Turning Whine Into Gold
Today I am a brand-new, improved model of “Kathryn Craft, Author” thanks to the Women’s Fiction Writers Association retreat in Albuquerque this past weekend. I am no stranger to the benefits of retreating. Each spring and fall for the past eight years I’ve hosted writing retreats for women at my lakeside summer home in northern New York State. Here is what retreat means to me.
Retreat: A period of group withdrawal for meditation, study, or instruction under a director.
“Silence creates room for breakthroughs,” said a recent Facebook meme. Nothing is more seductive to a creative person than enough solitude to hear her own thoughts. Of course sudden silence can also freeze you solid, which is why many retreats offer creative exercises to get the juices flowing.
But the chance to really focus once you find your groove? Ahhh. I’ll let one of my first-time retreaters summarize: “I parked my car on Thursday and didn’t have reason to move it until Sunday.”
We women get that. But we also like to be alone…together.
I have found that a few days of nutritious food you didn’t have to prepare, a gorgeous setting provided by the Great Creator, a little fun you didn’t have to orchestrate, meditation or stretching you never take the time to do, wine around a campfire, and camaraderie among like-minded women goes a long way toward shedding the everyday stress that can keep a muse at bay.
Retreat: A place of privacy or safety; a refuge.
To create the kind of emotional experience our readers want, we authors must draw again and again from our own painful memories in a way that can leave us feeling exposed, vulnerable, and drained. Nature offers constant inspiration for renewal.
When my writing seems to ask too much of me, I know all is well when I see a loon bob to the lake surface with a fish in its mouth or a great blue heron soar over the water with its crooked neck and six-foot wingspan.
Retreat: The process of receding from a position or state attained.
All publication seekers want is to find that hidden trapdoor and sneak through. But once “safely” on the other side we find an industry that encourages us to take bigger and bigger risks. Which means that we might fail big. In public. Even as bad reviews stick like darts in our skin and rejected proposals cramp our composure we’ll slap promotional smiles on our faces because we earned our way through that door, and dagnabbit, we don’t want to slip back through. White-knuckling it takes a lot of energy and does nothing to improve our writing.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the much-anticipated book on creativity that came out last week, Big Magic, once said to Oprah Winfrey, “If you are going to step up and answer the call, get ready, because this is not a day at the beach. Expect to be challenged. Expect to be hurt. Expect to feel lost. Expect to feel despair. Expect to be double-guessing yourself at every turn.” Retreat allows new strength to well within us so that we are ready—in fact, eager—to re-enter the fray.
Retreat: The usually forced withdrawal of soldiers from an enemy because the enemy is winning or has won a battle.
Retreat is not surrender, nor is it cowardice. It is a wise reallocation and renewal of resources in an attempt to win the war. It is that moment in every epic story where ammunition is spent and our hero hides to regroup before the final climactic push. Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m going down, I’m going with a rebel yell and guns a-blazing like Butch Cassidy because we storytellers don’t just want to write good stories, we want to live them.
Writers who make it do so because they never give up. We know this. But when our supplies run low and our defenses weaken we can’t stay on the front lines taking bullets, no matter how good a soldier we want to be. We need to look at the big picture, like good generals. Adopt a strategy that allows backing off, tending wounds, regrouping.
We don’t need Maui or Paris to treat ourselves once again to the riches of self-care, gentle exercise, creative stimulus, and schedule surrender. Or do we? In what ways, lavish or frugal, have re-centered within the sacred creative act? If you go on writing retreats, what has been your greatest benefit?
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.