This is a radical proposition that runs so contrary to human nature, or at least to my nature, that I personally keep trying to find loopholes in it. But it is only when I go ahead and decide to shoot my literary, creative wad on a daily basis that I get any sense of full presence, of being Zorba the Greek at the keyboard. Otherwise I am a wired little rodent squirreling things away, hoarding and worrying about supply. Arthritis forms in my hands and in the hands my mind is using to shape things, in the hands of that creature in the cellar who wants and needs to use all of his favorite rags in the ragbag he works from.

“You’re going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward. There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver.”


Writing … wedding vows!

Filed under: article — ljcollins @ 12:17 pm
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Many of you know that I have a varied work life that includes freelance ministry, as well as freelance writing and editing. I recently came across a fun DIY wedding blog, Hindsight Bride, and this week I’m a guest blogger on it.  If you know folks planning a wedding, I recommend this blog, as well as a workbook for writing vows, written by my good friends, Shonnie Lavender and Bruce Mulkey. And, of course, if the couple you know needs a fabulous wedding celebrant I highly recommend, um, me!


Listen to Write

Filed under: Quotes — ljcollins @ 9:49 am
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Natalie Goldberg, in her classic Writing Down the Bones:

“At six years old I was sitting at my cousin’s piano in Brooklyn making believe I was playing a song and singing along with it: ‘In the gloaming, oh my darling …’ My cousin, who was nine years older, sat down beside me on the piano stool and screamed to my mother, ‘Aunt Sylvia, Natalie is tone-deaf. She can’t sing!’ From then on, I never sang and I rarely listened to music. When I heard the scores from Broadway shows on radio, I just learned the words and never tried to imitate the melody. … I was tone-deaf: I had a physical defect, like a missing foot or finger.

“Several years ago I took a singing lesson from a Sufi singing master, and he told me there is no such thing as tone-deafness. ‘Singing is ninety percent listening. You have to learn to listen.’ If you listen totally, your body fills with the music, so when you open your mouth the music automatically comes out of you. A few weeks after that, I sang in tune with a friend for the first time in my life and thought for sure I had become enlightened. My individual voice disappeared and our two voices became one.

“Writing, too, is ninety percent listening. You listen so deeply to the space around you that it fills you and when you write, it pours out of you. If you can capture that reality around you, your writing needs nothing else. You don’t only listen to the person speaking to you across the table, but simultaneously listen to the air, the chair, and the door. And go beyond the door. Take in the sounds of the season, the sound of the color coming in through the windows. Listen to the past, future and present right where you are. Listen with your whole body, not only with your ears, but with your hands, your face, and the back of your neck.

“Listening is receptivity. The deeper you can listen, the better you can write.”


Eat, Pray, Marry

Filed under: book review — ljcollins @ 4:31 pm
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Two weeks ago I heard Liz Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love fame, speak locally. Sponsored by Asheville’s wonderful Malaprop’s Bookstore, the speech was moved to a large auditorium at the University of North Carolina-Asheville to accommodate the crowd of several hundred (mostly) women. Let me just say that before reading EPL I was convinced I wouldn’t like it. I read it to understand what moved other people about her spiritual journey, not because I expected to be moved myself. I assumed I would find her spiritual exploration shallow and ungrounded.

Instead, I became a fan. The fact that I was a recently divorced woman when I read it may have had something to do with my reaction. I’d also like to think that I’m a discerning enough reader simply to appreciate her good writing. The girl can write, after all. But really, I loved that she let us in: she spoke of her neuroses and self-absorption and self-doubt and anger and fear and hope and love with an honesty that allowed me to sink and rise along with her emotions. Through her love of travel I flew with her to Italy and India and Indonesia, experiencing the different pace and sights and smells of each country.

So now she’s written another book: Committed, A Love Story. Actually published a while back, this book tour celebrates the paperback edition. Readers of EPL will remember that she finally succumbs to loving again near the end of her stay in Bali, having fallen for an older Brazilian man, also divorced, who gently courts her.

She does not, however, succumb to the temptation to marry. Quite the opposite, as we find out in this book. She and her beloved, Felipe, vow never to marry each other, having each been torn up by their experiences of divorce. They establish a two-continent relationship which is going just swimmingly until Homeland Security steps in and arrests and deports Felipe for misusing his temporary visas. Thus begins a journey for the two of them, internal and external, toward a legal marriage that will be recognized by the government and allow them to continue their relationship.

Liz, still being the lovable neurotic we met in EPL, can’t just consider this issue of marriage in isolation. She decides to plunge into months of research on the subject, its meaning across cultures and history, its meaning among her own family and friends, and its meaning among its promoters and detractors. The book, then, weaves the author’s all-consuming struggle to face her own marriage demons with the intellectual task of understanding what marriage actually is.

I found the result to be an enjoyable read, mixing fascinating cultural and historical tidbits, disturbing statistical reports and provocative philosophical questions with her own sweetly self-absorbed love story. It does not carry the emotional punch of Eat, Pray, Love (maybe because I’m not considering marriage any time soon?), but it does provide a good ride across southeast Asia and the history of marriage.  And it saves me reading books like Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History, from which she liberally quotes.

So, to the talk then. Gilbert charmed us. She read a bit from the book and then opened the floor to questions and responded with that kind of off-hand, self-deprecating humor that one might use in a group of women friends. She easily laughed at her own foibles, the bizarre reality of her overwhelming success, seeing Julia Roberts play her on the big screen, and the terror of making her TED Talk. At the same time, she spoke of her work as a writer with reverence. She admitted to having chosen this work as a vocation when, as a teen, she lit a candle, promising to devote her life to the careful work of writing. Gilbert still feels writing to be a “holy calling”.

She described her routine of getting up early, around 5 am, and devoting the first part of her day to writing and research. Then, by about 1 pm, she says she isn’t good for much else but staring at a wall for the rest of the day. But while she believes in the hard work of staring at a blank page every single day, she also knows that the Muse makes a difference. “People say that the work is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, and while that may be true, you can’t dismiss that 1%. That would be like throwing out the pearl for the oyster shell.”

When writing about yourself, I suppose it helps to be likable. And Gilbert is immensely that.


“Why I Write” by Terry Tempest Williams

Filed under: Quotes — ljcollins @ 4:51 pm
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The following essay by Terry Tempest Williams comes from Writing Creative Nonfiction, eds. Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard. Just had to pass it along.

It is just after 4 a.m. I was dreaming about Moab, Brooke and I walking around the block just before dawn. I threw a red silk scarf around my shoulders and then I began reciting in my sleep why I write:

I write to make peace with the things I cannot control. I write to create fabric in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change. I write to honor beauty. I write to correspond with my friends. I write as a daily act of improvisation. I write because it creates my composure. I write against power and for democracy. I write myself out of my nightmares and into my dreams. I write in a solitude born out of community. I write to the questions that shatter my sleep. I write to the answers that keep me complacent. I write to remember. I write to forget. I write to the music that opens my heart. I write to quell the pain. I write to migrating birds with the hubris of language. I write as a form of translation. I write with the patience of melancholy in winter. I write because it allows me to confront that which I do not know. I write as an act of faith. I write as an act of slowness. I write to record what I love in the face of loss. I write because it makes me less fearful of death. I write as an exercise in pure joy. I write as one who walks on the surface of a frozen river beginning to melt. I write out of my anger and into my passion. I write from the stillness of night anticipating—always anticipating. I write to listen. I write out of silence. I write to soothe the voices shouting inside me, outside me, all around. I write because of the humor of our condition as humans. I write because I believe in words. I write because I do not believe in words. I write because it is a dance with paradox. I write because you can play on the page like a child left alone in sand. I write because it belongs to the force of the moon: high tide, low tide. I write because it is the way I take long walks. I write as a bow to wilderness. I write because I believe it can create a path in darkness. I write because as a child I spoke a different language. I write with a knife carving each word through the generosity of trees. I write as ritual. I write because I am not employable. I write out of my inconsistencies. I write because then I do not have to speak. I write with the colors of memory. I write as a witness to what I have seen. I write as a witness to what I imagine. I write by grace and grit. I write out of indigestion. I write when I am starving. I write when I am full. I write to the dead. I write out of the body. I write to put food on the table. I write on the other side of procrastination. I write for the children we never had. I write for the love of ideas. I write for the surprise of a sentence. I write with the belief of alchemists. I write knowing I will always fail. I write knowing words always fall short. I write knowing I can be killed by my own words, stabbed by syntax, crucified by both understanding and misunderstanding. I write out of ignorance. I write by accident. I write past the embarrassment of exposure. I keep writing and suddenly, I am overcome by the sheer indulgence, (the madness,) the meaninglessness, the ridiculousness of this list. I trust nothing especially myself and slide head first into the familiar abyss of doubt and humiliation and threaten to push the delete button on my way down, or madly erase each line, pick up the paper and rip it into shreds—and then I realize, it doesn’t matter, words are always a gamble, words are splinters from cut glass. I write because it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words, to say the words, to touch the source, to be touched, to reveal how vulnerable we are, how transient.

I write as though I am whispering in the ear of the one I love.

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