How to Be A Writer

I just had the great privilege and joy of facilitating my 8th annual Commonweal Writer’s Retreat in Bolinas, California last week. “The Writer’s Retreat of Your Dreams” is always one of my favorite weeks of the year. The confluence of a perfect environment, incredible healthy food cooked with love, the wild California coast, an incredible collection of writers, and ample time to dive deep into yourself and into words–always leads to powerful transformative experiences and a retreat filled with laughter, tears, profound and funny words, and love.

Here’s what a couple of the participants had to say about this year’s retreat:

“Close your eyes. Imagine getting to spend a week on a mythological island, populated only by funny, creative, sensitive people of all ages and backgrounds. Imagine three delicious, healthy, mouth-watering meals appearing magically each day. Imagine nothing to do except write, dream, nap, stroll along oceanfront cliffs, and let your creativity flow. Now open your eyes. You are at Laura Davis’ annual Commonweal writing workshop.”

–Kim Tyler, Santa Cruz, CA

“Commonweal is a paradise—the ideal spot for a retreat that nourishes mind, body and spirit. The setting is incomparable, the food wholesome, exquisite and prepared with love. Laura’s workshop challenges, nourishes and inspires writers of all levels, and will propel you toward becoming a more vibrant, accomplished writer. The week I spent there was invaluable. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, knowledge, caring, and insight with us.”

–Christine Holmstrom, Santa Cruz, California

To share a little bit of the Commonweal experience with you, I wanted to share one thing I wrote and read for my students there this year:

How to Be A Writer

Slow down.

Notice what is around you. Slow down some more.

Take notes. You think you will remember, but you won’t remember.

Take the time to find out the names of things. Use those names.

Take the time to listen.

Stop your momentum.

You can’t write effectively when hurtling through space.

You can’t write when you are planning for tomorrow.


Wherever you are, feast on words.

Savor them.

Read. Read everything. Read crap. Read literature. Read billboards and advertising. Read blog posts and novels, science fiction and memoir and slam poetry.

Put yourself in the company of writers.

Spend time with people who love to play with words as much as you do.


No matter what is going on in your life, find time to put words on the page.

Do it when you are lonely, when you are sad, when you are angry or confused or have a bitter taste in your mouth.

Do it when you are hungry and full of need. Do it when you are full of the pleasures that life has to offer.


Give up your ideas about what a writer should do. The only rules are your own, and even then, it’s important to break them.

When you write something good, turn the page and start the next piece.

When you write something bad or banal or boring, self-pitying or self absorbed, turn the page and begin again.

Eventually you will not think in terms of good or bad; you will simply put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and accept whatever it is that comes.

When all words are equal and you can love them with equal measure, that is a very good sign.


When your writing is fresh and new and raw and bleeding, shoo the editor into the hallway. Lock the door and do not let him in.

But when your work has cooled and the heat has ebbed away, open the door and invite him in. He has much to teach you.


Find a teacher and when that teacher has taught you all he or she can teach, find another teacher and another.

Find a writer you love and study how she does what she does. Then see if you can do the same.

Don’t worry if you come back to the same obsessions again and again and again. They will lead you to your very best work.


Look in the mirror. Look right into the heart of your eyes and do not flinch. Say out loud, to the you who lives inside you, “I am a writer.” It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not. Say it again. Then try, “I am a writer and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”


Banish the judges who sit on your shoulder– your narcissistic mother, the sister who says you it wrong, your 9th grade English teacher who wrote in red in the margins of your notebook. Tell them all to shut up and leave you alone and if they keep whispering their evil secrets in your ear, put on earplugs, and barricade the door.


Oh and did I tell you to slow down? If you’re too busy living, there’s not time for the quiet well from which true writing comes.

Learn to tap that flow and when it comes, chain yourself to your chair and do not get up. Do not turn your back on inspiration. Embrace her instead.

Invite the muse into your life. Ask her out on a date. Change your sheets, sprinkle them with rose petals, anoint your body with sacred oils.

Then sit and wait. Put your pen on the page.  Take the plunge. Do not wait.

Do it now. Do it often.

The only way to be a writer is to be a writer.

So be one.

Do it now.

Registration for next year’s July 2014 Commonweal retreat is open now. Sixteen of the 21 spaces are already taken. If you’d like to get one of the remaining spaces, you can read more by clicking the MORE INFO button below.


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A Gift to Inspire Your Writing

Subscribe to my mailing list and I will immediately give you a beautiful eBook: Writing Toward Courage: A Thirty Day Practice.

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