Write What You Know? The Art is Always in the Heart

As you know, to be an artist is to transform life–all life–into art.

This concept has been on my mind a lot lately, especially while designing this year’s writing retreats: How are people feeling? What do we all need, collectively, to facilitate our best art? And during that inquiry I discovered something I’d never noticed before: Nesting inside the word Heart is the word Art.

he(art)


Yes! The art is always inside the heart…if it’s any good. When we lean into our strong emotions of love, joy, anger, hope, despair, passion and rage, we tap into that which is universal. It’s counterintuitive, but the more intimate we become with our own emotional experience of the world, the more it resonates “out there”. We cannot write for them–it doesn’t work.

Recently I was able to see the Interactive Van Gogh exhibit that’s been touring the U.S. I’ve been a big fan for a long time, but seeing Van Gogh’s work again in a new format, I was reminded of an artistic paradox: how often beauty blooms in the midst of pain. These works of art that continue to move us 150 years later were painted by a man in anguish—lonely, full of doubts, and suffering from mental illness (and possibly wormwood poisoning).

After the last two years, most of us are also dealing with a lot of emotion: pain, yes, but also grief, shock, wonder, panic, joy, despair. As artists, we know we get to feel all that juicy stuff. But sometimes we find the words are caught in our throats, hands stuck halfway to the page. 

Our best art always emerges when we lean into, not away from, that fire.

I’m not talking about purely therapeutic writing—which is also important. I’m talking about the art that happens beyond trauma—beyond shock, grief, pain, wonder, panic and joy. I’m talking about using the fire from our emotions—all our emotions—to create artifacts that vibrate for centuries.

Write what you know” is a platitude largely overused and misunderstood. But this is what it means to me: Begin in truth. Start with your own heart. Let the art bloom from within our own emotional experience of the world, our nuanced experiences of love and sadness, rage and passion, hope and despair. You can invent plot, character, setting, entire worlds. But you must write from your heart to create art that matters. 

Using our strong emotions to fuel our art can be extremely inspiring. Van Gogh created his last 70 paintings during the last 70 days of his too-short life. Frida Kahlo transformed physical pain into artifacts of incredible beauty. Beethoven wrote his masterpiece, Ode to Joy, when he was deaf.

We are lucky to be artists who know what to do with strong feelings: We feel them. All of them. We allow them to permeate our stories, paintings, songs, and performances. Real, necessary art begins in that soft and squishy place. When we open our heart we allow the world to move through us like a prism, landing on the page and painting rainbows on all the walls.  

Wishing you beauty, always.
xoxoxoxoxo
Nancy

Art With Heart


 

Summer Flash Fiction Retreats: NEW DATES ADDED!

(Thanks to the wonderful response, we have secured a SECOND week in Grand Lake, Colorado!)

Are you longing for a creative spark?
An adventure to energize your spirit?
Camaraderie with your creative community?

You’ve emerged from the last year with a new sense of perspective, a desire to push yourself creatively, take risks, and realign yourself with your purpose on the planet: to tell the kind of stories that change the world.
BUT HOW?

Open Your Heart/Open Your Art
Summer Retreats 2022

with Nancy Stohlman and Kathy Fish

Spain, June 6-13 (1 left)

Colorado, August 9-14 (1 left)

NEW! Colorado, August 16-21

Whether you are craving adventure, rest, or artistic community, connection, and guidance, our creative souls need the gifts of a writing retreat more than ever. 

P.S. Even if it says “SOLD OUT” there will be some flux in these next days–so go ahead and apply with your rooming preferences and we will put you on the waiting list in the order received!

Happy writing and happy retreating! xoxo

Books by Friends: 2021 Edition (just in time for the Icelandic Book Flood!)

Happy Winter, Friends!

Thanks for virtually traveling with me to Iceland last month for our Fire and Ice Flash Fiction retreat! It was a magical time with Kathy Fish and nine incredible writers in the gorgeous, never-ending twilight and eerie beauty (and hot springs!) of Iceland. If you didn’t follow along on social media, check out some of our favorite pictures here!

Speaking of Iceland, you might already know that every December, Icelanders celebrate Jolabokaflod, the Annual Icelandic “Book Flood” and book gifting holiday!

And, in the spirit of Jolabokaflod, every December I share my list of Books by Friends from the previous year. Because if you’re going to gift books, why not gift books by friends?

Reykjavik last month

Books By Friends 2021 Edition:

(I’ve provided the publisher or author’s direct link if available)

(in no particular order)
Len Kuntz: This Is Me Being Brave 
What does it mean to be fully present in the moment? What does it mean to grieve? To confront your failings? Or to love like it’s the only love you’ll ever have? In THIS IS ME, BEING BRAVE, Len Kuntz addresses these issues and dozens more by splaying himself wide open for the reader. Full of wisdom and humanity, deeply personal and universally relevant, Kuntz turns bravery on its very head. And defies you not to be moved.

Chelsea Stickle: Breaking Points
In thirteen slick, innovative, and gut-wrenching flashes, the young women and girls in Breaking Points, the debut chapbook from Chelsea Stickle, hit the walls around them—walls constructed by family, friends, significant others, and insidious cultural perils. 

Grant Faulkner: All the Comfort Sin Can Provide
With raw, lyrical ferocity, All the Comfort Sin Can Provide delves into the beguiling salve that sin can promise—tracing those hidden places most of us are afraid to acknowledge. In this collection of brutally unsentimental short stories, Grant Faulkner chronicles dreamers, addicts, and lost souls who have trusted too much in wayward love, the perilous balm of substances, or the unchecked hungers of others, but who are determined to find salvation in their odd definitions of transcendence.

Twice Not Shy: One Hundred Short Short Stories. Laura Keenan and Linda Martin (eds)
A contemporary collection of 100 flash, micro and hybrid stories, each 500 words or less, by rising and established writers. Building on the success of Night Parrot Press’s first collection, Once, Twice Not Shy showcases the best of Western Australian authors writing in this exciting, challenging and condensed genre. Small but mighty, the stories linger long after reading them.

Bryan Jansing and Paul Vismara: Italy Beer Country updated 2021 edition
In 1996, a handful of men inspired a crusade—the Italian craft beer movement. Italy: Beer Country presents the movement’s humble roots and the passionate brewers whose persistent, dogged determination allowed them to overcome cultural bias, low expectations, and Italy’s infuriating taxes, to forge what has become Europe’s most vibrant beer scene. From less than 20 microbreweries in 2001, the movement has grown to over 1000 in 2021. Italy: Beer Country is the first, and only, written history of this evolving, creative craft beer scene.

Sylvia Petter: All the Beautiful Liars
As a child in Australia in the Fifties, Katrina Klain is taunted in the playground as a Nazi, long before she knows what the word means…Told in a thrillingly inventive narrative style, Sylvia Petter’s debut novel is a powerful, pacy tale about making peace with the past, which also paints a richly evocative picture of Central Europe in the early decades after the war.

Beth Gilstrap: Deadheading and Other Stories
Irrevocably tied to the Carolinas, these stories tell tales of the woebegone, their obsessions with decay, and the haunting ache of the region itself—the land of the dwindling pines, the isolation inherent in the mountains and foothills, and the loneliness of boomtowns. Gilstrap’s prose teems with wildness and lyricism, showing the Southern gothic tradition of storytelling is alive and feverishly unwell in the twenty-first century.

Selah Saterstrom: Rancher
To heal is to be changed, to be, potentially, revolutionized by the fracture whose initial presence signals as a wound. For all of its pain, the fracture sends out new lay lines – new paths of inquiry that necessitate new modes of knowing and being-with. Rancher follows such paths into the uncanny territories of life after rape: What happens when a lie becomes the truth? What happens when the ghost haunting your house turns out to be you? 

Cheryl Pappas: The Clarity of Hunger
“This is a sharp, wise, aching beauty of a collection. In these pages, Cheryl Pappas gifts us with afterflowers, an old woman frozen in place, beasts and witches lying in wait, a king who blithely dreams of tulips, volcanoes on Mars, and so much more. These stories are daring, daunting, desire-filled. Pappas brings tremendous skill and range to this captivating debut, landing it with truly one of the most beautiful and profound flash pieces I have ever read.”— Kathy Fish

Sarah Freligh: We
This me-too guide to We takes a deep dive into golf greens, mom & pops, cornfields, & figure salons to rescue the wreck eons of Kingship has wrought on everyone from the school shooter to Cassiopeia & the holy roller girl. Freligh’s voice is fresh & flagrant, tender as it is Olympic, the curse that works its own godspell—& this book broke my heart open.—Jane Springer

Francine Witte: The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon
Francine Witte’s precise economy of words and rich employment of voice, scene and imagery create such vibrant evocations in the extraordinary The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon. She is, without a doubt, a modern-day Chekhov, and one of the most luminous stars in the flash and micro world.—Nathan Leslie

This is What America Looks Like: Caroline Bock, Kathleen Wheaton, Jona Colson (eds):
Following an open call for submissions in February, 2020, the press received over 500 creative pieces, including new poetry and fiction from past WWPH winners. The ensuing pandemic and the nationwide protests for racial justice later that spring are reflected in the work reviewed and the pieces ultimately chosen to represent this extraordinary historical moment. 

Debbi Voisey: Only About Love
There’s no such thing as a perfect family. A perfect life. A perfect man. Frank is proof of this. He’s everyman and yet as unique as a fingerprint. With a wonderful wife and children who are the loves of his life, he couldn’t ask for anything more. But time and time again he keeps risking it all. In snapshots through time, Only About Love takes a sweeping loop around Frank’s life as he navigates courtship, marriage, fatherhood and illness. Told through the perspectives of Frank and his family, this story is one of intense honesty about the things we do to those closest to us.

Maddie Anthes: Beautiful Violent Things
“Drunk ghosts, feral mothers…riveting obsessions and unbelongings and captivities—the fragmented texts in Beautiful, Violent Things seethe and grip and fluoresce without apology. In these eleven dispatches, Madeline Anthes carefully weaves desire and estrangement, reimagines power as a woman’s capacity for hollowing a man, the ability to deliver impossibilities from her misappropriated body. ”— Tara Stillions Whitehead

Nod Ghosh: Toy Train
Toy Train is brutal, compassionate, sincere, mysterious, uplifting and devastating. Nod Ghosh is a flash master. Every sentence is significant. These are stories crammed with truth told in poetic language, rife with symbolism and brimming over with emotion. Make space for yourself to read this collection — it’ll leave you breathless.~ Epiphany Ferrell

Meg Pokrass: Spinning to Mars
“Meg Pokrass has written an exquisite collection of linked stories. As I read Spinning to Mars, I felt plunged, soaked, immersed … into a life both deep and wide. This book will spin you off to Mars with its exacting language and biting insight. Here is the kind of compressed writing that I long for and rarely find.” ~ Sherrie Flick

Stephanie Carty: Inside Fictional Minds
‘An invaluable guide to creating authentic characters by peeling back the layers and searching for the ‘why’ that lies behind all our actions. I have really enjoyed applying psychological theory to creative intuition, led by Stephanie’s accessible approach to creating believable, motivated characters.’
~Sarah Steele,

Michelle Elvy: The Other Side of Better
Fresh: yes! Authentic: yes! Poetic: yes! Brilliant: yes!! Here, with Michelle Elvy’s the other side of better, are wise reflections cast through refracted light. Here is the scent of the sea, the rift and grit of childhood. Here is an absorbing cinematic poetry in the telling – breathtakingly honest and elegant stories (personal, yet universal) about how we live, how we struggle and, most enduringly, how we thrive. A wondrous collection!~ Robert Scotellaro,

Jonathan Bluebird Montgomery: Nine Books
Nine Books is a book about the number nine. There are nine different books covering nine themes of my recent work with nine pieces each, which will be posted regularly over the next nine months. By subscribing you’ll get access to the content of each book (a new one posted over the course of each month) along with exciting multimedia content such as photography, audio recordings, video, and invites to exclusive events.

Diane Klammer: Love, Love
Love, Love is a book of poetry about love sports and relationships, their intersections and juxtapositions. It takes the reader on a journey of the body, mind, heart and spirit. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes sad, like love itself, but it is always about the human condition. Written in part from life and in part from the imagination, it allows the reader to be simultaneously vulnerable and strong. 

Diane Simmons: An Inheritance 
An Inheritance is a gem of a novella. It succeeds in spanning seventy years and four generations of one family, exquisitely capturing their relationships, secrets and divided loyalties. The historical changes wrought by each decade are delicately interwoven throughout the twists and turns within the family’s life. This captivating narrative will make you weep and smile.”–Joanna Campbell

Charmaine Wilkerson: Black Cake (coming 2022!)
PRE-ORDER US EditionPRE-ORDER UK Edition
In this moving debut novel, two estranged siblings must set aside their differences to deal with their mother’s death and her hidden past—a journey of discovery that takes them from the Caribbean to London to California and ends with her famous black cake.  This is a story of how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names, can shape relationships and history.


Damhnait Monaghan: New Girl in Little Cove
It’s 1985. Rachel O’Brien arrives in Little Cove seeking a fresh start after her father dies and her relationship ends. As a new teacher at the local Catholic high school, Rachel chafes against the small community, where everyone seems to know her business. The anonymous notes that keep appearing on her car, telling her to go home, don’t make her feel welcome either. 

Nuala O’Conner: Nora
Dublin, 1904. Nora Joseph Barnacle is a twenty-year-old from Galway working as a maid at Finn’s Hotel. She enjoys the liveliness of her adopted city and on June 16—Bloomsday—her life is changed when she meets Dubliner James Joyce, a fateful encounter that turns into a lifelong love. 

P.S. This is an ever-evolving list, and I’m bound to have forgotten someone! If there’s someone you think should be on this list, please let me know! xoxo

Be Icelandic for a day and give books this holiday season!
Happy Jolabokaflod, everyone!
(me in Iceland below)

Summer 2022 Retreats: Colorado and Spain!

Do you dream of uninterrupted days to write in beautiful locations?

Do you long to meet, be mentored by, and network with other writers?

Give YOURSELF a writing gift this year.

Join us in 2022!

Andalucía, Spain: June 7-13, 2022

Grand Lake, Colorado: August 9-14, 2022

All summer retreats opening January 2022!

Sign up here for early registration access!