hello from a writing retreat!

Have you ever attended a writing retreat?  Do you have a favorite one?

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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!

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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!

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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!

16 thoughts on “hello from a writing retreat!

  1. My wife, the artist, and I, the writer, have one thing in common. To be creative and productive, we must free ourselves from all distractions. She needs to withdraw into her studio at the far end of our property, away from anything to remind her of all the other things she should be doing. As to me, I am best at writing, when I am all by myself at home. Needless to say, when my wife is painting, I have the best working conditions. Haha!

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  2. It sounds like you have a lot of self-awareness with your writing and I enjoyed reading about the retreat and all that – and my thoughts here – well for me – it depends on the type of writing I am doing (the goal of the writing for that time) and then where i am at in other areas of life.

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  3. It’s good to hear that you had a productive writing retreat, Teresa! I can write on my front porch or the backyard. There is an 8’x8′ covered area in my front porch with two patio chairs and a small table. I have some tall palm tree in the front yard to provide privacy so I can look at my trees and flowers when I write. My backyard doesn’t have too many flowers yet but in the summer, I like to write in the backyard.

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    1. Oh! Writing outside sounds wonderful. You have your own private retreat! That’s great. Especially with such a busy life. I might try writing outdoors more often when our weather improves. I, too, enjoy my yard – you have to when you put a lot of time into it, right?

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  4. A writing retreat sounds like fun! Although I am a bit skeptical about how much writing will actually get done 😉 But three days just to call my own – sounds like heaven 😀 I usually get up at the crack of dawn to write (a bit tough in winters and a pleasure in the summer) and sometimes doze off in between – haha. But I do love that bit of Me time when I feel completely free from any demands real or otherwise. I often get angry with my hubby if he gets up before his scheduled time 😉

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    1. “But three days just to call my own – sounds like heaven” – exactly my idea! 🙂 We think alike, Dahlia! In fact, when I told my husband that I would welcome some time alone, this time, he acted a bit offended, but only in jest. They don’t realize sometimes how restoring it can be to have time on one’s own. I liked hearing you get up early to write. I feel I can picture you writing now! 🙂

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  5. Hmm so I have never been to one like I mentioned before and this was interesting. I would love to be part of a writing retreat though I do not know if I would like to interact much. The thought of a solitary cabin and my own kitchen to rustle up meals in sounds heavenly. But it is great that there is the option of making friends and chatting because you never know how you end up bouncing ideas off each other. xx


  6. What a fabulous experience! No, I have never been to a writing retreat. It sounds heavenly, but I am like you: needing that bouncing off of thing ;). I might get depressed if I were too isolated. But I do love not having distractions and having the option of doing the workshops. That sounds perfect to me. As you know, Perry has become a big distraction for me, so it really takes an effort to grab my bits of time from him. I LOVE the name YAWP! Whitman is calling to me!

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    1. Luanne! I was saving up your comment to respond to because it’s always a treat to have a conversation (virtual) with you.

      I can see you not necessarily needing a retreat but perhaps enjoying the time alone. I love my family, including the two cats, but it is a luxury to be away for a few days and to have cat care (food and litter box cleaning) handled by another. Just this past weekend I was back east in Boston visiting a friend from engineering grad. school and I spend a whole afternoon viewing fun art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts – some Mark Rothkos, Georgia O’Keefes, a comparison exhibit of Jackson Pollack and Picasso’s work, I stood under an Alexander Calder mobile, and there was a lovely small exhibit of Japanese artists from the ’60s who used calligraphy to inspire new works that were also partially abstract. http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/black-and-white The O’Keefe painting made me think about doing things in a BIG way, the Picasso made me think about combining familiar elements to make a new creation, and the Japanese art made me think about ways to slightly skew familiar, everyday things into new objects. (in writing) Fun!


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