It would be many years before I began to understand that all of life is practice: writing, driving, hiking, brushing teeth, packing lunch boxes, making beds, cooking dinner, making love, walking dogs, even sleeping. We are always practicing. Only practicing.
–Dani Shapiro, Still Writing
Lately, I’ve been thinking about one of my first mentors, Diane Freund (pronounced Friend), who died of brain cancer in 2010. And I guess I want other people to think about her, too. So, here she is.
My dear friend, Robbie, introduced us at a small writing conference in Southeast Arizona, where Diane was a frequent presenter. I wasn’t actually attending the full conference that year. I’d had a baby the week before and had slipped away for an hour or so to hear Diane speak.
Later, she agreed to work with me on my novel, offering what turned out to be two years of invaluable critique and encouragement. Her own first novel, Four Corners—the frightening, beautifully-written story of a young girl’s life after her mother is admitted to a mental hospital—won the Pirate’s Alley/Falkner Prize but was ultimately overshadowed by the events of September 11, 2001, four days prior to the book’s publication.
Still, Four Corners eventually aided her in receiving an NEA fellowship. When I wrote to offer congratulations, she gave me this:
This was the third time over the course of six years that I’d applied. When I was denied the grant in 2005, it came on the same day that I was diagnosed with cancer, so it seemed especially hard to receive that news. Now I realize that it wouldn’t have been a good time. I was sick and heart sick. This is just to say that I know how hard it is to be passed over, but you must persist against all odds. I am certain that with your incredible talent, you’ll one day be recognized for your achievements, that the stars will align just so, over your house.
During our first interaction, moments after we’d only just met, she gave me a book—a guide to writing poetry. A gift. She made me feel important. Special; of course, this was her true gift—she made everyone feel special.
At her memorial service, a familiar gathering inside a Bisbee restaurant, I looked around at her friends: a group of poets and artists and activists, each one hunted out from beneath the rocks of this remote small-town cluster in the desert. Diane’s power was drawing out beauty from every well.
*To donate to the Diane E. Freund Memorial Writing Celebration Fund—offering financial assistance to writers unable to afford the referenced writing conference—click here and specify Diane’s name in the donation scholarship space.
Steve Adams on the importance of location:
“Finding an environment where one can consistently tap into a creative state is no small matter. It’s the ground level of establishing a regular practice, and a regular practice is how large works get written. Nothing happens, or will happen to you as a writer until you find a way to bring pages upon pages, both good and bad, into existence.”
“This is what I believe in, what I trust will ultimately distinguish those who want to write and publish from those who do write and publish: work.”
–Bret Anthony Johnston