Retreat and Return

As someone who lives in a rural home with another writer, with a great deal of choice over my workday, one might wonder why I would attend a writing retreat.

What would I possibly need that I can't get at home? Why would I pay someone a fee to go somewhere else to do what I can already do?

For many years, for those reasons, I didn't go. A local informal gathering of writers has been meeting for long, intensive self-directed weekends for years. I never understood the appeal.

Yet now, I'm just back from a writing retreat.  

The drive out.

The view over Lake Marie Louise,
toward my home, which lies beyond more land
and a bay of Lake Superior.

Why did I go? What happened to change my mind? Well, life, mostly. 

I first went in 2020. My first book, REVERBERATIONS: A DAUGHTER'S MEDITATIONS ON ALZHEIMER'S, had just come out. The experience of focusing intently on that one manuscript--short essays--had been extremely productive for me. I'd benefitted greatly from exchanging short pieces of writing with trusted readers. But I wanted to finish my first novel, which required me to work differently with feedback. I needed time and quiet to understand what my next steps were. 

I was also interested in broadening the diversity of my creative friends and acquaintances, and this seemed perfect. I'd have the ability to work solo, with privacy, in quiet rooms, and I'd share meals and other sessions (discussions, meditations, etc.), with other people if I wanted to. 

So I went to a retreat--the better part of three full days, over a long weekend, with a bunch of people I barely knew. The location was a provincial park I can basically see from my house (not really--the park is too far back from Lake Superior to see, but it really is just across on the other side of the bay from our house).

And it was an amazing experience. While there, in the silence and privacy of my own room, I came up with one significant part of the plot of my novel--an external fact that provided a lot of motivation for the most recalcitrant character. 

I also met a bunch of new-to-me people interested in writing and in incorporating other forms of creativity (visual art, sewing/knitting, music, food) into their lives, and I got to spend time in formal and informal chats with others I'd known but didn't really KNOW.

Then the pandemic, plus lockdowns. Then last year, the same group got together in the same place with the same basic format. And a LOT had changed during those three years. 

I'd just submitted the final revision of my novel manuscript to its publisher. It was time to consider projects and go through my file of "great ideas for when I pick a new project." I brought a lot of physical and electronic files to go through, and the retreat gave me the space to do that and to work through some new ideas. 

And again--I got to spend time with people I hadn't seen in a while and meet new creative folks. 

So when I learned the retreat would happen again this year, I signed up. I had to juggle my schedule a little to participate, but I was so glad I had. 

Again, a book had just come out--this time, MAKING UP THE GODS, my first novel--and it was time to familiarize myself with a new/draft project. I was so pleased to spend time with the extensive work my former self had done on my second novel. And I was grateful again for the opportunity to choose when, where, and how to spend time with other people interested in creativity.

It was also good practice for me in making choices. I tried to spend enough time alone with my novel draft that I made progress and have a sense of what's next. And I wanted, again, to spend time--in a thoughtful and productive way--with other creative people. 

For real, food like this is a lot
of the appeal of attending a retreat.

Other attractions: fun creative projects like collage
and an "exquisite corpse" poem,
plus sharing books and magazines and other resources. 

It was another really good experience for me. And, of course, it's always nice to be missed. 

Home. There's no place like it!

Would I go again? If the past four years have taught me anything, it's the difficulty of planning and predicting anything "for sure." But sure, I'd consider it--especially this specific retreat, because of the amount of flexibility it offers. I've been lucky enough to get out of the experience far more energy than I put into it. I'm grateful.