Boston Writing Marathon

This marathon took place at the Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project in Boston on Nov. 22, 2013.  Our big group of eight turned out to be perfect for wandering and writing in the two large, gorgeous spaces we visited: Central Library and Trinity Church.  It was a special marathon for me, since I got to write in a group with 1) my Marathon Guru, Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project Director Richard Louth, who invented the writing marathon, 2) my Marathon Mamma, Dakota Writing Project Director Michelle Rogge-Gannon, who took me on my first writing marathon ever back in 2006,  and  3) Tom Pankiewicz, a long-time writing marathon fan and the former Director and founding Co-Director of the Prairie Lands Writing Project, my new NWP home.  We were joined by several new writer friends who helped us find our way, both geographically and metaphorically.


Bates Hall Reading Room, Central Library, Copley Square, 10:47 a.m.

This is a Library from Story and Legend. Amazing contrast between where we were—the Boston Convention Center—and where we are now.  The physical and mental shifts disrupts my usual presentation-day conference panic, bringing blessed refuge on a rainy day in Boston.

We’ve wandered into the Bates Hall Reading Room where the classic green lamps line up in comforting rows.  Long wooden tables stretch out like pews underneath a soaring, vaulted ceiling.  This stunning, hushed space is ruled by an unspoken covenant, pulling on the medieval authority of wood, stone, and brass.

Everyone here within my view has a laptop except for Richard and me, plus one lone woman three tables down, reading and writing notes and catching my weird marathon glance over her spectacles.

A security guard walks through, slowly, like a Zen meditation master.


I cannot ignore the signs before me, propped up in little plastic stands between the green lamps.  “Be alert ,” they read in large, worried letters.  “Please do not leave personal items unattended, even when photocopying, requesting materials, or making a phone call.”

Be alert, indeed.

Un-alert, we nearly left my writing marathon guru behind in the awful Sheraton lobby.  We left a phone message with a rendezvous point and hoped for the best.

Nothing like a little snag to get the writing blood flowing, to make the unfolding of new space all the more magical when we emerged, all eight, together, into this Temple of Words, newly alert.

Alert and grateful.  We would not be here without each other, in good and ambling company.

We would not be here now, glancing at our watches, alert to the deadline driving our writing toward our regroup-and-share time.

Oh, my dear group of writers, thank you for your  patience and for your warm writer smiles, traded ever more silently as we moved deeper and deeper into the library’s heart.

Other groups had passed us earlier on the sidewalk, clogged briefly with writers emerging onto Boylston Street and heading to Copley Square. Before that, NWP friend Troy Hicks, had passed us in the corridor of the convention center, grinning and smiling. “Looks like a writing marathon,” he said.  I could tell that he wanted to come, too, but was clearly off to some conference obligation.

“It’s ok, brother,” I thought.  “We’ll write for you, too.”

Trinity Church, 11:15 a.m.

We’ve traded our tables for real pews now, having made our way to Trinity Church,  an important stop we nearly missed.  It had been so chilly in the damp but beautiful library courtyard that we’d been sorely tempted to take up Richard’s suggestion to sit by a warm fire and have a Guinness at the Irish pub just up the street.  But Micha reminded us that we were a mere block away from the church, a historic landmark, and so we moved on toward it in the drizzle.


Another great reason why it’s good to be writing in a group.  Yesterday at the plenary session, the new acting president of the National Writing Project said, “We know more collectively because we learn together.”  She was talking about NWP, but it’s also true of writing marathons.  We know more collectively because we write together.  .

As we sit, more writers from other groups come into the church. They take their  places a few pews ahead of us and begin to write.  Writers at the back of the church.


There should always be writers at the back of a church. Just in case.

Alert. Waiting. Listening. Recording.

Pens poised like antennae to receive the signal,

transmute it through ink–

the Word of the World,

transcribed unto itself.

Note: After I wrote this, a concert started in the church.  An all-female vocal ensemble called Lorelei performed, starting with a stunning piece that sounded like Gregorian Chant.  Their voices filled the space in a way that left me so awe-struck and moved to tears that I could no longer write.  It was a great gift, another testament to the magic of the writing marathon and the way it opens people to experience the world more fully and deeply so that they can share it through writing. 


  1. I love writing marathons. I wish I wasn’t stuck in my house right now due to the snow– I can think of so many places I’d like to go and write. Luckily, I have a husband who enjoys writing as well. We will probably go on the marathon together this week.

    I tried out a writing marathon at the beginning of he year with my seventh graders. Though it was quite short, I used it to try and get them used to the spaces that they would be occupying for the rest of the year. We spent some time in the gym, in the cafeteria, on the front lawn. I want to do this again next year– maybe even in the first few days of school?– and then revisit the marathon at the end of the year. It would be an awesome reflection piece!

  2. Someday I would like to participate in a writing marathon. I didn’t realize how much I missed writing as a release until we did our marathon last week. It would be a blast writing in interesting places — I’ve never been to Boston or New Orleans. Maybe after I graduate…

    • There is a 1 credit hour writing marathon course at MWSU in March! I’m planning on taking it if I’ve got the funds. They are a blast.

  3. I think there is something really valuable in writing marathons. I am so excited to take our kids on one this year (that isn’t just at school). Even writers who don’t see themselves as “writers” become writers during marathons! To me, that’s beautiful.

    I am jealous that you got to go on this marathon! I absolutely love going into historic churches – there is so much emotion hanging in the air – what a great place to write!

  4. I fell in love with Boston when I went there in 2012. It was my first experience flying anywhere and I was with a fantastic group. It was also my first experience presenting at a PCA/ACA Conference. I was nervous and elated as I walked in the shadow of the footprints of my favorites. Although their life in the White House was before my time, I absolutely adore JFK and Jackie O. I was quite inspired by JFK’s Library, and we were extremely lucky, because we visited during the time when Mrs. Kennedy’s exhibit was on display there. I can only imagine the creativity that would be internalized from the atmosphere and then released through a well rounded graphite tip onto white space during a writing marathon. Looking back, I wish I had taken just a moment to write about the experiences as they were happening.

  5. Who knows what power cometh from a pen? The face so somber eking out the humor that rocks me to my very being or the smiling jester who writes of terrors so grim….. Only a writer allows these thoughts to escape from their bony prison and only one who appreciates the written word will share their message. Whoa to those who say that writing is not needed for unto them will fall the quiet stupor of the ignorant, the bliss of those who choose to hide from that which is truly blissful… the power of the written word.

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