Why a writing retreat will change your life
By Kimberly Brock
Every time I start to get stupid and think I’m going to just do this writing of a novel thing in one long, smooth line, there’s life. It keeps happening to me. This is a fine example of magical thinking on my part, that I expect that writing a story is going to circumvent experiencing my own. Oh, yeah. You never think like that, right? Tell me another one.
It doesn’t matter if it’s good life or screwy life, either. It’s just all the stuff going on. It keeps going on, doesn’t it? It is going on, on top of my head, y’all. But here’s the thing I sometimes forget to mention – I like it that way! I get bored easily and I need to be working my guts out on about three hundred things at once. One of them happens to be writing. So, I have developed some tricks. Like headphones. Or coffee. Or organizing book festivals. Or teaching workshops. (I rather like these. They’re called Tinderbox workshops because that’s how I imagine the creative hearts of women, sitting on their inner hearths, holding all the secret wisdom they to need to strike a spark!)
I create all these paths in my life that keep me busy like a bee, but ultimately, they lead me back to one place – storytelling. Because we all know that the truth about storytelling is that even when we think we aren’t doing it, we’re totally doing it. We’re doing it in our sleep! We’re doing it over our kitchen stoves and sinks. We do it while we cheer at baseball tournaments. We’re doing it while we haul our old dogs to the vet. We’re doing it while we host birthday parties (dear, sweet Jesus) or take our parents to their doctor’s appointments. We’re doing it while we hold down desk jobs or coordinate school plays or sing in church choirs. We are creatures who understand and predict and reflect and treasure our entire existence through story.
And if you believe that, then why don’t we all have about eighteen completed great American novels on our shelves, eh? Eh?
Well, because storytelling isn’t actually, for real, like, exactly, writing. (boo, hiss!) I know. I have failed you. I have betrayed you. You can no longer even look me in the eye.
Here’s what I mean. Storytelling is the soul of us. Writing is the work of us. And this is why people who identify as WRITERS live such frustrated lives. Because writing requires time and focus and effort and grit and well, more of all of that which life interupts. Performing as a writer means starting and finishing an actual, tangible project. On the other hand, STORYTELLERS are happy people, fulfilled and creative and just chugging along on the juice of the muse warbling lovely words in their heads. Some days, I really just embrace that
STORYTELLERS identity and say to hell with the WRITER’s plight. Who cares if anybody ever reads another stupid word I write. I’m busy riding down imaginary rainbow roads in my hippie chick VW bookmobile van and writing can bite me.
The trouble is, if you’re a STORYTELLER whose stories are meaningful to you (This is true. I’m warning you.), whether you’re telling your stories in verse or lyrics or scenes or chapters, ultimately you’re doomed to be a WRITER. You may rip your clothes and shave your head and wail in denial, but they are two sides of the same coin. And so, you have to respect this truth and embrace it and meditate and maybe go to an open mic night and read bad poetry about it from where you’ve drunkenly scribbled your own heart’s philosophy in Sharpie on the inside of your wrist. It is your fate.
OR, you can go to the beach!
Yes! Your eyes are not deceiving you! It’s a real thing, this fabulous idea of taking off like a badass Thelma or Louise without the death thing at the end! Long ago, a really wise STORYTELLER woke up hungover from a long night’s poetry open mic and discovered the smeared Sharpie philosophy on the inside of her wrist and here’s what it said. One word. A holy inscription. RETREAT.
If you want to pull a fast one on your STORYTELLER self, take her someplace where she believes she is on vacation from life and expectation. Where she thinks she has outsmarted all the experiences and the happening that’s going on. She’ll take a deep breath and wonder why she doesn’t do that more often, the breathing. She’ll sip coffee and wine and reflect on brilliant daydreams and visions that seem to come out of nowhere and maybe consider getting on Ancestry.com to confirm her serious suspicion that she’s actually descended from a native American shaman princess. She’ll laugh and cry and share stories and maybe even secrets she thought she’d long forgotten. If it’s a women’s retreat and it’s a really good one, she might even decide she likes her thighs. I am not lying. It’s freaking brilliant! She’ll moon around about half the time and then this phenomenon takes place that, I swear, does not even involve magical elves…things get done. Actual, tangible words on screens and paper and shit.
Now, it doesn’t matter if it’s just a day or if it’s a week. It doesn’t matter if it’s an hour or three. It really, honestly (I hate to say this), doesn’t matter if it’s your back yard or better, your neighbor’s back yard. You pick the place. Except not Starbucks or your car in the grocery store parking lot, because that’s not retreat. That’s being a real writer and we’ll get to that another time. You can go to the mountains or the desert or a Holiday Inn off Route 66 anywhere between here and there. Nobody cares. It’s about leaving the where-you-are and going to the where-you-go and letting it happen. Retreat.
Me, I prefer the beach. I prefer a place where I can’t see anything else happening but water going out and coming in and doing God knows what in between. The ebb and flow of it sloshes around in my head and my words sift through and float to the top when I’m at the ocean. So, that’s where I’m headed in September and I’ve got room for you there. You can find all the details here and join me. I’m making apple pie and peach cobbler and a surprise dinner for you. I’m inviting some other beloved authors, Kristy Woodson Harvey and Ann Garvin, to teach us and share with us and laugh with us. I’m going on walks on the beach and drinking my coffee on the deck and giving my inner STORYTELLER everything her heart desires. Because when I do, she’ll stop fighting against life so hard. She’ll stop creating work for herself to avoid the guilt of investing in her own voice above someone else’s. She’ll relax a little and realize she’s not losing herself if she kicks back for a rest. And maybe you won’t believe me, but I’m telling you, in that very instant she gives herself permission to invest her time and energy and creativity into preserving her stories, the miracle happens. The WRITER appears to get to her work.
Because do you know what you get when you spell retreat backwards? Sanction.
That’s a fancy word for permission to go to the beach.
Do you struggle to balance life and the work of writing? Do you allow yourself the experience of a retreat in whatever form it might take for you as a writer? How do you move between Storyteller and Writer? Most importantly, do you love your thighs or do you allow them to stifle your creative freedom?
Kimberly Brock is the award winning author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, THE RIVER WITCH (Bell Bridge Books, 2012). A former actor and special needs educator, Kimberly is the recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year 2013 Award. A literary work reminiscent of celebrated southern author Carson McCullers, THE RIVER WITCH has been chosen by two national book clubs.
Kimberly’s writing has appeared in anthologies, blogs and magazines, including Writer Unboxed and Psychology Today. Kimberly served as the Blog Network Coordinator for She Reads, a national online book club from 2012 to 2014, actively spearheading several women’s literacy efforts. She lectures and leads workshops on the inherent power in telling our stories and is founder of Tinderbox Writer’s Workshop. She is also owner of Kimberly Brock Pilates.
She lives in the foothills of north Atlanta with her husband and three children, where she is at work on her next novel. Visit her website at kimberlybrockbooks.com for more information and to find her blog.