Saturday night. A bunch of giggling women are gathered at night in the dark woods behind the Garden Valley cabin, taking part in a wilderness survival exercise put on by workshop leaders, Christy Hovey and Amanda Turner. Elaine Ambrose, who is hosting this writers retreat for women is there, giggling right along with us. This is my first ever Creative Kindling Women’s Writing Retreat, and this little workshop goes to show you that you never know what’s going to happen when you get together with this bunch. I can’t divulge details. What happens at the cabin stays at the cabin. We didn’t pinky-swear or anything, but you just know there are some things of which you must never speak. Sisterhood and all that.
On Sunday morning, I’m sitting in a big ol’ rocking chair on the veranda, watching the mist play along the river bank. Just a few yards from the porch, deer are lazily grazing. It’s like a picture out of a story book, but it’s real. We’re sipping our coffee, cradling our steamy mugs in both hands. A fire in the hearth completes this perfect setting. The usually still morning air is alive with women’s laughter. Welcome to our women’s writing retreat.
When we arrived on Friday afternoon, most of us didn’t know each other. Now it’s Sunday, and we are reluctant to break this magic spell of camaraderie and leave our new friends to return to our busy lives in the city. If I had to say how they managed to pull off this magic transformation in less than 48 hours, I, the writer of words, would have no answer. Maybe it is our hosts and mentors, Elaine Ambrose, Amanda Turner, and Christy Hovey. Each has specific skill sets that every writer needs, and when you put them all together at this retreat, you get what I like to refer to as the Power Pack.
Not only did they host workshops with invaluable information, they each gave us a two-hour, one-on-one private session to work on our own specific current writing project. This is where the real gold is in this weekend retreat. This kind of personal coaching is not something you have available at most retreats. They also limit the number of attendees so that the feel is intimate and comfortable, and everyone has time to address any questions they have. As well, this made it easy to get to know the other attendees, and develop a rapport which made learning together fun.
In my case, I am currently working on a non-fiction book, Caregiver’s Quilt. When I arrived on Friday, I was stuck, bogged down in details and self-doubt about my ability to complete this project. Yes, I’d done plenty of writing over the years, but not a full length book, and this felt daunting. I didn’t know how to take my ideas and tame them into a useable book outline. Elaine worked with me on blogging, which gave me a better understanding of how a blog can help me write my book and gain readership. Amanda worked with me on my outline, and how to break my big book idea down into manageable sized chunks. Christy helped me get a handle on how to use social media to find my readers, and hold their interest.
Because we not only played hard this weekend, we worked hard too. Our attendees ran from fairly new to seasoned writers. It didn’t matter. We each found something we needed to move us along our writer’s path. Each of us came away with a sense of exhilaration. We were going home with something tangible to work on. And we got something more – a sense of sisterhood, and some new friends. Our attendees decided to form an accountability group, meeting for lunch once a month to update each other on our progress.
It was a wonderful experience. Sharing our ideas and projects with one another bolstered our confidence and our belief in our own project. It took something intensely personal and solitary and gave it life in the real world. Each of us challenged ourselves by reading some of our writing aloud to the group. We were met with encouragement and applause.
Our first workshop was on Friday night. After we dined like royalty on a delicious feast that chef, Robert prepared for us, we gathered around the table. Coffee and wine flowed in abundance. Elaine chose the subject “Music as Muse” for her workshop. The idea was that by using guided imagery, we would open ourselves up to memories and write about them, knowing we didn’t have to share them with anyone if we chose. I’m not going to lie. It was a difficult exercise. With the help of music, we silently revisited the most painful and the most joyful experiences of our lives. As much as I didn’t like revisiting painful memories, I have to admit that this exercise opened me up. And from that place of honest vulnerability I became ready to receive all that the weekend had to offer.
If you decide to honor your writing-self by attending the next retreat, come with a specific project in mind and come prepared to work hard. As well, come prepared to laugh. A lot. The next retreat will probably be in April. Plan now to be there. Opportunities like this don’t come often. Would I go again? In a heartbeat. I’m already feeding my piggy bank.
Check out Elaine’s blog, her award-winning books, and upcoming writing retreats here: http://elaineambrose.com/