DIY Writing Retreat

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This weekend, I put my affairs in order, changed my social media profile pictures and travelled into the heart of Trump’s America for a “DIY Writing Retreat” with one of my absolute favourite writing friends.

She lives in Connecticut and we hadn’t seen one another in close to two years. We chose to meet in Serenbe, Georgia, a purpose-built utopia about 40 minutes outside of Atlanta, in an AirBnB whose owners assured us that the house Serenbe_Gothic Pathwayhad good writing mojo – the wife is a creative writing instructor at UofM with a shelf-full of writing manuals and inspired reading. We were given instructions to try writing in this corner or that, as well as the nearby cafe, if we got stalled.

(Then we discovered the porch swing and, well, that was it.)

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this weekend. How much I needed this weekend!

For some reason – the weather? my project? – I lost a little of my shine in January. We had a particularly gloomy post-Christmas season, with only 16 hours of sunshine over the whole month! I felt listless, bored, totally unmotivated. All that writing that I did in November sat untouched. After such a frenzied pace and total immersion, I just couldn’t bring myself to dive back into it.

So this weekend was much needed. We agreed we would write in the mornings and leave our afternoons and evenings free to fill up our creative tanks. Serenbe_Porch Swing

I managed to get about two-thirds of the way through re-reading and marking up my manuscript, noting again how many holes there are, how much the pacing needs to ramp up, how one section might need to move a little later in the MS or how another section needs to be written in. I have a lot of character work to do. I have a lot of plot work to do! But it was a satisfying three days of getting familiar with the work again – enough time had passed that there was actual pleasure in reading what I’d written.

We took in the High Museum (whose folk art collection is so good) and an exhibit on the “power of place” that was filled witSerenbe_Foresth paintings that could double as writing prompts. We saw an absolutely fantastic performance of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre – the second piece of the night, Untitled America, is still rattling around in my brain. We did some long walks. We petted some miniature donkeys. We drank a lot of wine and ate some fantastic southern food. We sat outside on heated patios drinking cocktails. And on the morning we had to leave, we wandered around Atlanta’s botanical gardens in glorious sunshine, getting drunk on nature and Vitamin D.

Even better was the fact that I was with another writer, who was also furiously working away on her manuscript. We talked SO MUCH about craft, about what we’re reading, about what we’ve learned from writing this thing or reading that thing. Over lunch, over dinner, over long walks around the Serenbe community – which includes a manufactured forest, an organic farm and a zoo’s worth of animals – we talked about insecurities and doubts.

There was even mention of small triumphs – the personalized rejection letters. The fantastic collection of short stories we’d read. The collection we read last year and still couldn’t get over. That podcast about Inside Out that made something click in our brains about epiphanies and denouements.
Serenbe_Miniature Donkey
My friend was telling me she’s part of a creative group – not a writer’s group – but a group of creatives who get together and talk about process, frustrations, joys. They help one another with connections, ideas, approaches. It’s got me thinking about how to build my own network – how taking time to connect with one another helps us get focused, get energized and put our desires for our writing out there in the world.

Having that time away and the physical and mental space to get recharged in an environment where it’s okay to ignore the dishes and the email and the spouse or the kids so that you can focus purely on writing – it’s heavenly. It’s a privilege. It felt so valuable.

In the midst of all this, I was buying a house, a little place in Picton, Ontario where I hope to build more and more weekends like the one I just had: a place to retreat, recharge and rewrite.

Talk about a privilege.

Updated to add this link to Aerogramme’s roundup of residencies for 2017, in case you’re feeling you need something a little more formal.

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