Get Away From it All
- June 18, 2021
- Alexia Gordon
A Retreat of one’s own
After 10 months of reading and writing nothing but non-fiction, I semi-impulsively decided I needed to get away from my usual surroundings to recalibrate and reacquaint myself with crime fiction. I knew I wanted to write a story set in a small Southern town so I chose a nice B&B close to my mother’s small Southern hometown. I figured I could combine research and a solo/DIY writing retreat. No set program, no scheduled agenda. Two days of driving brought me to the Abingdon Manor Inn in Latta, SC. It’s a beautiful, 10,000 sq ft mansion dating to the early 20th-century. It’s lovely and quiet, the perfect place to get away from everyday concerns and concentrate on writing. There’s even a library, the perfect writing nook.
My question to my fellow Missdemeanors
What’s the strangest, loveliest, most unique, scariest, best (or choose your own superlative) place you’ve ever been for a writer’s retreat, either a formal/group event or solo/DIY? If you haven’t been on a retreat, where would you like to go?
I haven’t been on a writers retreat but would love to! I think somewhere with a sense of peace/place (beach house in a storm season!) where I could go out for a few walks but not want to sightsee. Probably the ideal would be Nantucket in October. February might start to feel like The Shining…. Very isolated! Although I would say no to giving it a try.
I’ve also never been to a retreat. I have trouble sitting still on vacations, even beach vacations, because I want to be moving and looking around. But the one time I went on vacation and WAS able to write was when we went on a cruise. It’s an environment that enforces being still for long periods of time. I never thought I wanted to go on a cruise, but my son became absolutely obsessed with them when he was about eight, to the point of watching other families’ cruise vacation videos on YouTube. So, we went! We left NY during a Nor’easter, the day before Halloween. By evening, after watching the Statue of Liberty recede behind sleet and snow and enjoying a couple of cocktails, I was the only one standing. Most passengers and a great deal of the crew were seasick, but I was fine (mind you, I get motion sickness sitting on a swing, so go figure). I found the ship’s library, which was deserted, and spent a few hours writing. That’s probably the only way to get me to write on vacation.
Never been on one. I like to think the long flights in and out of Alaska are retreats. I got most of Muskeg Man, a short story, written on a flight. It was published in Malice Most Geographical.
I’ve been on one—Seascape Writers’ Retreat (no longer functioning) put on by Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib, and Hank Phillippi Ryan. We met in some kind of retreat center in New England—I’ve forgotten exactly where it was. I’d estimate there were approximately 24 writers who were divided up into three or four smaller groups for instruction, sharing of our WIPs, individual help by the instructors, and fun. After that weekend, I was invited to join a critique group with three others from Maine, California, and Massachusetts. Two of us are still together as good friends and beta readers. That weekend and that critique group were instrumental in pointing me in the right direction. Unfortunately, the year I went was the final year. Traveling to England isn’t exactly a writers’ retreat, but it is important for me. That’s when I fill up my British tank and dream about locations, dialogue, plot, characters. Observation and thinking time is my preparation for writing. I can’t wait to get back!
I used to have a sort of informal weekly retreat when I went into New York City every Wednesday to teach. My classes were from 10-1 and then from 7-10, so that left me with six hours during the day when I had nothing to do but write. There is a small office tucked away inside the larger Gotham offices. From its windows you can see the lower part of Times Square. All the lights. You can also watch what’s going on at Gotham, which was always very interesting. People and dogs wandering in and out. So, I felt cocooned within this very friendly space, and I found I’d always get my best writing done within those six hours. No chores, no little dogs demanding my attention. All I needed to do was write.
I think there may be a difference between a retreat and a workshop set somewhere remote where you can also write. Like Connie, I went to Seascape in Connecticut. I loved attending Book Passage in California. I also went to Bill Tapply’s workshop at Chickadee Farm in New Hampshire. I think I’ve been to other workshops, but I can’t remember at the moment. I enjoyed all of these, but other than quiet time in my room, I don’t think they had the environment I consider a true retreat, where you spend extensive time writing alone and then perhaps meet in groups or with a mentor. The closest experience to this was at Kripalu, the yoga retreat in the Berkshires. My adult son wanted to come home for a bit (that revolving door thing). To thank me for welcoming him, he gave me the Kripalu catalog with a note, “Pick the weekend workshop of your choice.” When I thumbed through the choices, I found Nancy Slonim Aronie was offering her acclaimed Writing from the Heart workshop on the weekend of my birthday. Talk about a meant to be! I learned a lot that weekend, practiced yoga, and wrote outside in a tree grove. The best part was I met a woman who was starting a writers’ group near my hometown. We called it “WWW” for Women Who Write. It lasted eleven years. While all of the above were wonderful experiences, I long to go somewhere alone, preferably by the sea, without any instruction, interruption, socialization, or connection, and just write. To me, that’s a retreat.
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