Is a Writer’s Retreat for you?

When was the last time you walked through a meadow? Not a cut-lawn city park expanse, or your own back yard just before mowing, but an honest-to-goodness meadow? Last weekend I attended an intimate writer’s retreat at Prue’s House at Hilltop Park on Bainbridge Island, WA, led by author Margaret Nevinski.

The drive up wound through a forest so dense and lush the woods shadowing my car tripped the automatic headlights in otherwise broad daylight. The attendees were instructed to turn off at a dirt road next to a sign indicating the entrance to a conservation area–the kind of dirt road only park rangers and city employees in designated vehicles can use. (Yes, the invitation to such minor exclusivity makes me giddy.) Once past the sign, there were others, saying not to go any further, that the road ended, to stop and turn around. Beyond these warnings, at the top of the hill, was Prue’s House, a beautifully restored historic panabode cabin. Beyond it, lay a meadow. When I walked across it over a break from writing, tiny insects took flight, only ten inches or so in the air, to land on other patches of the soft wild grass, swaying in the light breeze under a blue sky. Ferry_landing_at_BainbridgeIS-700x251 photo (3)

The Writer’s Retreat was well-timed. I’d just had a break-through  with my novella, Carter Danforth and the English Viola. My Pitch Wars mentor, author S.K. Falls had returned her exhaustive notes on my manuscript for my novel Radio Head. Prue’s House is known for being “rustic.” Warmed by a fireplace, there are no restaurants around, no baristas, and no wifi (therefore, no posty-posty/peeky-peeky on FB and Twitter timelines.) Writers were asked to bring cushions because the seats are “hard.” When I lived in Southern California, most events were catered to a point of excess. If you prefer lattes and wine bars, you’re in luck. Most US cities host various writing events; you can have your wordcount and your bagel tray, too. At a stripped-down retreat like Prue’s house, I knew I’d have plenty of time to play and ponder, and the accountability of writing instead of being distracted.

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The beauty of a writer’s retreat, supportive critique group or small writing class for that matter, is the grounding of our words. Read within a circle of trust, we get to see and hear what we’ve been working on in a new light–and be inspired by the projects of others. One of the participants was Tyler McNamer, high functioning autistic author of the book Population: One. I believe it’s true that every person who walks this earth is carrying some worry, some burden we will probably never know. Compassion for all humankind is possible when we remember this. As writers  spending countless hours alone, dreaming up burdens for our protagonists (and antagonists!) it is imperative to find and participate in some sort of writers’ exchange. Reading and listening to the works of our peers is as critical to deepening our craft (and compassion), as reading is to bettering ourselves as writers. I encourage each and every one of you to find at least one event, group, or class per year and bravely give your writing over to others, and listen to theirs.

Too shy? Find one kindred soul who’s work you admire. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet author Lisa Manterfield at a Novel Revision intensive at the Writers’ Studio at UCLA. When the following years’ Writers’ Studios did not offer topics pertaining to our writing projects, we branched out on our own. For us, we prefer a hotel near excellent restaurants and scenic walking/running paths. The first year, we picked a Hyatt in Newport Beach, CA. The following year, we chose one in Del Mar, CA. (Next year, it’s my not-so-secret plan to lure her to our little island guest house in the woods. Shhh!) Holing yourself up with one other person who is as committed to her writing and as focused on wordcount as you is a wonderful way to jumpstart your writing project, and get real-time feedback on your writing (which does a bang-up job of kicking self-doubt’s ass.)

Have you been to a writer’s retreat? What was your experience? Comment below or tweet me: @TheRJLacko

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2 Comments

Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing

2 responses to “Is a Writer’s Retreat for you?

  1. I haven’t, but I’d like to try it some day. Can you get much work done? That would be my concern. I like my office space, my routine, etc.

    • Routine is important for every writer, so congrats on establishing yours! A writers’ retreat is a great place to test yourself. There is amazing accountability–once everyone turns to his or her desk and quietly begins typing or penning away, there is a natural rhythm set for you, and once you get to work it’s difficult to quit. I set personal wordcount records on retreat. Secondarily, instructors often have timed exercises, writing prompts and assignments–these may appear at first to be a diversion from your primary writing objective, but your heart and brain always conquer–the little writing assignment unlocks an unsolved problem in your plot. The writing prompt opens up a rich and compelling backstory for your protagonist. The timed exercise presents a complementary short story or novella idea. The best part, however, is that you have an opportunity to find a critique partner, someone who understands your project (and you, theirs) and is excited to move forward with you to see it to fruition. These kinds of collaborations do so much to improve your final product. Good luck!

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