Walking “Into the Fire” and Coming Out Renewed {On The Sun Magazine’s Retreat}

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Just back from another great trip to Wildacres for The Sun Magazine’s “Into the Fire: The Sun Celebrates Personal Writing” retreat.

“Life-changing,” said a fellow Pilgrim Writer who went with me. I don’t think she’s overstating the matter. Top-notch presenters, beautiful scenery, good food, and kindred spirits. Plus, it’s in western North Carolina, my soul’s home country, so I’m always fed there.

In short:

Krista Bremer: I didn’t attend any of her workshops.

John Brehm: Don’t tell Precious but I think I’m in love. John is a poet who teaches in Oregon. He’s edited a volume of poetry for those of us who work in the realm of mindfulness and who are tired of relying on Rumi and Mary Oliver exclusively. And although Oliver’s “Wild Geese” is hands down my favorite poem in the universe, and Rumi’s “Guest House” opened up the work of my heart, it’s nice to have other options. His workshop, “The Magic of Metaphor,” helped clarify what metaphor is (I know, I know; by now I should have a handle on the difference between metaphor and simile and how to employ them effectively but, alas, I didn’t until I met John, who says he doesn’t make a big deal about trying to distinguish the two, so it’s no wonder I like the guy) and how we can use in it our writing, be we poets or creatives of another sort.

Frances Lefkowitz: Her workshop, “The Art of Short: Flash Fiction and Micro Memoir” was great. And by great I mean accessible, informative, and a whole lotta fun. People raved about her last year at the retreat, so I was glad to get the chance to hear her this year. (She was the only repeat teacher from 2016, if memory serves, which it doesn’t sometimes now that I’m, you know, old.)

Heather Sellers: One of the best writing teachers around. Buy her books Page After Page and Chapter After Chapter if you want to write, and hear her live if you get the chance. I did not attend Heather’s workshops as I had the pleasure of hearing her at Kentucky Women Writers a few years back.

Marion Winik: Let’s just say she’s “candid.” I knew Marion’s work from her days on NPR. She was a bit crude for my taste during the workshop, but her model for memoir has already changed–for the better– how I write, and teach.

My most treasured memories, though, will be the people I communed with, whether sitting in Adirondack chairs facing the mountains or while passing the lemony green beans (delish!) at the dinner table. People of varying ages and assorted physicalities, people who have been published widely and people who just like to read, people from all over the country, brought together through their love of the written word and their respect for The Sun—what it publishes, all it stands for, how it informs and inspires.

One evening, I talked with a twenty-something neuroscience major from Tulane. Egads I could not stop staring at this rare, lovely creature; so young and full of promise and smarts and drive; “You’re going to be a neuroscientist?” I kept repeating. “Who plans to work in impoverished countries?!” Then there was a Quaker from Up East, who knew all about the Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary in Indiana where I’ve taught; the woman I had met five years ago when I led a workshop in Seaside, Florida, but hadn’t seen since; and a retired lawyer who wants to write memoir but is hesitant to reveal herself. “Quite the challenge, then,” we joked.

What a luminous assortment of humanity, this gathering. It’s worth going simply for the people you’ll meet, even if you don’t write.

But I hope you will, of course. I hope you will write your hearts out, fellow pilgrims, for it’s the sharing of our stories that saves us.

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On Being Southern in Seaside

I’m just back from a fabulous trip to Seaside, Florida, where I had the pleasure of hanging out with authors John T. Edge and Shellie Rushing Tomlinson. You might know Edge for his in-depth work on the sociological and historical aspects of food, and Tomlinson for her high-larious take on being a southern belle. If you don’t know these two writers, please check them out.
The weekend, sponsored by Escape2Create, was entitled “Voices of the South,” and it was all about the food, culture, and ethos of being Southern. I facilitated an Amherst Writers and Artists workshop around the topic of food, where I wrote with some amazing women. On a rainy Saturday morning, we gathered around a farmhouse table in a stunning home that reminded me of Martha’s Vineyard. We spoke of the challenges, and payoffs, of living a writing life, whatever that might look like for our individual lives. Some of us are called to write for the public, others for our families. Some craft in rhyme, others in long form essay. But I dare say the end result is the same: “It’s the sharing of our stories that saves us.” Repeat after me.
You don’t need Cape Cod when you’ve got the beaches of 30A, and celebrating the South in Seaside was a treat indeed. With its engaging architecture, good food, fun shops, breathtaking atmosphere–and delightfully friendly and helpful residents–it was hard to leave. Thank you, fine people of Seaside, for making my first trip to your oasis so memorable. It had been a goal of mine to sign at Sundog Books, and look at me, I made it. Thank you, Linda and Bob White, for a dream come true.
I encourage all artistic types to check out the residences and other programs offered by Escape2Create. It will do your work, and your soul, good.

Women Who Write: Fall 2011

Here are my workshop and retreat offerings for the fall. I hope to write with you soon.

Amy Lyles Wilson

OCTOBER 1, 2011: Women’s Writing Circle @ ALW’s

Gather at 9 a.m.; Write and Reflect from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Cost: $45

OCTOBER 22, 2011: “The Language of Loss: Putting Grief Into Words”

Workshop at Holy Family Catholic Church in Brentwood, facilitated by ALW. Details to come.

NOVEMBER 13-14, 2011: “The Language of Loss: Putting Grief Into Words”

Retreat at St. Mary’s Sewanee facilitated by ALW; more info here.

NOVEMBER 19, 2011: Women’s Writing Circle @ ALIGN Wellness Studio in Belle Meade

Gather at 9 a.m.; Write and Reflect from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Cost: $50

Call ALIGN to reserve your spot! 383-0148

DECEMBER 3, 2011: Women’s Writing Circle, Holiday Edition, @ ALW’s

Gather at 9 a.m.; Write and Reflect from 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Potluck Lunch (I’ll do the main dish, which means Precious will cook for us) and Readings (bring something you’ve been working on) from 12:15 until we get tired of each other.

Cost: $45:00

Women’s Writing Circle Set for April 30 in Nashville: Join Us!

“It’s the sharing of our stories that saves us.”

We are not a critique group, but a community of women who have something to say and have not yet found the time, permission, or space to write. In the Circle, writing prompts and guided exercises tap your creative spirit in a mindful and intentional way. Conducted under the principles of Amherst Writers & Artists, all writing is treated as fiction, and you are not compelled to read aloud. Come claim your chair in the Circle; your stories are safe with us.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

9:00 to 9:30 a.m.: Gather

9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Write and Reflect

Cost: $45.00

Drinks and Snacks Provided

To reserve your spot or get more information, email Amy Lyles Wilson at hamblett2@gmail.com.

What’s a Middle-Aged Goober Doing at Blissdom?

I don’t really know from blogging. As a professional writer and editor who has worked in the publishing world for 25 years, I know about words. As a woman nearing fifty, I know about marrying late, burying my father (the first love of my life), caring for my elderly mother, and wondering if I’ll get it all done before my time is up. As a retreat leader and workshop facilitator, I know it’s the sharing of our stories that saves us. And here I’m talking about the tough stories, the ones about loss, and grief, and regrets, and dreams denied that all too often our society/family/religion/ego wants us to keep to ourselves.

But this whole blogging thing has me a bit stymied: Do I need a catchy theme, with a title that enhances SEO? (I do actually know what that stands for, thanks to Randy Elrod.) Do I have to be a “mommy blogger”? If so, I’m screwed, because I blog under my own name and I do not have children. So where does that leave me, a middle-aged goober who encourages women to write their hearts out?

For starters, it leaves me looking for all the guidance I can lap up. So last week I headed out to Gaylord Opryland Hotel and attended the Blissdom Conference. (I was miffed last year when I heard about it after the fact, and couldn’t believe I was so out of the loop in my own town.)

I walked in knowing I would see at least one familiar face, because we’d promised one another we’d take turns rescuing whichever one of us was feeling more vulnerable, as we were both stepping outside our comfort zone. I ended up knowing several folks, and even ran across a co-worker from Her Nashville. But mostly I interacted with women I had never met or even heard of.

And here’s what I learned:
There are women—women just like you and me—doing amazing things online: advocating for charitable causes, exposing issues surrounding small farms and raw foods, inspiring better parenting, making all sorts of crafty items, cooking healthy food, finding their way through addiction. The list goes on, and that list can be both freeing, “there’s room for everyone,” and intimidating, “who do I think I am.” What the Blissdom panelists and speakers modeled for me is that there is still plenty of room, and that if I think I’m the one to tell a certain story in a certain way, then I am. Funny, that’s exactly how I advise the women in my writing workshops: you’re the only one who can tell your story and yes, the world has room for it. Let’s write it, and then we’ll worry about what to do with it.

But there was more: conversations with women from all over the country that I never would have met otherwise; time for socializing in an environment free from competition for who has the most Twitter followers (not me); great swag, really, the best conference happies ever; delicious food; and the playing of “Party in America,” “Party in the USA,” which made the menopausal me burst into tears (in a good way). On top of all that, I heard Brene Brown, whose book The Gifts of Imperfection is already informing my work; and Scott Stratten, on whom I think I have developed a crush. (Please don’t tell Precious.) I think I even made a few new friends.

In the end, there were women there who’ve been blogging longer than I have, and women who have just started; women who have confidence in themselves, and their words, and women who wonder if they’ll ever bring themselves to hit “publish”; women who are younger and thinner, and women who share my creaky knees and desire to lose weight. But our common denominator remains: we all have stories worth telling.

Jump Start Your Writing in the New Year: Creative Resolutions 2011, A Writing Workshop for Women

Amy Lyles Wilson and ALIGN Wellness Studio Announce

“Creative Resolutions 2011: A Writing Workshop for Women”

Writer and editor Amy Lyles Wilson believes it is the sharing of our stories that saves us, and she invites you to write your heart out in a supportive environment designed to encourage your voice and silence the inner critic. Through prompts, readings, and resources, you’ll get the New Year off to a productive start in this workshop facilitated under the principles of Amherst Writers and Artists. This is not a critique group, and writers of all experience—and confidence—levels are welcomed, respected, and nurtured. Come claim your chair around the table for a morning of creativity and conversation.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Meet and Greet: 9:00 a.m.; Workshop: 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

ALIGN Wellness Studio

Cost: $50:00

Limited to 12 Participants

Call ALIGN to reserve your spot: 615-383-0148

Amy Lyles Wilson co-authored Bless Your Heart: Saving the World One Covered Dish at a Time (Thomas Nelson), and is a columnist and blogger for Her Nashville magazine, hernashville.com. She has worked in publishing for more than 25 years, and her byline has appeared in a variety of publications, as well as on NPR’s “This I Believe.” She is a trained affiliate of Amherst Writers & Artists, and a graduate of Millsaps College, the University of Mississippi, and Vanderbilt University Divinity School. More at amylyleswilson.com.

“Being in Amy Lyles Wilson’s workshop is better than getting a massage!”—Kristi

ALIGN Wellness Studio, Belle Meade Plaza, 4544 Harding Pike, Suite 215


Writing Conference Realities: On Criticism, Tote Bags, and Finding One’s Voice

Writing conferences are vacations for me, full of new sites, creative people, and must-have books. Sometimes the food isn’t too good, and sometimes it’s yummy. Sometimes the hotels are noisy, with lumpy beds and no free toiletries. Other times I sleep like a fat baby, my skin smelling like lavender from the tiny lotion in the bathroom. Mostly, though, these writing conferences are like life: some fascinating and uplifting parts, along with a few disappointments. And so it was at the Kentucky Women Writers Conference in Lexington.

Knowing full well the damage that traditional critique workshops can do to a writer’s energy and self-esteem, I’ve sworn off them since being introduced to the much more civilized approach put forth by Amherst Writers and Artists in 2005. Twice in five years I’ve let myself wander off, and I’ve regretted it both times. Last weekend was no exception.

I signed up for a well-known writer’s sessions at the Conference because of her reputation in the nonfiction world. That’s my favorite genre, and I want to learn all I can about doing it well. Shortly before the Conference started, I received an email from the organizers saying the Famous Writer wanted us to draft two short pieces on certain topics before we arrived. I didn’t think much of the request, not having been told we would be critiquing one another’s work. And I didn’t have time to complete the assignments anyway.

Soon after the first session began, I knew I’d made a mistake. There were 12 attendees in the room, along with the Famous Writer. She asked us to read what we’d written in response to the prompts sent to us before the Conference. It wasn’t long before such phrases as, “Here’s what you did wrong,” “Get rid of that,” and “It’s not working for me,” came flying out of the Famous Writer’s mouth. When she asked me to read, I declined. When she asked me to respond to other people’s work, I commented on only those spots I found to be strong or memorable. I saw faces fall around that able, faces belonging to women who had never read their work out loud before, and women who were just beginning to entertain the idea that they might be able to write. (I’m all for editing one’s work and facing the realities of what needs to be improved upon; just not with writing that is newly born.)

As I made my way from the Lexington Public Library where we were meeting—a great facility in a walker-friendly downtown location—to a nearby restaurant for lunch, a young woman who had been in Session One with the Famous Writer stopped me. She wanted to know if my reasons for not reading, and for responding only in the positive, had anything to do with the way the Famous Writer was conducting the session. (During our introductions I had said that I worked as a writer and workshop leader in Nashville.)

“Yes,” I said.

“Is there a way to do this without shaming the writer?” she asked.

“Yes,” I responded, wanting to burst into song. This woman gets it. I proceeded to tell her about the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method, which changed my life. (New work is treated gently and with emphasis on what is strong, allowing writers to find their voices before criticism has a chance to silence the quivering creative spirit.)

This precious young woman told me she was so discouraged after Session One with the Famous Writer that she wasn’t sure she even wanted to try to write. I hope I convinced her otherwise. We both said we weren’t going back for Session Two.

The next morning I went to hear Heather Sellers, a woman I think I’m half in love with, not only for her way with words, but also for her way with the world. She was funny, and supportive, and engaging, and honest. I saw another refugee from Session One with the Famous Writer in the room, soaking up all the encouragement and inspiration she could from Heather. Just like me. (In the picture here she’s the thin, well-known one on the right.)

I also got a fabulous tote bag—long shoulder straps, zipper pockets—always a plus at a writing conference, and delicious food memories from Jonathan’s at the Gratz Park Inn, where my husband, Precious, and I stayed. Quail with blackberries, and homemade banana pudding in a chilled Mason jar for dessert. Yummy. (I would have appreciated a head’s up—and maybe a reduced rate—from the Inn staff when I made my reservation regarding the renovations in progress so that the big hole in the bathroom ceiling, the peeling paint in the bedroom, and the rusty nails on the walls in the sitting area wouldn’t have been such a disappointment, but that bed was so comfortable, and the complimentary toiletries so elegant, that I’m already anticipating a return visit.)

So all in all I got what I came for, including the affirmation that there’s more than one way to workshop. The Kentucky Women Writers Conference is a good value for the money, and I look forward to attending again in 2011.

Look for Heather Sellers’ newest book, You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, due out in October 2010 from Riverhead.

What I Learned on Summer Vacation at Chautauqua

I was blessed to spend another great week at the Chautauqua Institution this summer. It’s my favorite place for vacationing. As luck would have it, a writer I like was leading a workshop while I was there, and so I spent the afternoons surrounded by other word lovers. Ann Hood (shown in picture) and I have a few things in common: we’re both women and we’re both writers. We both like to write personal essays. But she’s famous and I’m not. And she approaches her writing in ways that I don’t.

The older I get, the more I’m learning that differences are fine. That just because someone else “made it” by doing things a certain way, it doesn’t mean I have to follow that pattern in order to succeed. Ann said she doesn’t believe in the concept of lousy first drafts. Instead, she told us, she makes sure she knows what she wants to say before she begins to write. I think she’s lucky she can work like that. If I didn’t allow myself the room to roam around with my words, I’d never get to the revision stage. I think on the page. And she doesn’t change names of the people she writes about, saying it puts distance between her and the reader. I disagree. I think changing names, when appropriate, is a sign of respect.

How do you like to work?

You can find more about Ann Hood at http://www.annhood.us

Join Me & ALIGN Wellness Studio in the Women’s Writing Circle

ALIGN Wellness Studio & Amy Lyles Wilson

Invite You to Join the

Women’s Writing Circle

“It is the sharing of our stories that saves us.”

We are not a critique group, but a community of women who have something to say and have not yet found the time, permission, or space to write. In the Circle, writing prompts and guided exercises tap your creative spirit in a mindful and intentional way. Conducted under the principles of Amherst Writers & Artists, all writing is treated as fiction, regardless of its factual content, and no one is compelled to read aloud if she is not moved to do so. Come claim your chair in the Circle; your stories are safe with us.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

9:00 a.m until 12:30 p.m. (Drinks and snacks provided.)

Cost: $50.00

Laptops or journals, anything you like to write on, are appropriate.

Call or email the ALIGN Studio to reserve your spot: 383-0148, nashvillealign@comcast.net; space limited to 12 participants.

ALIGN Wellness Studio: Belle Meade Plaza,
4544 Harding Pike, Suite 215, Nashville, TN

Writer Amy Lyles Wilson is a graduate of Millsaps College, the University of Mississippi, and Vanderbilt University Divinity School. She is a columnist for Her Nashville magazine (www.hernashville.com), and her essay “The Guts to Keep Going” was featured on National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” and appears in This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies from Remarkable Men and Women (Henry Holt, 2008). She is the co-author of the forthcoming Bless Your Heart: Saving the World One Covered Dish at a Time (Thomas Nelson). Amy Lyles is a trained affiliate of Amherst Writers and Artists (www.amherstwriters.com). You can learn more at www.amylyleswilson.com.

“Being in a writing circle with Amy Lyles Wilson is better than getting a massage!”

Amy Lyles Wilson Invites You to Join the Women’s Writing Circle in Nashville on July 17, 2010

Here’s what one participant says:

“My time in the Women’s Writing Circle was the most energizing and supportive creative activity that I’ve done in years.”

Amy Lyles has degrees in English, journalism, and theology and twenty years of experience as a writer and editor. She’s a columnist and blogger for Her Nashville, and her byline has appeared in a variety of other publications, including This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women (Henry Holt, 2008).

In the Women’s Writing Circle she encourages you to “write your heart out” in the spirit of Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA). An affiliate of AWA trained in leading writing workshops, Amy Lyles has also studied with the group’s founder, Pat Schneider (www.amherstwriters.com).

The next Circle will meet on Saturday, July 17, 2010, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Amy Lyles’ home in Green Hills. Drinks and snacks provided. Cost is $35.00.

The AWA method fosters creativity, not critique, and focuses on process, not product. No one tells you how you “should” write. Instead, your own words are heard and valued just as they are. Writing prompts and exercises are presented to evoke responses, and all who want to share are invited to do so. Material offered within the Circle is kept confidential and treated as fiction regardless of its factual components.

Email me now to reserve your spot, ask questions, or get directions to my place.

Amy Lyles Wilson


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