Tag Archive for 'writing groups'

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.

Wonderment

Have you ever wondered? Of course you have. However, you may not have realized what a powerful tool wonderment can be. It is the beginning of all creative activity. When you allow yourself to wonder, you experience life in new ways. Words help capture those experiences.

On a writing retreat in fall of 2007, I wrote the following poem in response to a writing prompt. When I first wrote it, it just seemed like a stream of consciousness, but I liked playing with the ideas. Three years later, I rediscovered this piece, and I reread it with fresh eyes. Suddenly, I realized what I had been doing–I had been wondering.

Dancing with Words

Midnight dances to her own song, velvet skirt swirling softly.

Stars pinprick the sky, diamonds on a ribbon of light.

What is it like to touch their points?


In a carnival of sound, owls hoot, crickets chirp,

water spills over pebbles in a stream.

The blue-black night backdrops much mysterious movement:


silent spider spins her web; thunder shakes the mountain;

flickering fireflies circle the merry-go-round.

What is it like to fly on gossamer wings?

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So, go ahead, play with words: experiment, take chances, explore your world, enter new worlds, open your perceptions, and engage your senses—after all, words are wonderful.

Why a Writers’ Workshop

Recently, one of my students called me from Pennsylvania, where she was participating in a writers’ conference. She went to pitch a chapter book she had been working on in my Words in Play workshops. I was the first person she called with the news that a publisher wanted to buy her book. Now, this was great, but what makes it even greater is that this woman joined my workshops about two and a half years ago, and in that short span of time she has completed the manuscript for this chapter book, written parts of another chapter book to be in the series, written an outline and several chapters for a full length novel, published several magazine articles online and in print, published several poems, and started her own blog.

The point I’m trying to make is that she almost didn’t write any of it. She wanted to write; she just didn’t know how to get the stories out of her head and onto the page.

That’s where the writing workshop comes in. This dear person, I’ll call her “Z,” joined the group with as much hesitancy as anyone could have and still show up. The writer’s workshop was a place where she could feel safe to share her ideas, play with new ideas, and receive the constructive feedback she needed to make real progress. Her stories took shape in every class. She learned that the support of a committed group of writers is more important than knowing where or how to begin.

Begin anywhere. Stories are made up of a mosaic of scenes. If you create one scene, it’s a beginning, but it doesn’t mean you can’t move that scene to the middle. I’m sure you’ve heard this before: writing is 90% discipline – you’ve got to write every day. I do know that if you don’t have support (a cheering section, critical feedback, ways to generate new ideas, proper guidance) you can have all the discipline in the world, but you may never get out the door to roadtest your work.

Begin anywhere, but if you have stories inside you, find a great group of like-minded writers and just begin. It’s the best advice I can give.

Tell a Tuscan Story – October 2008

On our creative adventure to the Tuscan hills, writers and artists alike reveled in the majesty and appreciated the mundane, they captured the vivid hues of the rolling hills and the myriad textures of the provincial towns to spin new stories. It was a week of wonderment against a backdrop of sensuous sights and sounds and flavors.

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