Every six months or so, I go on retreat with a few writers. We choose someplace quiet, near water if possible, and always when it is a good time of the year to sit outside. The stated goal is to put as many words into the story as possible, but so far, that hasn’t happened.
Instead, what I gain during a Retreat is a better sense of myself.
And I need that. It is easy to lose sight of the reason I write.
Let me explain: Books are part of the entertainment industry. I write commercial fiction so I’m swimming in the mainstream. That need to satisfy the vagaries of selling can sometimes chomp away at a story-telling soul. At the very least, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves start to trend negative.
A retreat simply puts me back in touch with that soul. I take time for myself and to bounce ideas around without second-guessing myself because I’m with other writers, writers I trust.
I used to attend a retreat organized by a large group of writers. Close to a hundred of us would gather at an old inn built on a cliff where two rivers meet. Hawks and sometimes an eagle would soar the air currents above the clashing waters. The sight could have have recharged anyone’s energy . . . but the conversations in the bar reminded me that I’m not alone, gave me fresh points of view, and celebrated the story teller inside each and every one of us. It takes courage to write a book and put it out there. I would walk away from that retreat empowered, and it had nothing to do with industry leads or income comparisons. I was a storyteller and as mighty as one of those hawks sailing high above those Shenandoah waters.
Let us never forget, the fresh ideas, the amazing characters, the pushing of genre boundaries that delight readers doesn’t come from marketing departments or even off editorial desks. It begins with a writer having a glimmer of an idea. Of feeling free enough to turn that idea around in her head, to examine it, trust it, and then let words do the rest. Encouragement from my peers has helped shape my most powerful characters.
But the days of the big retreat are over. Writers still gather, but more for marketing and industry discussions. Those conferences have their place . . . .but I must have a haven in a world that is often too brusque with creatives.
So I go on retreat with a small group of trusted writers/friends. We hash out stories, we think about readers, we encourage each other to push on.
Retreats aren’t just for writers. When we take time for them, they can replenish the soul of any group whether it be clergy or executives or educators or just people who need to drop out for a bit.
What did I pick up on this season’s retreat that will stay with me? One is a renewed respect for my genre. There are so many facets to romance that I don’t think I will ever tire of it. Also the reinforcement to listen to the story in my head. To trust myself. After almost thirty years in this business, I still need to hear those affirmations. Including this one—that it is a gift to be able to rub shoulders with writers.
Life is very good indeed.