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Good Company

IMG_5588(Apologies for being late getting this up!)

Two weeks ago, I retreated to Lake Tahoe with a dozen other long-time writers.  It was part retreat in a gorgeous setting (right on the beach, quiet thanks to the low-tourist time of year, mountains, water, even snow), and part business meeting as we wanted to meet to discuss the changes in the business and trade info and try to understand how we each fit into that shifting model.  I came home with a completely edited book, a brain overflowing with ideas and thoughts and plans, and a sense of connectedness.  To my fellows, to my sister-writers.

Last year, I went on a retreat like this for the first time and found it immensely nourishing.  I wrote a ton, talked in depth with other like-minded writers, and slept like child. It was illuminating to realize how powerful that retreat from every day life could be, but more–how much I enjoy the company of writers. Up until last year, I’d really only spent that much time with writers at conferences, and that is an entirely different kind of world. High-powered, good clothes, better shoes, the need to be on and present and well–that part of ourselves who protect the delicate, easily-wearied-by-company writer within.  

Retreats are quieter, set apart from the noise and chatter and dizzying elevator rides of a conference. In both cases, I retreated to a big, comfortable “cabin” on a lake, cheap because a bunch of us split the cost.  In both cases, we agreed ahead of time to have no expectations of cooking, though we ended up eating dinners together in both, sometimes at the cabin, sometimes wandering out to a local village restaurant.  There was an agreement to adhere to a dress code of pajama bottoms, pony tails, and yoga pants…all the way up to jeans, if you really had to dress.  We walked and talked, we walked alone, musing over the wonders of the natural world.

And we worked, agreeing early on that conversation with a writer at her computer was forbidden.  Last year, I wrote nearly a hundred pages in a week, despite being interrupted a couple of days early by Hurricane Sandy barreling in.  In Tahoe, we established a sort of schedule of talks so that we could cover all the subjects we’d been burning to discuss with each other, but there was also a strict understanding that everyone was working during the morning hours.

All of that was productive, of course, but the thing I found most….well….healing was the fellowship of the other writers. Talking in our own particular shorthand about the things that matter to us–how to get a character angle just right.  How to structure a tale so that a secret is both seeded and hidden until it is revealed. What purpose covers serve and what to think about. The relevance of review publications as the internet rises and readers increasingly set the tone.

And more–the simple recognition that I am not as eccentric or odd or alone as I sometimes feel. Other writers have quirks and rituals and personalities that echo some of mine. In their company, I am with my own, my tribe, my people, and that’s nourishing on a gut deep-level that matter more than all the work and business combined.  I am quite sure I’ll be taking regular retreats every year from now on, and I’m grateful to have discovered them.

How about you? Have you ever gathered with other writers in a retreat setting? Do you do it on a regular basis? What do you find the best part of the experience? 

About Barbara O'Neal [1]

Barbara O'Neal [2] has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life [3], which landed her in the RWA Hall of Fame and was a Target Club Pick. She is a highly respected teacher who also publishes material for writers at Patreon.com/barbaraoneal. She is at work on her next novel to be published by Lake Union in July. A complete backlist is available here [4].

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