Have you ever attended a writing retreat? Do you have a favorite one?
Picture this: a quiet cabin in the woods, no everyday distractions to keep you from writing. Hot cheery fire in the fireplace, whistling tea kettle on the stove, a cozy desk to write at with a comfortable chair to sit at. How much writing you will get done! Your words will flow, your ideas will brilliantly play out in scene after scene of that novel, or verse after verse of that poetry. All your words will fall into place, and that soon-to-be best-selling novel, memoir, poetry book, or screenplay will be completed sooner than you thought and seemingly effortlessly. Ah. This is the life, right?
Hmmm. Does this dream sound familiar?
It’s just that sometimes when one is alone in a secluded place in nature, as lovely as the surroundings are and as uninterrupted as the time is, the words don’t seem to flow any better than one is at home. Why is that? We always think it will be heavenly not to have to make breakfast for the family or answer those pesky emails from business associates or friends. To have an excuse not to check Facebook. And from a distance, it seems that way. Didn’t Hemingway seclude himself in his home in Cuba or in Idaho, to write? Didn’t Virginia Wolff champion the ideal of “A Room of One’s Own”? But. Sometimes that dream of writing at a cabin in the woods is just that – an ideal – and sometimes a writing retreat can be more stultifying than liberating. After all, with no one else around, only we can do the imagining that it takes to create new work. And, depending on the writer you are, you can put more pressure on yourself to perform than when you take a few moments at your desk at home to tap out a new story, poem, novel chapter – a new blog post!
Nevertheless, I am happy to report that last weekend I was away at a writing retreat and it was great. It wasn’t precisely a “lonely cabin in the woods,” but it was super-productive and inspiring. It’s called “YAWP,” and it’s part of the writers’ offerings from Centrum, a nonprofit arts organization in Port Townsend, Washington. The retreat ran for three days, Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday, and here’s what we did: each morning we would meet for 90 minutes for a free-writing session with writing prompts. And then each evening we would meet for 60 minutes just to write (no talking, reading, etc., just writing). Each session was optional, so if you wanted to hole up in your cabin and write, write, write, without interacting with the 15 or so other writers at the retreat, that was fine. There were kitchens in the cabins to make meals, and there were also a couple of nearby cafés to purchase meals. Huge 400+ acre wooded state park with a beach, for walking and communing with nature.
I am the type of writer who does best when there are things to bounce off of, like writing prompts, or the voices of other writers different from me, or an overheard conversation at the coffee bar or pub. This is my third YAWP (definition: to make a raucous noise; squawk), and I love it. I can focus on a particular work I want to accomplish over that weekend, or I can go with whatever strikes me at the moment. I can sit in with other writers and hear their work as we write it from prompts, or I can keep to myself and not be interrupted by others. This time I brought a couple of stories I’m working on – and then wrote a brand-new story in one of the writing sessions. Yay!
How about you? Where do you do your best writing or creating? Do you “get away” to do your art, or do you like to work in your studio or at your desk best? What suggestions do you have for other writers and artists to make the most of their creative time? Thanks for visiting!