22 October 2018
Nine different writers tell us why they went on a writing retreat, and what they got out of it
A writing retreat can be the perfect holiday for writers – it can revitalise your creativity, offer fresh inspiration, give you lots of dedicated writing time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and connect you with like-minded writers. But what is the experience of being on a writing retreat like, and what might you get out of it? WM asked a group of international writers attending a writing retreat what their reasons were for going, and its effect on their writing life.
The retreat leaders could help me pull out the words that have been hiding for so long
I have always wanted to be a true writer. It was a dream that started when I was 14. That was 46 years ago, and still not one book.
I never expected what this retreat became for me. I stepped out of my comfort zone in huge leaps and bounds. Baring the true self is quite freeing and quite scary. I guess what was such a relief to me is how normal and down to earth everyone was. With the yoga, I was expecting granola and earth mommas. Instead I have met people from all walks of life. Published, accomplished folks. Patient folks. I have friends that I hope to continue to stay in touch with after our time here is done. I feel that the retreat leaders could help me pull out the words that have been hiding for so long.
This writing retreat changed me from the inside out. I arrived as a scientist and philanthropist with an uneasy sense about what I saw was my future: continuing to climb the corporate ladder and hustling through life. I signed up as a way of experimenting with something new, processing my story, and tapping into the creative parts of me that had been buried under the emails and work and everyday life.
When I finally took the chance and invested in myself, in this retreat, everything changed. In Italy, I found the healing power of words, the community of cheerleaders and champions I needed to start writing, and the pleasure that comes with taking that first step to bring your dream to life. Wide Open Writing helped me find that spark that was inside me for writing and gave me the tools to continue to fan that into a flame back home. It was so much more than a writing retreat, it was an invitation into living an open, creative, contemplative life.
I will write… and write… and write…
So what exactly have I been doing on a farm full of vineyards and olive trees and horses?
I've been writing, and learning. Everyday... writing and writing and writing... with some very gifted people. It was quite a stretch for me to come to this retreat. I am by far the youngest in the group. Not by physical age, because those in attendance range from the very young to those just a tad bit older than I. Rather I refer to age in experience, accomplishment, and pure, raw commitment to the art.
I am the baby in the group as we daily use our prompts to create whatever is ‘there’. It’s simply amazing to me to sit and listen to what is ‘just there’ in this group of writers. Many of them have published works such as films and plays, along with books. There I sit every morning soaking and soaking and soaking in every bit of wisdom available to me. They are so gracious to me as the young one and I will never regret these days. But it IS ever so humbling... strangely, that feels really good… and I will write… and write… and write…
A jump start for the heart of your writing
There's something charming about being picked up at Peretola Airport by the hosts of one's stay. That sense of welcome extends through the entire retreat program, a jump start for the heart of your writing. Working on the second draft of a silly stage farce, my understanding of the characters deepened as the daily yoga practice, writing prompts and feedback circles cracked open my cognitive shell to an easy flow of words. Witnessing the truth and vulnerability in everyone's work inspired an immediate affinity for the spirit of our creative tribe and its universal humanity.
I hope for a good writer's block on my next project so I can reunite with the teachers in another beautiful corner of the world.
Surrounded by writers at all stages of their journey
I’ve been puttering around for a couple of years with some notes on my ‘home ground’ of southern Louisiana, and a visceral longing to be in that quirky, gorgeous, and threatened place. At the retreat, I hoped to find more of an idea of what I was going to ‘do’ with all these notes, and how to shape them into ‘something!’ By the end of the retreat, I still don’t know. But I’ve gained some patience with the un-knowing, and some impetus to start sending out queries. I have soaked up the lush wonder of being surrounded by writers at all stages of their journey. And, of course, there was the creative and wondrous Italian landscape!
A coalescence, an exploration, an offering, and an embrace
When I signed up for the retreat, I imagined myself stepping away from the world, with all its urgency, and immersing myself in a creative experience. I knew I would enjoy being on a farm, eating well, and getting to know other writers. I hoped to find my way into a story I could carry home with me and to recommit to a craft that has long felt like my unfulfilled calling.
What I didn’t imagine, before I experienced it, was how my companions and I would open up to one another through our writing. How we would come together swirling with elemental stories of love and pain, magic and intrigue, humor and gravity, grief and healing, and learn to give each other feedback as planets reflect a star’s light. Or how we would begin to influence and affect one another, as celestial bodies will do.
In a way it wasn’t a retreat at all - not in the sense of a withdrawal, and not in the sense of an escape. More like a coalescence, an exploration, an offering, and an embrace.
Opening up new possibilities for my project and me
To share writing with other writers was a gift in and of itself. By the end of the week we were bonded for life! I have never done anything like this before and I can tell you that it was a rich experience and made beautiful Tuscany even more beautiful. Not to speak of the gracious accommodations and delicious food. But it was the writing that made it, for me, such a deep, rich, evocative and personally fulfilling experience. I came with a big project in mind and ended up with a few small pieces of writing that surprised me by the new places they took me – opening up new possibilities for my project and me. I guess that’s why it’s called ‘Wide Open Writing’. If you are reading this, whoever you are and wherever you are from, you must come !!!
A loving tribe bound by a common love for words
DJ is my name not my job, but I do love music: from the symphonies we listen to with our ears, to the ones a beautifully written piece brings to the soul. As a writer I love writing about the magical and mystical in the mundane. In the hustle and bustle of city life in Singapore, I forgot all about the magic and focused only on the mundane in recent years. I came to the retreat expecting to rekindle my love affair with words in the lushness of the Tuscan hills, with wine in one hand and pen in the other, and my tummy happy with glorious pasta. I left with much more than I expected: a heart burst wide open by a loving tribe bound by a common love for words and a profound respect and appreciation for every unique voice sitting in that circle. I found a space where I could be myself, peacefully, freely, joyfully, and always, with a happy tummy.
The time to write and explore and reflect… and to stick with it
I believe I was the last person to sign up for the week in Tuscany to write with a small group of strangers. You see, I always try to do something new or go someplace new on my birthday and this workshop was perfectly timed. I’d just returned from a family wedding and the mother of the bride and her cousin were heading off to a writing retreat and this sounded like a great idea. I started searching on the internet and lo and behold there it was – a writing retreat in Tuscany in September. I read every part of the website and the wide open approach appealed to me. In my daily practice, I’m a very stream of consciousness writer and what I love the most are the surprises along the way. I’ve always worked well with prompts and I knew that was part of the WOW program. Do I have a project I’ve been trying to get back to? Yes. My hope was that being on retreat, in a supportive environment, in a beautiful place I’d never been, would jump start that return to the screenplay I’ve been trying to finish for 15+ years. Guess what? It worked. After my retreat week, I stayed in Italy on my own for another week and I jumped back into the story. The magic of Wide Open Writing did its job of giving me permission for taking the time to write and explore and reflect… and to stick with it. From the first day, they gently cracked us open and throughout the week, everyone offered their truths…and it was powerful. WOW created a space to feel vulnerable and safe all at the same time… and then encouragement to express those feelings and thoughts. And by the way, I just wrote this.
The writers above all attended a writing retreat in Tuscany in September 2018.
Inspired to go on a writing journey but want to start small? Try this coffee-break creative writing exercise!