Why go on a writing retreat?

Georgia O’Keefe once said, “Nobody sees a flower, really—it is so small—we haven’t time, and to see takes time.” This sentiment really hits home for writers who strive to be creative in the midst of long To Do lists, mired in so much busy-ness. The number one complaint I hear from writers is that they lose their momentum working, as writers do, in the isolated corners of their lives.

I propose the idea that writing is not a solitary act. Of course, you must, at some point, sit down and write—just you and your computer (or notebook). However, typing words on a page is only a part of the writing process.

Before you can write, you need to “see” —to observe deeply, through all your senses, without judgment. The “without judgment” part is most important for a writer. We are constantly battling the “editor” in our minds, the part of the psyche that passes judgment on every word we put on the page. To really write, you need to be free of that editor, that all-powerful judge of write and wrong. To quell that voice and allow yours to shine, you must find an oasis of freedom—that place between observance and judgment.

Writing retreats offer an opportunity to go to that place, literally and figuratively.

On a cool September Saturday, I was with a group of writers at a lakeside cottage, all of whom had committed to a weekend immersed in writing. A fire crackled in the stone hearth, large comfy chairs beckoned, delicious aromas wafted from the kitchen, and glass doors opened to an expansive view of the lake just beyond the sunroom.

Writing retreats offer a respite from daily distractions so that you can spend time devoted to writing and all that that means. Writing begins with generating ideas, those little flickers of light sparked by inspiration and fueled by imagination. Generating and nurturing ideas depend on two things: time to experience and time to reflect (to “see”).

I love the story that Herman Melville discovered his Moby Dick as he gazed out the window of his mountain-view cabin. Writing retreats provide opportunities for inspiration to occur. They provide an environment where taking risks is not only permitted, but supported; writers need to take risks, to look beyond the literal and see whales in mountains.

Equally important, is the feedback that allows writers to understand how a reader responds to what they think is on the page. “It is an opportunity to hear a variety of opinions about your work, to listen to others discuss your characters amongst themselves,” said one retreat participant. There is a big difference between reading your work to yourself, and reading out loud to an audience. The audience at a retreat, both writing peers and writing professionals, help you see the story just a bit differently. They help you “connect the dots,” as one retreat goer so eloquently put it.

Georgia would be pleased.

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