This was the eleventh annual retreat Lighthouse has held and the second I’ve attended. The retreat is held at Shadowcliff Lodge in
We ranged in age from early twenties to eighty-one and I think most of us fell somewhere between 35 and 55.
We arrived on Sunday afternoon and got together for dinner. After dinner the faculty members each did a ten minute reading of something they’d published or were working on. The Monday through Thursday schedule was: breakfast, a morning workshop and then lunch. After lunch there was a discussion on one of four books. One day it was a short story collection, another was poetry, another was a memoir and the fourth was a novel. There was an afternoon workshop every day and then dinner. In the evenings there were activities as well. Monday night was game night, Tuesday was participant reading night, Wednesday was a night on the town and Thursday was another participant reading. On Friday morning we took our group photo, had a final session on publishing and we all headed home.
I’ve been thinking about why I enjoy this so much and what I get out of the experience. These are the main things:
1. Taking a week off from work and family to go to a writing retreat allows me to completely focus on writing. It makes a statement that says writing is a priority. Scott is very supportive and because he’s a painter, he understands. If it hadn’t been for his encouragement, I wouldn’t have gone last year. I’m fortunate that I don’t need to justify or explain why I want or need to go. For many of the other attendees (and for writers who might like to do something like this), taking this time away reinforces to friends, spouses, children and parents that this is who we are and what we do. Claiming that part of ourselves that is a writer is one of the most difficult challenges many people face. Almost every writer I know feels a certain amount of guilt and selfishness about the time he or she takes to write. Unfortunately, not everybody has a good support system and may even have people who work to sabotage that writing time. If a writing retreat sounds like heaven to you, you owe it to yourself to go on one.
2. For five days, I was immersed in discussions about books and writing with a lot of people and they were all writers. There were published novelists, essayists, screenwriters, poets, non-fiction writers and unpublished writers of all kinds and of all different backgrounds. What an opportunity! Normally, I don’t get to be with other people who understand what I’m trying to do. All week long I got to be with “my people” and many of them have become friends.
3. Five continuous days of discussion and workshops opened up a flow of creativity and inspiration that is difficult to maintain outside of that environment. Almost every session was suffused with freewriting exercises. I know most people reading this are probably familiar with freewriting, but in case you aren’t, freewriting exercises are frequently used in writing classes as a warm up. Typically the instructor provides a prompt and the group is then instructed to write continuously, usually for about ten minutes or so. The idea is to keep the pen moving on the page and not to self-edit. I have been stunned at some of the results I’ve gotten from these exercises. Although it’s something that anyone can do at any time, there seems to be a heightened output that comes from freewriting in a group environment. Perhaps it’s the collective energy that’s present or the added motivation of having other people in close proximity. I don’t know what it is, but I have pages upon pages of freewriting and many of the exercises resulted in work that I can incorporate into my current WIP.
I’ll post about some of the specific workshops later, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the overall experience and why I feel it was so beneficial.
For as long as I’m able, I’ll be going back to