Plan A Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreat

Many writers daydream about getting away from it all so they can spend focused time writing—no interruptions, no responsibilities—just writing for hours at a time. Often making that daydream a reality seems hard:

  • That memoir workshop in Ireland sounds wonderful, but who has that kind of money?
  • Places like Ragdale have a rigorous juried application process. Most writers won’t be awarded a residency.
  • Getting away for a week isn’t realistic for writers with day jobs and/or significant family responsibilities.
  • Attending professionally run writers workshop and retreats can trigger an attack of insecurity (I’m not as talented as all of those other writers. What if the people are cliquish and pretentious and I don’t fit in?)
What a writers retreat looks like in my daydreams

What a writers retreat looks like in my daydreams

Invent the Retreat That Fits Your Life

Several months ago, the writers group I belong to began brainstorming how we could put together our own writers retreat, and we had the following criteria:

  • We wanted a long weekend away instead of week-long retreat.
  • The location had to be affordable.
  • We wanted a place within an hour or two of the Twin Cities, so we wouldn’t spend too much of our precious time driving there and back.
  • Each of us wanted her own room, and ideally, the place would have a kitchen and some communal areas. Staying in your room all day and all night could get claustrophobic. Having a place to walk would also be good.
The contemplative walk I envisioned

The contemplative walk I envisioned

After doing some Internet research, we found that retreat centers would be better than motels or condos, because they are more peaceful, less expensive, and often have kitchens. The Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota met our specs and had an opening on one of the weekends we wanted to get away.

What our retreat location actually looks like . . .

What our retreat location actually looks like . . .

Talk About Expectations and Set Ground Rules

We have been part of the same group for more than a decade. We like and respect each other, but we wanted to avoid some obvious pitfalls if we could. Our discussions led to these guidelines:

  • This is NOT a girls’ weekend. If we’re too social, it will defeat the purpose of being on a retreat—getting the solitude to be creative.
  • We’ll eat dinner together both nights, but aside from that, there’s no need to socialize.
  • Each woman will set her own goals, which could be writing, revising, napping, reading, walking, daydreaming—whatever each person needs.
  • We’ll go out for dinner one night and cook one night. For breakfast and lunch, you’re on your own.

    That contemplative walk will actually look more like this

    That contemplative walk will actually look more like this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re excited, but we’ve never tried this before. Wish us luck!

 

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On Being A Role Model

13355524[1]Recently, while Mark Anthony Rolo was visiting the Twin Cities he stayed at our house. Mark Anthony Rolo is the nonfiction mentor for the Loft Mentor Series and offered to devote a Saturday working with the nonfiction winners. Since he travels from northern Wisconsin, I extended an invitation to him and his dog. Our house would also serve as a meeting place the next day.

I’m sure that I told Antonio and Crystel that Mark is one of the Loft Mentors who’s working with me, but Crystel didn’t really understand until I said, “He wrote a book. It’s in the living room. The one with a picture of him and his dog Rock on the back cover.”

She got the book. At that very moment, Mark was sitting by a fire we had built in the backyard.

“That’s him? And that’s Rock?”

“Yes.”

6815689230_1497703279[1]Crystel loves books. Finally, it clicked that she had an actual living author right in her backyard. That was almost too much for her eleven-year-old brain to grasp.

I was hoping, as any mother might, that this also elevated me in her eyes.

Antonio and Crystel spent a lot of time playing with Rock, tugging and pulling and throwing. And, even though they could have left during the adult chatter around the fire, they didn’t disappear. I hoped that it was because they found us interesting, but truth be told, their electronics were banned for the weekend. So what else is a kid to do?

Later that evening, Crystel couldn’t contain herself any longer and told me, in the presence of Mark, that she was going to write a better book than me.

Mark making his mother's bread.

Mark making his mother’s bread.

Around noon the next day, she pulled me to the side in the dining room and said, “Are those people in there famous?” She motioned to our living room.

I thought of the four of us, all mentorship winners, all wanting to publish a book.

“Yes, they are,” I said. “They’re authors. They’re going to publish their books.”

That evening, long after everyone had gone, Crystel asked if she could read Mark’s book. “You’ll have to ask Mama Jody. I think she’s reading it.”

“Sorry, I’m reading it, Crystel,” I heard from the other room.

On Monday when she came home from school, she asked if she could take Mark’s book to school the next day. She had told people that a famous person had stayed at her house and she had the book to prove it.

Lately, Crystel has begun to ask, “Can I work on my book now?” And then she brings her computer over to where I’m writing and she writes with me.

This Saturday, she’ll meet another famous person, Ellen Shriner, my WordSister partner.

9780985981822_p0_v2_s600[1]Ellen is reading at SubText Bookstore. Contributors will read from Holy Cow Press’s anthology The Heart of All That is: Reflections on Home.

You’re all invited to the reading — 7p.m. on Saturday.

I love being surrounded by famous people and that my daughter wants to be one too.

Afraid of the Writing Workshop. Did It Anyway. Glad That I Did.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMadeline Island Writing Workshop, “How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book: Taking You Book to Publication” Mary Carroll Moore.

I had first met Mary Carroll Moore in November of 2012 for a 1 1/2 day writing workshop at the Loft Literary Center. A classroom full of writers of all genres explored their books and put together storyboards in pictures and writing. A storyboard is a graphic organizer displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing your manuscript.

After attending the 2012 workshop, I signed up for Mary’s week-long writing retreat on Madeline Island, September 2013.

What sold me were the unexpected breakthroughs in how I viewed my book. I rearranged chapters, saw reoccurring images, and for the first time, realized what my manuscript wanted to say.

Madeline Island School of Arts

Madeline Island School of Arts

I’m not an easy student. I approach learning in the classroom tentatively and cynically. I’m reluctant to try different styles, and at the same time, I’m also open to new ideas and feedback. Yes, competing principles. Drives me crazy, too, and I have to sit there and make myself focus on what is being taught.

I was even opposed to attending Mary’s November 2012 workshop, but a writing friend said “No, it wouldn’t be right for you. You probably wouldn’t get anything out of the workshop. If she was me, she wouldn’t go.” So, I signed up. Don’t tell me that I can’t do something.

Taking the road less traveled on the Island

Taking the road less traveled on the Island

A hunch, a notion, a feeling.  That becomes my next step or goal. The Universe speaks to me through repeated musings and I pay attention. I sent in my deposit to Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISA) for Mary’s September workshop without knowing how it was going to come about.

Winning The Next Step Grant generated the funds, and a new job spawned the vacation week.

When it came time to go Jody planned a family weekend for us at Edgewater Hotel in Duluth for my sendoff. Saturday the “What am I getting myself into?” thoughts started making an entrance. On Sunday, I admitted them to Jody.

I was scared. I didn’t know Mary that well. I didn’t know if my writing would be as good as others. And, it would be dark at night.

MISA

MISA

Even so, Jody and I drove in opposite directions on Sunday.

My classmates on Madeline Island consisted of six other writers. The first evening we introduced ourselves and our manuscripts. I hate this part. My book has to come out of the closet, and state what it’s about.

Classroom learning started the next day. I sat next to my nemesis. I learned that word in Tae Kwon Do because I have a few of them there, too. I always seem to find one no matter where I go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis guy had an answer for everything. Since I sat next to him, I could literally feel his restraint as he stopped himself from monopolizing the discussion. I didn’t think he would get anything out of Mary’s class but it only took him a day or two to come around to Mary’s way of thinking. That was impressive, I thought, and it added cred to Mary’s teaching. If he found her teaching meaningful …. Good thing for him because he flew in from New Hampshire to take her class. Maybe it was because he was from tiny New Hampshire that he didn’t like all the space I took.

Think of it, 9, 350 sq miles compared to 86, 943 sq miles. Move over Big Boy. Us Minnesotans need SPACE.

In-between sparring with my rival, I did a lot of learning. The aha moments came fast and often. I worked to make them stick so I’d be able to recall them after I returned home.

When Mary teaches, material makes sense, concepts fizz with possibility.

Her balance of classroom time to personal writing time is excellent. Having a solid week to work with a storyboard that constantly changes is refreshing.

Writing Prompts

Writing Prompts

It could have been the ferry ride, the remoteness, or the magic of Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISA), that allowed my manuscript to become my essence for one week.

And when darkness came, as it did every night, I picked up the phone and called home.

At weeks end, before I even drove my car on the ferry, I began to imagine my return in 2014 and taking my seat next to know-it-all guy, and fashioning a border with my writing prompts.