My work got better because I was lifted and supported by an organization comprised of individuals who deeply care.
During this time of COVID, connection and community have never been more important. But those two things have never come easy to me. I don’t even know that I understood the meaning of the word community when I was younger. Before moving here, I’d left all nineteen of the addresses I’d once called home. When my husband and I arrived in the Twin Ports area, it was after leaving behind all our friends.
We came with our fifteen-month-old daughter and our aging dog. Our son wasn’t yet born, he was only an idea then, and as a new mother still adjusting to the role, I was trying to figure out how to get writing back into my life. Lake Superior Writers advertised a writing contest they were sponsoring—the flyer tacked on a library bulletin board. I joined the organization without knowing anything about it or anyone in it and worked on my first entry for weeks.
To work on that piece, knowing that when I finished, it would be received with care and attention by another human being, meant everything to me. Writing was the only way I had of making those deeper connections with others that in my day-to-day life eluded me. That spring, I was invited to read my entry at the annual LSW meeting and feeling the energy in the room marked a turning point for me. I kept writing and submitting and renewed my membership with the LSW organization every year.
At first, my only participation was through the newsletter. Because we lived an hour away from Duluth and I was in the throes of motherhood, reading about writing was the only way I could be part of the club. My favorite section was the Kudos where I got to hear about the writers in our area who were getting published. I learned their name names and cheered them on, visited their websites in stolen moments, and attended their readings whenever I could. They completely and utterly inspired me.
As my kids got older and I got a more rugged car suited to back county roads, I ventured out to weekly classes. The drive home was long and dark and sometimes treacherous with snow and icy roads, but I’d return to my sleeping family with a mind buzzing happily with what I’d learned. I never joined a writing group because my time was so limited—I needed every precious moment to write. But then a colleague in a short story class convinced me that joining a group was the best way to improve as a writer, and so I did.
And he was right.
This year my first novel will see its publication. I workshopped its pages with members of two different writing groups and beta readers who were all connected to LSW. I participated in the LSW manuscript swap and took advantage of reading opportunities I heard about through the Northwords newsletter. I took more classes, went to conferences, Zoomed and read and learned and made friends. All those connections are the reason I’m here.
My work got better because I was lifted and supported by an organization comprised of individuals who deeply care. I am still learning how to function as someone in a community, how to both give and receive support. But to anyone out there who is writing alone and in the dark, I invite you to reach out a hand in fellowship because, in my experience, someone wonderful will be there.
Carol Dunbar is a former actor, playwright, and coloratura soprano who left her life in the city to move off the grid. Her writing has appeared in The South Carolina Review, Midwestern Gothic, Midwest Review, and on Wisconsin Public Radio. She writes from a solar-powered office on the second floor of a water tower in northern Wisconsin, where she lives in a house in the woods with her husband, two kids, and a giant Alaskan malamute. The Net Beneath Us is her first novel.