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The Memoir Network

Why Go to a Writer’s Retreat?

Why would I go away to a writer’s retreat to write when I can write at home, at my very own desk, with my cat and my favorite coffee mug?

1. To be free of distractions

A. I won’t be tempted to put up a load of laundry

B. Are we out of milk?

C. Yes, I am happy with my (long distance service, cable service, internet service, utilities supplier), click.

D. No, I am not available to (feed your cat, take your dog for a walk, pick up your dry cleaning). I AM WRITING!

2. To focus completely on your writing and its emotional and technical demands

Whether it’s a combination of instruction and time to write, or just a few days of solitude to think about your writing project, a writer’s retreat allows you to have one focus: writing.

Before I published anything, my first feelings of being a writer came from attending writer’s retreats, workshops and conferences.

If you choose a retreat with instructors you admire as writers, you will learn techniques to hone your craft. A writing retreat offers a significant opportunity to master technical issues of writing: besides grammar and sentence composition, there are elements such as point of view, character development, etc. You will leave more sure of your “tools.”

3. To be stimulated by change

A change of scenery has advantages, too, for expanding your perspective and deepening our insights. Often, what we need is the opportunity to let an idea or feeling mature. Maturing one new idea, method, or viewpoint can be worth the trip.

4. To work in a community of writers

How others deal with the issues facing memoir writers can be helpful to you as a writer?

At one point or another, all writers of memoir come upon similar issues that they need to grapple with. Some of those issues may be:

  • What will my family will think?
  • How do I structure my memoir?
  • Where do I begin?
  • What time period of my life should I focus on?
  • What about a theme?

There is nothing like the inspiration of a supportive writing community. Discussing your theme with thoughtful and engaged writers can help clarify your approach or help you develop it further. Experimenting with styles and writing scenes in a workshop situation where feedback is easily available can open your eyes to the strengths and weaknesses in your writing.

No one can tell you how to write your memoir or novel, but people who have done it successfully can point the way to finding your own path. They can show you techniques for narrowing your focus, ideas for structuring your story and tools to find your theme. Just one new perspective can send a writer on the way to unraveling the story s/he was meant to tell.

5. To develop friendships with writers that go beyond the workshop

Says Kaylie Jones, author of the acclaimed memoir, Lies My Mother Never Told Me (Harper Collins, 2009), “Life-long friends are made at weekend retreats. The experience of sharing your passion for the written word, along with the beginnings of this long and arduous journey of self-exploration, are what make such retreats so special in forming friendships.”

Who should think about going to a writing retreat?

Writers at all stages of their writing life and in their projects can benefit from attending a retreat. Even in the beginning, when you may just be considering whether to devote the time needed to write your memoir, it can help to have guidance through the process.

Going to a writing retreat, of course, may not address all of your questions or needs, but finding out how other writers have successfully dealt with various issues, through example and discussion, can be invaluable. It can mean the difference between continuing on your memoir journey, or being stopped by a common stumbling block.

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