Let’s get away from it all!

Wendy in the woods

I just got home from The Rainforest Writers Village writing retreat, which Inkpunks Sandra Wickham, John Remy, and Andrew Romine also attended (last year Adam Israel came, too). I stayed in a cabin with super-roommate Sandra, ate amazing meals (including a fantastic lunch cooked by kitchen wizard Mary Robinette Kowal), went to some incredibly informative presentations, and wrote a fairly meager 10,300 words. Several people hit the 30,000+ word point; we were a pretty hard-working crew. (I cheated and skipped six hours of writing to go explore the coast and the Hoh Rainforest, and I don’t regret using that rain break for outdoor adventure!)

This was my second year at RWV, and I would recommend it to anyone. It offers a terrific community writing experience and is set in one of the world’s most miraculous forests. Some people used their time at Rainforest to clear their heads, enjoying time away from a reliable internet and cell phone connection (yes, there is Wifi, but with 38 writers sucking up bandwidth, it’s sometimes scarce) to do some quality brain storming. Others outlined or edited; the friendly word-war was for folks with projects ready to draft. And whether in the coziness of the main lounge or the silence of your cabin, you’re really at the perfect place for whatever writing-relating task you’d like to tackle.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed that can really help you get the most out of your writing retreat:

  1. Before you leave for the retreat, clear yourself some head space. Make sure you don’t have any pressing pieces of business waiting for you back at home. Make sure you left lots of healthy food in the fridge for your family, so you don’t worry about them OD’ing on pizza. You want to leave your psychological burdens far behind you.
  2. Make sure you’ll be physically comfortable. Bring a wide variety of layers so you can control your temperature in common rooms with variable temperatures. Bring an extension cord so you’ll be able to try out lots of  spots for writing–you won’t have your regular writing set-up, so you might go through some discomfort on the first day. For example, some tables in the lounge were too tall for me to type comfortably, so I had incredibly sore shoulder muscles the second day of the retreat. I had to beg Tod McCoy for one of his world-famous backrubs!
  3. Have projects prepared. Short fiction empress, Mae Empson, has a great blog post about organizing notes, plans, and ideas for a retreat. Her research notebook really blew my socks off. There’s no reason novelists couldn’t use her strategy to better prepare themselves.
  4. Bring lots of backup power. I depend on Dropbox for the majority of my backing-up, but with internet sketchy, I made sure to bring my thumb drive.
  5. Bring something to share. Going to a writing retreat is a great way to make friends, and a great way to convince people you’re nice is to bribe them with food! Lots of kind-hearted writers brought delicious baked goods and snacks, which was an absolute life-saver … all that hiking made me hungrier than I expected!
For me, the best thing about taking a retreat isn’t all the words I got written or the connections I made–it was the wonderful clear space that opened in my head when I took myself outside of my normal life. The highlight of the whole weekend was my Saturday evening spent alone in my cabin, drinking coffee and reading poetry while sitting next to a roaring fire. It’s rare to feel so perfectly happy with my own mind, and that’s a feeling that will inform my fiction for months. When it starts to run out, though, I know I’ll be eager to get away from it all again.
I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it to Rainforest next year, so I’m looking at some other options. I might try to organize a smaller local event, renting a guest house or a house belonging to a local writing group. I might choose to avoid the crowds and just stay alone in a hotel. What kind of recommendations do you, wonderful readers and friends, have for me?

 

 

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