The Habit summer writers’ retreat was this past weekend. Two of the great highlights of a weekend full of highlights were Story Time and Poetry Tea, when writers from the Habit Membership read their work to one another. The stories, poems, and essays were a reminder of how much great work this fellowship of writers is doing. But also, I’ve been reflecting on what it means for writers to be a receptive audience to one another. To read one’s work to a roomful of people who understand what it took to do the work and, more to the point, consider themselves your allies in putting good and beautiful work in the world—I can’t imagine a better audience.

Writers seek publication. At the less-healthy end of the desire for publication is the desire for the approval and admiration of strangers—the desire to be loved by people you can’t love back. A lot of the dynamic around publishing derives from scarcity: only so many stories, poems, or essays can be published, so if you make it past the gatekeepers, you must be special, a writer to be taken seriously.

At the Habit writers’ retreat, writers were taking one another seriously—writers who knew each other, who respected one another, who valued one another’s opinions. That’s at least as rare and at least as precious as getting published. If you’re a writer, I hope you have people in your life who take your work seriously. (If you don’t, we’d love to have you in The Habit Membership.)

Reflecting on the retreat, Heather Cadenhead wrote to her fellow Habitués,

Not many of us get the opportunity to feel like serious writers in our day-to-day lives. The Habit retreats offer an opportunity to lean into that important part of yourself and, in so doing, become a better parent, spouse, friend, and member of your local community. Look for “side effects” of the retreat as you reenter normality. (Maybe you are listening to your kids with more intention because you finally felt heard yourself.) … [The Habit Membership] is a pay-it-forward literary culture where writing begets more writing, love of others begets more love of others, and there is room for every kind of writer and every manner of story.

Good things happen when writers take one another seriously.

I thought you would appreciate a few of the poems that were shared over the weekend.

All Life’s Startling Loves (by Tyler Rogness)

Unfold yourself beneath the swell of night;
put out your chest to catch the cutting wind.
Breathe in, though all your bones reject the bite,
and call the whittling tempest to your mind.

Then bind your senses one by one about
the tumult of the spirit in the air
and let her rush and toss you in a cloud
to scud across the dark. You really don’t

need rhymes and veils for every wild thing,
nor chains and ready answers in the hand.
Much better empty; best have space to wing-
wrap all life’s startling loves, to apprehend

the miracle of wide late-winter skies
that send a gospel tumbling up the drive.

Lorica (by Margaret Bush)

When I walk through the valley, may you be the shadow.
When my soul is shipwrecked, oh, be the swallowing sea.
May your kindness be the only cruelty I know.
May your silence be the only language I need.

Isaac’s New Question (by Margaret Bush)

Here is the wood, here the oil,
every device for sacrifice.
But if you are the priest, and the lamb, and the altar,
who is the knife?

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