Put 16 Women in One Room for Four Days…

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When was the last time you got to do something you LOVE for an extended period of time?  Just for you. Totally indulgent. No outside responsibilities. No interference.  Single focus.

Luckily, I had that chance last week. I participated (with a great deal of advance trepidation) in my first-ever Writers Retreat. Held at a woodsy conference center next to a summer camp about two hours from DC, it featured:

  • 16 Women
  • 11 Hours of Writing Per Day
  • Four Days
  • Three Teachers
  • One Conference Room

Sound like fun yet?

Factor in:

  • No TV (missed my favorite detective shows)
  • No Laptops (required to write by hand in old-fashioned black and white composition notebooks)
  • No Good Food (with apologies to the conference center, but the fare was, trying to be polite here, mediocre at best.)
  • No Husband or Dog to sleep with at night (how would I manage without them?)

Not only did I survive, but I thrived. I filled an entire notebook with pages of hand-written memoir, fiction and poems.

O.K., no agents have popped up sending me urgent “must publish you now; please contact us immediately” text messages. But for the first time – ever, I think – I was in a situation where all I had to do was write –  and the hours sped by.

Totally a new thing for me to be doing what I love in a concentrated fashion minus the daily pull of Twitter (my admitted addiction), Breaking News (addiction #2) or the six-days-a-week excitement of waiting for the mail to arrive.

I returned from the retreat on Wednesday evening, aglow with my creative efforts, wanting to immediately share what I had written with my husband. He listened to one short poem, patted me on the shoulder and asked “What should we have for dinner?” Back to reality.

Part of that reality will be trying to replicate the setting of the retreat to motivate me to write more often and in a more disciplined fashion. Interruptions tend to find me. Why not empty the dishwasher, I might tell myself, instead of starting on a new writing project?

Another thing I will miss from the retreat is having collegial listeners. Listeners who actually hear what you are reading aloud (unlike my husband who – love him dearly – is a semi-attentive listener, at best.)

The collegiality of a writing group is something I did not expect when I signed up for my first, post-law-firm-life writing class in 2014.

Unlike college or grad school, where you write an essay or term paper and submit it to the teacher for review and grading, in a writing workshop you have to (well, I suppose you don’t “have to”) share what you’ve written with all of your classmates too. Prepare to be asked to read your work aloud to a roomful of listeners. Speak up, bare your soul, take the comments bravely. Everyone is supportive of you and you of them. There is zero competition. ( Wholly unlike law school, I have to say.)

A retreat amps up the writing class setting to a new level. An intimacy evolves when you sit around the same table for four days.  There you are pouring out your guts on paper and then you have to share your writing with people you have just met. You have no idea how they will receive your words. Or what they will think of you for having written them.

It isn’t a process for those prone to jealousy. Maybe the other women at the retreat didn’t feel the latter sentiment, but I did. Some of the women in that conference room are actual PUBLISHED writers. They write beautifully. They can create fully developed fictional characters out of thin air. How did they come up with that imagery in response to a prompt where we were given 20 minutes to write?

I nodded my head in admiration. I was not shy about giving praise to my “fellow” writers. They said some nice things about what I wrote and also offered constructive (thankfully) criticism.

I did not walk away (nor did I expect to) with 15 new best friends. Some of these women I will never see again. Some I may see (If I am invited; fingers crossed) to participate in next summer’s retreat. Perhaps a few of them I will see before then.

Going to this kind of retreat may not be your idea of a good time. I wasn’t sure it was mine before I went. I was describing it last night to my book club friends gathered in my living room and several of them stared at me as if I had taken a swift leap from reality.

Which I had. Which is the whole point of a retreat. Which is why you can’t replicate the setting at home. Won’t stop me from writing, though. Won’t keep me from having to empty the dishwasher either.










Filed under Book Club, College, Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Husbands, Reading, Talking, Women, Writing

9 responses to “Put 16 Women in One Room for Four Days…

  1. Wow! So that’s what it’s all about. That requires stamina and courage. Sounds like you have both. How rewarding.


  2. Does not sound like a leap from reality but a great charge up to creativity!


  3. I would LOVE to attend a writing retreat! Good for you for going for it!


  4. Bonnie J. Weissman

    Hi Nancy, I totally get it. Have been on painting retreats, and I felt the same way. Love how art and painting have taken me so many places— from the Eastern Shore to New Mexico to Provence. Can’t wait to go the arts camp next spring with the Mississippi Arts League. My work has improved and sister attendees have been some of the most fascinating women I have ever met!


  5. Sounds like a fantastic experience. That said, those types of retreats are right up my alley. My more conventional-minded pals think I’m a freak of nature, in the most affectionate ways of course. I always enjoy your pieces and hope to read more. All the best as you continue your journey with words.


  6. I seesawed back and forth reading your post: I want to try a writing retreat–sounds so energizing; no I don’t–sounds too scary reading one’s words to a group of people. Eeeek. But you made it sounds so exhilarating. I write this as I am about to start a new blog post and yet I have let myself do a second load of laundry,
    thanks for sharing. Penny


  7. Retreats and writing conferences are two totally different experiences. Retreat is usually uninterrupted quiet time. Sometimes with a communal evening gathering to share, sometimes not. Writing conferences are lots of feedback and input from more accomplished writers and requires a tough skin, but both can be equally as energizing. Always exciting to be an insider and share your enthusiasm for writing and writing well with other serious like-minded writers. Family and friends are wonderful, but they don’t ‘get it’ and they expect you to perform your other roles without concession to your creative side unfortunately. I once complained to a writing teacher that my life was getting in the way of my finding time to write, and she reminded me ever so correctly: ON the contrary, life is what makes it possible for you to have anything to write about in the first place.
    Glad you bit the bullet and went, it is an energizing activity and very worthwhile for your writing. Though the long hand seems a bit of wasted effort, now you have to transpose to computer??? Certainly adults ought to be able to restrict their use of laptops to writing and not get distracted by internet during the conference.


  8. I LOVED reading about your experience. It would be a huge challenge for me to write by hand. WOW.


  9. Sixteen (16) women thrown together inside a single big room? I was picturing a giant cat-fight people only see on the Bravo TV shows “Real Housewives of Atlanta” or the “Real Housewives of New York City.” But no, you’re at a Writer’s Conference. I hope you learned a lot by writing something great, whether it’s poetry, an expose’, an article for a magazine for newspaper, etc.


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