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Writing Retreats: Why They're Important

Sunday, I returned from three and a half days in Vermont at Kindling Words East--a retreat for authors, illustrators, and editors. It's an incredible experience: time to write, talk about writing, and think about writing. I left  full of new knowledge, eager to dive back in to my work, and more centered. Life had me a little jangly-edged lately.

But when I tell non-writers about a retreat, sometimes I get the impression that they think it's a lot of eating great food (there is that...Kindling Words is held at a culinary resort), soaking in a hot tub (some people took advantage of that amenity, but not me), getting spa treatments (okay, there's a spa there, too, but I didn't go), and sitting around (um, NO). Here's what goes on at a writing retreat (aside from any of the cool amenities), and why it's so valuable to people like me:

1. Craft talk: At Kindling Words and other retreats, there's usually a portion of time devoted to developing craft. Think of it as a master class, taught by an expert in the field. These formal conversations usually focus on how to improve the craft of writing--making the most of revision, or beginnings, or developing characters, or-or-or--the list could go on forever. This weekend, I was up and out of my hotel room even earlier than I would leave for work at my day job; ready to listen, learn, and take notes.

2. Networking: Writers work in a vacuum, typically. Although the children's book community is vibrant, we spend the vast majority of our time at a keyboard. Alone. Being around other professionals is valuable and necessary: there are a lot of ups and downs in this industry, and with the big changes in the publishing community, we're all trying to find our way. The conversations that happen around meal times and during social hours are generous with shared knowledge and support. I talked to people about everything from promotion, to balance of work and family and writing, to next projects and stumbling blocks. Spending time with people who understand you: amazing. Making friends in the process? Priceless.

3. White space: Something that I first experienced at Kindling Words, these are casual conversations around an attendee-generated topic. There's a white board in our central meeting room where you post your topic and meeting time. Want to talk about Scrivener? Meet in this place at that time and likeminded people will find you. Kindling Words featured white space topics on diversity in the industry, career management, illustration techniques, etc. Although I didn't attend all of the whitespace conversations, the ones I did pop in to gave me tools and techniques that are practical and that I'll put in to use right away.

4. Writing time: Perhaps the most important aspect of a retreat is time to write. Most of us have a jobs, and families, and other pressing needs that don't allow hours of unfettered work. We parcel out our writing time to the minute (case in point: right now, I have one hour and forty-five minutes before I have to be home to get dinner for the family). Having an opportunity to think, write, and create, without interruption is truly a gift--and one that everyone in attendance was grateful for. Even the full time writers, who don't have day jobs, need that time away from other responsibilities to refresh and refocus. We work out plot problems and come up with creative solutions because we have more time to think, instead of keeping an eye on the clock.

Being a writer is about creativity and imagination and fun--totally. But there are a lot of practical elements that go in to this vocation, too. By the end of the weekend, I was reenergized about my latest project and thinking about my career in different ways. I'm thankful for the organizers of Kindling Words (all writers, themselves) for taking their time to put together such an incredible gift for this community.

Hopefully I'll get to go again next year!

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 8th, 2014 02:06 am (UTC)
White space: as a convention geek, I have to say - that is brilliant. Brilliant.
Feb. 9th, 2014 04:27 pm (UTC)
Yes! White space is amazing. So helpful and so energizing.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 9th, 2014 04:28 pm (UTC)
It's incredible, what it's like being around other people who do what you do and *get* it.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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