I Went to a Writers Retreat, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

If you’ve never been to a writers retreat, you are missing out. Days set aside focused on wordsmithing. Food consumed while laughing and discussing craft. Hanging out with folks who get the struggle and are happy to listen and lend suggestions.

Sounds like paradise? It is.

Events like these allow you to be super productive.

At least, they can…but not always.

In the past, I’ve narrowed my focus during such times and banged out words with maniacal fervor. This time, though, I didn’t have that pizzazz. My writer’s mojo was more “no” than “mo.” And I wasn’t sure why.

I loved the location. The trip was already paid for. I was with folks whom I adore and value.

What’s the matter with me?

When we’re at home, it’s easy to interpret our daily stresses and life happenings through the lens of what must be done, should be done, and can be done. We navigate stressors with the aplomb of veteran problem-solvers, and when crap really does hit the fan, we’re likely to keep doing so.

We’re hardy folks, dammit. WE CAN HANDLE ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME. When we leave our routine behind, though, the edges split, the cracks creep along the corners, and suddenly, things surface that we thought were long passed.

And let me tell you: sometimes, no words issue forth.

Sure, I can organize writers’ retreats…but I barely wrote at this one. What the heck?!

I had to get honest with myself over some inner turmoil I’ve ignored the last few months. After all, I’m scrappy, and there’s nothing I can’t handle. Fair enough.

But surviving something doesn’t mean you avoid harm in the process, even if you’re still standing on the other side.

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See, when I have to face my shortcomings and weaknesses, it’s so much easier to subsume them in busyness and stress. Why deal with crap when you can shove it under the rug and not look at it?

But when we aren’t being authentic to ourselves, we can’t possibly infuse that in our writing. Which means the word-stringing gets a lot harder to do. In fact, it’s damn near impossible.

This retreat reminded me of that. There is nothing I hate more in my writing than when my characters sound phony. I can fake it better than most, but there’s a core to a true-to-life character, and when you’re off your game, you notice, regardless whether others do.

The best answer I can offer for such situations is the same conclusion I’ve drawn this past week on a fabulous writers’ retreat that I can’t wait to do again:

You don’t write. You hang up your words, and you let yourself be. Maybe you’ll write, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll read a book or get caught up on a television series. Maybe you’ll craft a blog post or even dive into another idea. Whatever you choose to do, let it be enough for the moment.

We live in chronic stress, constantly trying to adjust or restrategize when life turns hectic. That alone can stymy our flow. Add in a heavy dose of guilt or hurt, and we paralyze our creative spirit.

I had to let go of my goals and just be. Had to accept that I needed to push a deadline, move an appointment, embrace my sadness.

The upshot: when you’re with friends, you can do that. And no one’s going to think any less of you for it. In fact, they might admire you more. When we share our most vulnerable selves with others, we allow them to do the same.

Then guess what happens when you *can* write again?

You create with a deeper understanding of emotional pain and personal loss. Your words come together like prodigal children returning home, ready to be guided into position. Hours and minutes feel like precious opportunities, rather than lifeless blanks waiting to be filled.

In other words, you rock authenticity like a boss.

Having returned home with time to reflect on the week, I accomplished more than I realized. While my word count was comparatively low, my biggest story issue is, more or less, resolved, and I made some headway on an outline that was proving onerous. Beyond the joy of hanging out with friends, they also inspired me to continue to banging the drum of “writing genre fiction that matters” and to encourage others to write better books without worrying about the ROI.

I never said you should consult with me for financial advice. 😉

More than anything, I learned to respect what I can do, understand my limitations, and embrace my perceived failures as part of my creative ingredients. A life without conflict or emotional highs-and-lows develops a writer who cannot relate to others. And that’s the fastest career killer I can think of.

Write when you can. Set deadlines that align with your process. Formulate methods that keep you accountable for the work you want to accomplish.

Then remember that life happens, and when we’re in the midst of emotion, we’re rarely capable of much beyond holding onto whatever safeguards we can while fluctuations threaten our moorings. Sometimes, our only choice is to let go of our determination and hold onto our knowledge that the time for creativity will come again.

And it will. <3


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