After much anticipation and anxious preparation, I not only survived my first writers’ retreat, but thrived.
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”
– Henry David Thoreau
An incredible experience. Seventeen aspiring writers from Vietnam, London and Amsterdam and along the East Coast and out to Ohio, we gathered at Greenwood Lodge overlooking Squam Lake in Holderness NH. We had all completed the Coursera.com Creative Writing class and were invited to apply for the program by one of our professors, Amity Gage. Amity and her publisher, Cary Goldstein from Simon & Schuster, led us over 2.5 days in close readings of our works-in-progress, discussions, group critiques and forced writing time. Six dedicated hours yielded over 1,900 words, one of my most productive weekends of writing.
We started Friday evening with a presentation of a favorite novel. I had brought Gone with the Wind. Sitting in a circle, looking around at the books in everyone else’s laps, I felt foolish. I was about to present a title that would have been listed on Oprah’s Book Club, or worse, the newest pop culture entry from Reese Witherspoon. Everyone else had deep, existential-type titles more apt for a review by NPR or The New Yorker. I should have brought my second favorite book, Shutter Island: A Novel by Dennis Lehane. Maybe I wouldn’t have been such a cliché. Cue a heavy dose of insecurity. I was somewhat reassured of my selection when the gentleman from Georgia proclaimed I had chosen the South’s version of the King James Bible.
Saturday began with a discussion of an assigned reading, Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. It is a quick read and while I found the plot and story arc treatment were well crafted and interesting, I didn’t love it. True to its title, every character was desperate, right down to the settings. I enjoy reading as an escape. I prefer to be pulled into a time and place where I can identify with some of the characters and get to know them, like historical fiction, or a sense of intrigue with psychological thrillers.
The good news is the weekend picked up after Saturday morning. We broke into two groups and started presenting our chosen excerpt. I was thrilled two others in my group are also writing historical fiction, close to the time period of mine. A nice immediate connection and I hope to keep in touch with one of them for sure to swap chapters.
The day really picked up with an entertaining round of Literary Charades. I helped my team score points with a couple of correct answers and a win with my charade of Crime & Punishment, drawing on Fifty Shades of Grey for a hint!
My day of reckoning came on Sunday when I had to share two pages of my excerpt which I had agonized over choosing. My major takeaways were genuine interest in the story, I can write vivid scenes and I need to consider the number of characters to avoid confusion. And most of all, I came away with an exchange of emails with several folks in our group to stay in touch so we can continue to support each other in this walk through the woods of writing.
Here’s a snippet of a scene I wrote at the retreat. I think it will help move my story forward as I subscribe to the writing concept of the weekend: profluence. Will it make a reader want to turn the page? Does it provide vitality to the story?
“Mother, reading this letter awoke a desire I never knew I had. It tugged at my heart and shined a beacon which had never been lit but had waited with patience for someone to find its wick.”
This time her mother listened. Eliza no longer spewed a child’s chatter. She spoke a woman’s words.
Rockywold DeepHaven Camps, Holderness NH, June 2018