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Teaching My Best Friend Writing Practice in Senegal, West Africa

Updated: Jul 23, 2022

At the end of the two-week writing retreat with Natalie in the last hour of the last session with her, she said something that made me tear a piece of paper out from the back of my notebook and write her a quick letter that I would stick in a copy of my memoir and then ask one of her assistants to give to her later.

Natalie was speaking about what was next for her. She had said that she thought she was done with writing books, but after she taught an online, eight-week class several months prior (that I had also participated in), she had filled a notebook and thought, “It could be a book,” followed by mysterious shrug and half smile.

She also has added something after this, saying she still wasn't sure what it was, but she took one hand and sort of just gestured around her abdomen and then slowly raised it up, trying to demonstrate how something was sort of coming up for her, and she said, “Africa… I'm not sure what it means yet. Maybe nothing. I don't know.”

That's when I ripped out that sheet and wrote her a letter (which I share with you below), because, in fact, I'd spent a good deal of time in a country called Senegal in West Africa over the past 12 years, having studied abroad there for a semester in 2009 and having gone back 7 times- I'm there now, as I write this- and I wrote my first memoir about that experience and how powerful and transformative it had been for me… greatly aided, if I might add, by having discovered Writing Down the Bones in the middle of the often chaotic / confusing / intense experience of writing it.

As I told Natalie when I first met her and had a wonderful long chat with her, “Reading Bones helped me finally birth my own first book into the world.” Which in retrospect feels a little extra, but I had honestly felt rather constipated with the story for over a decade, and her wise advice in Bones truly impacted me and help me get along with it.

So imagine how I felt when, at the end of spending two weeks with her and all these amazing people, she says that, and I have an extra copy of my book in my bag (because you never know), so I wrote that letter, wanting her not only to have a chance to learn more about Senegal, but to “meet” Anne-Marie through its pages, and I simply wanted her to know I would be taking and teaching Writing Practice in Africa, in Senegal, with that very same person- my best friend in the world.

my letter to Natalie after studying with her for 2 weeks on Madeline Island, WI

By the way, Natalie wrote me back the following a while afterward. I literally almost fell over lol.


I've delivered on that promise now, having taught Anne-Marie about it over these past few weeks that I've been here, and it actually revealed to me a few things about this beautiful soul I thought I knew so well. Unsurprisingly, one of them is a deep insecurity about having good enough writing skills or having anything meaningful worth saying or being “ good enough” (sound familiar?)

But just like many of us who are fortunate enough to learn about Writing Practice as taught by Natalie, Anne-Marie went through the same phases of insecurity, confusion, and frustration until she’d done it enough to start feeling the effects, the beautiful effects that come with the liberating practice if one sticks with it.

A week or so into it, she told me she even got up in the middle of the night when she couldn't sleep and looked for her notebook to write in, and over the next week, I'd see her grab it in the morning before we even sat/meditated to write in it as she waited for my jet-lagged ass to get caffeinated to join her. Keep in mind that she’s someone who wasn't able to continue their education past 7th grade and who hasn't had a “reason” to really right for the last 20 years.

Anne-Marie and her first Writing Practice notebook

Now, she's filling up page after page, writing about her childhood, about growing up in poverty, talking about her culture and music and so much more- we even worked together to turn one of her entries into her very first blog post, and just this past weekend, she experienced Writing Practice in a group (with several of YOU!) reading aloud in French and telling me about what a powerful experience it was afterwards.

She’s hooked :)

And guess what? She’ll be joining me for my once-a-month virtual Writing Practice group from now on (internet and electricity allowing), and she’ll be regularly contributing to the blog on our website (we have a small business together).

She’ll also be attending most of our Writing Practice sessions in my 7-week virtual workshop where we read Long, Quiet highway… which starts in just 1 week on September 12th! It’s one of my favorite books of Natalie’s, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to facilitate a workshop around it.

In gratitude to all of you for your kindness and support these past few months,

Katie & Anne-Marie

PS: Join me for a workshop or creative writing class, writing practice retreat modeled after Natalie's, or one of my free offerings such as my memoir book club, Friday writing practice, and more.

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1 Comment

Jane Schreiner
Jane Schreiner
Sep 06, 2021

I love reading your posts, and your Natalie post!! xoxo See you soon Katie! Thank you for sharing your journey and Anne -Marie too!

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