Writing is such a solitary activity.

But sometimes we are fortunate enough to be called into a community of writers. Others who share our passion for learning and for making meaning with our lives.


The authors of chapters in a forthcoming book about vocation across the disciplines in higher education. July 31,2015, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Last week I shared a lot of laughter and thoughtful inquiry with the group above.

This group led me to reflect on other communities of writers in my life:

  • Writers Conferences in Santa Barbara, California, and Bear River, Michigan.
  • Book Festivals in Brooklyn, Charlottesville, and Calvin College.
  • A local writers group consisting of three people who live within three miles of my house.
  • Workshops I’ve led myself or taken over many years in various places.
  • College-level writing courses I’ve both taken and led.
  • Book projects that combine the talents and perspectives of multiple authors.
  • Writers retreats. You can attend the 2010 Fetzer Institute retreat through videos here.
  • Friend writers retreat. My last one was with this group in Chincoteague.

During the three days our Vocation Book group spent at the Prince Center at Calvin College, we shared many Magical Memoir Moments — stories of our lives together. Out of those stories arose a lovely community that calls all of us to deeper connection with self, others, language, and God.

Guess what? My experiences in community are calling me next to solitude. The pendulum in my life swings that way. I miss living close to The Hermitage and Gilchrist, two retreat centers that have fed my spirit often. I’m hoping to find some Virginia retreat centers. Know of any?

What calls you more now right now? Community or solitude? How do you establish a rhythm between the two?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Kathleen Pooler on August 5, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    Dear Shirley,
    I just returned from The Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC with 900 writers. It was stimulating and fun to be in the midst of all that enthusiasm and energy. I came away from it with a better sense of the next step in my writing life. But what I discovered is that my mind, body and spirit crave solitude and reflection. I’ve been to other conferences that offer a more reflective experience. I have benefitted from all types of conferences and the overriding factor in al of them is the value of connecting with a community. As was quoted at WD: “We write alone but no one succeeds alone.” We do need one another to stay inspired and motivated. Thank you for your ongoing inspiration and best wishes” feeding your spirit” as you move forward.

  2. shirleyhs on August 5, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Thank you for this insightful comment, Kathy.

    I LOVE this quote: “We write alone but no one succeeds alone.”

    That one is going on my wall.

    Glad you got clear on your next step. That’s a great gift even if it left you craving solitude.

    Hope you blog about The Writer’s Digest Conference. It’s one I never attended and so I’d love to tag along virtually with your reflections.

    Thanks for starting the conversation today!

    • Tracy Lee Karner on August 6, 2015 at 2:10 am

      definitely a wall-worthy quote, Kathy!

      I have been trying to find the right balance between community and solitude since 1999, when I decided to live the life of a writer (which means little more than that I write more than I do most other things, and I work hard at doing it better today than I was capable of doing yesterday).

      I’m starting to think that I am totally incapable of establishing a rhythm between community and solitude. (I have tried, fervently, to schedule and plan this rhythm. Because I love plans and schedules.) It simply hasn’t worked for me. So I have come to accept that my need for both community and solitude establishes a biorhythmic pattern. After I inhale, I must exhale. After community, I must have solitude, and so on and so on. It almost takes care of itself.

  3. shirleyhs on August 6, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Another pithy statement for our wall! Thank you, Tracy, for this description. It could only have been written by a real writer: “So I have come to accept that my need for both community and solitude establishes a biorhythmic pattern. After I inhale, I must exhale. After community, I must have solitude, and so on and so on. It almost takes care of itself.”

    You named what I have experienced often without being aware. Thanks to you, I’ll think of breathing and expect both the inhale and exhale.

  4. Joan Z. Rough on August 6, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    Oh, the balance. This is one place I find it terribly hard to maintain a place where I’m at peace with whichever … solitude or community. I love Tracy’s comment above, “After I inhale, I must exhale.” I couldn’t have said it better. We do need to do both and watch for the hints our body and minds give us that it’s time to dance with our friends or dance with yourself.

  5. shirleyhs on August 6, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    I agree, Joan. Learning to read the body is a subtle but important way to stay balanced. We often learn the hard way when our bodies talk back to us!

    Thanks for adding the dance metaphor. It too begins with breath. Wishing you joyful balance today.

  6. melodie davis on August 6, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    Re: Va. retreat centers, I’m your guide. (Not that I’ve been to any of these, but I know my former pastor, Ann Held, used them all.

    Dayspring Retreat Center in Maryland?http://www.dayspringretreat.org/

    Sheryl Shenk and Blue Ridge Ministries: https://blueridgeministries.wordpress.com/

    Retreat house at Berryville, Va. (Catholic)

    Hope this helps!

    • shirleyhs on August 13, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      I want to add The Bellfry at Broadview Ranch near Lexington, VA, to this list. Emily North suggested it on Facebook. This blog will be a better way for me to search in the future.

  7. Elaine Mansfield on August 8, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    My hearing loss brings solitude. I know this is a blessing for a writer, although I wish I had a choice. Conferences don’t work for me anymore. I’m best with one or two others. This makes on-line communities of writers important to me. I’m here alone at my computer, watching a hummingbird feeder, a bird feeder, and the changing flowers. Willow snoozes next to me on a dog bed. It’s oh so quiet, but I am communicating with you as we both search for our new project. I have a writing group that feeds me on a weekly basis. We sit around a table and speak one at a time. They all help me by bringing printed copies of things they’ve written at home so I can read along.

    I know what I want to write about, but don’t have the skills to do it in an engaging way. I know from experience it’s possible to get those skills and find the spark, so I’m practicing. As the I Ching says, “Perseverance furthers.”

    • shirleyhs on August 9, 2015 at 6:10 pm

      Thanks for finding this post, Elaine. It seems we are in solitary community with each other, even in similar relationship to our emerging work.

      I respect your process of deepening and listening so much. Bless you, Bless Willow, Bless the hummingbirds and friends around you.

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