Mary Kurtz is one of the Steamboat Writers, a group of essayists, fiction writers, academics, and poets who have been meeting weekly for more than twenty years to share their works-in-progress and receive feedback from one another. The group, affiliated with the Steamboat Arts Council, also hosts an annual writers conference in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
I always look forward to hearing Mary read. Whether poetry or prose, she writes sparely, yet vividly. Her words quietly tear at the heart and connect us through our pain and isolation. Thanks, Mary, for contributing to my series, How We Write.
Antidotes to Isolation
by Mary Kurtz
“Not any lonelier than anywhere else.” I’ve long believed that loneliness is relative. It can occur in the
middle of Manhattan. However, if anyone were to ask me if the writing life feels lonely, my answer
is “yes”. While I find solitude necessary to my writing process, I often need to break away from the
narrow focus of what’s on my desk. On any given day that might mean it’s time for a walk with my dogs,
a hike on a nearby hill or in the winter, a snowshoe. I find the fresh air an antidote to the isolation.
However, on a fairly regular basis, I find the need for more potent antidotes.
So, I participate in local and regional conferences and writers groups and find the isolation of my desk
dissolve in those professional connections. In 2013, I attended the Taos Writers Conference in New
Mexico. While there I was fortunate to hear Priscilla Long from Seattle, Washington. A writer, teacher,
and scientist she enthusiastically encourages writers to get to the desk, to sit down and start writing.
While I’ve self-published a collection of essays, I struggle some days to justify my writing time. Living
on a ranch, particularly in the summertime, I find it hard to sit at my desk knowing there is always
something to be done outside. So, I was looking for support at this conference for my daily writing
practice. Thankfully, Priscilla was helpful.
In her book, The Writers Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft and the Writing Life, she shared a
writing technique I use frequently in my daily writing. She refers to it as the “Word Trap.” This exercise
can be used as a simple free write or as a brain-storming exercise when a writer is looking for inspiration
for a poem, a character, or essay theme. To begin, at the top of the page write a word, say “garden”.
Then write every thought that comes to mind when you think of that word. I find that one, two, and
three words come at first, and then they easily become phrases that grow as the writing goes on down
the page. The free association is a gift because it isn’t judgmental and easily invites the writer to a
daily practice. So, now I have both the memory of Priscilla’s encouraging voice and one of her helpful
techniques to use when I’m struggling alone to sit at my desk.
I also find support from participating in writers groups. One local group offers feedback on my
writing; and another supports authors like me who publish their work independently. And lastly, my
membership with writing groups like Women Writing the West offers contact with regional and national
As a result of attending WWW Conferences, I’ve developed relationships with authors who’ve answered
questions, offered encouragement and in 2012 invited me to submit my writing for an anthology
project. Now two years later, my essays, “Bugsy” and “Daddy’s Girl” will be included in the anthology,
Ankle High and Knee Deep: Women Reflect on Western Rural Life, to be released in June, 2014 by Two
Dot an imprint of Globe Pequot Press. Without attending the WWW Conference in Seattle that year I
wouldn’t have met the future anthology editor, Gail Jenner, nor would I have been offered the invitation
to contribute my writing—this all over a friendly glass of wine during a networking session one evening.
So, while the real work of my writing takes place in a quiet office in my son’s old bedroom on our ranch,
neither my writing nor I would be known in a wider world if it weren’t for the connections I have made
through writing groups and attending conferences. My participation is affirming each time I read aloud
and ask for critique in writers group, each time I network at a conference and each time I hear the
stories of other writers. In the exchange, I know I share common experiences within the larger writing
community. For me, this kind of reassurance is the strongest antidote to the isolation of the writing life
for it brings me back to a place where I feel as though I belong.
Mary Kurtz and her husband, Peter, raise cattle, hay, and quarter horses in northwestern Colorado on
their ranch outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She finds inspiration for her writing in their daily
ranch living and in the beautiful landscape of the Elk River Valley. Mary’s award-winning first collection of essays, At
Home in the Elk River Valley: Reflections on Family, Place and the West invites readers into the history,
natural world and community of the Elk River Valley. She has contributed to Farm and Ranch Living, the
Trail and Rider Magazine, and the Country Woman Magazine.
The soon-to-be released anthology, Ankle High and Knee Deep: Women Reflect on Western Rural Life is
available for pre-order at www.amazon.com.
Please visit Mary at: www.marybkurtz.com