28
Mar 17

Five Things I Learned from My First Writer’s Retreat

I’ve written a little bit about my stay at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow, but today I want to talk about the five things I learned from my first writer’s retreat.

My First Writer's Retreat

I had fantasized about attending a writer’s retreat for many years before I was able to attend one, and it was definitely a life-changing experience. I’m convinced that it’s something I should be doing once a year. In fact, I may roll my yearly writer’s conference budget into a yearly writer’s retreat budget. No offense to conferences, it’s just I think I’d like the open time to write more than I’d like to attend sessions on writing.

In order to make future writer retreats easier on myself (as well as to make it easier on any of my readers who may attend one) I’m recapping the five things I learned from my first writer’s retreat.

Five Things I Learned from My First Writer's Retreat #amwriting Click To Tweet

001: Bring a night light.

Anyone else a super weird wiener kid incapable of turning their brain off at night? No? Just me? Okay. Here’s the thing. In a past incarnation of this ol’ blog, I wrote about how I’m afraid of the dark. And it’s not really the dark that’s the problem, but it’s this writer imagination of mine. I can easily think of all the things that might be lurking in the dark. In fact, I can list roughly a BAJILLION things that might want to end my life, and only like 3 of them would be real. This is always exacerbated by spending a lot of time writing. When your brain is in overdrive from writing ghost stories all day, it’s really hard to shut it off just because you should be asleep.

The Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow gives every writer their own bedroom, bathroom, and writing area. So, even though you’re in the same house as other people, you’re relatively secluded. And the darkness in Eureka Springs is just a little darker than it is in Norman, so naturally I left a bathroom light on every night I was there. Next time I’ll bring a night light.

002: Don’t be too hard on yourself.

If you haven’t read the “As I Write This” post, click on over. It’s a good primer on the writerly psychomachia that plagues me in every waking hour of my life. I struggle with impostor syndrome, feeling like everything I write is garbage, and worrying that I won’t ever do anything that’s good enough. And you know when my brain decided would be the best time to wrestle with all these things?

IN THE MIDDLE OF MY FIRST WRITER’S RETREAT.

(And also like every day.)

But take it from me. It’s going to be hard to not feel like you’re squandering your time and energy while you’re there. Because uninterrupted time is so hard to come by, I felt that I should be spending my days at the retreat working on the Next Great American Novel. And if I’m being honest, the majority of my thoughts aren’t Next Great American Novel so much as Spooky Ghost Story with Historical Flashbacks.

Don’t waste time worrying that you’re wasting time with the words that are coming out. Instead, just breathe that fresh Ozark air and get to typin’.

(Note: You will only find Ozark air in the Ozarks. If you attend a different retreat, then you should breathe that air.)

003: Healthy food is fuel.

I was ready to consume nothing but junk the whole time I was in Eureka Springs. I have some very unhealthy writing habits that were encouraged by a certain instructor. He was very fond of telling us about the amount of candy he would consume while in the process of writing, and I definitely picked up that habit. (For example, when I was writing my comprehensive exam essay for library school, I bought potato chips, cupcakes, soda, and frozen pizza to fuel my paper writing. I passed, but the whole next week I felt like I was going to die.)

While eating bad food during marathon writing sessions is a bad habit I’m definitely trying to break, it was relatively easy to eat well at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow. Jana, the cook, made some of the best food I’d had in a while. Here butternut squash and caramelized onion galette was amazing, and I absolutely loved the yellow dhal soup. Then, our dinner at Ermilio’s, while not the healthiest meal in the world, was definitely more balanced and nourishing than what I would normally consume while in writer mode.

(Also, lest you think that I’m not still a human garbage disposal, know that I had Diet Coke, Peanut Butter M&Ms, and Starburst Jelly Beans every single day I was there. I just didn’t eat them as a meal. So, see? I’m basically a health food guru as a result of my first writer’s retreat.)

004: Fresh air and conversation is necessary.

Like I mentioned, I have a tendency to get all up in my head with negativity. But the best way to combat that has always been to step away. Luckily Mari Farthing likes to go for walks too. So on both Friday and Saturday we set aside time to explore part of downtown Eureka Springs. We definitely got lost on Friday just because we are flatlanders and the loopy curves of Eureka Springs streets as they go around hills is definitely not something we’re used to navigating. They didn’t have to send out a search party, but it came close.

Another way we stepped away from writing was in the evenings. Each night we had a full-on slumber party-style gab session, complete with wine furnished by Bethany Stephens, and the best gossip that the five of us could manage. We stayed up so late just chatting about life and work and everything else. It was amazing. In fact, that conversation has led to SEVERAL blog posts that will be coming down the pike in the near future.

005: Headspace is key.

This ties back into not being too hard on yourself, but know that your headspace is everything. I mean, just generally in life this is true, but it’s doubly true at a writing retreat. I struggle with an anxious mind. At any given moment, I’m thinking of all the other things I should be doing instead. It’s hard for me to turn off the to do list mentality, and I know I need to live in the moment more. And that was the sort of headspace I needed to be in before I started writing. I finally got there by Saturday, but since my stay was super short, I wish I would’ve gotten there sooner so I could get more done during my first writer’s retreat.

If you’re like me, then I recommend turning your retreat into a vacation/retreat. To do this, take a day or two to head to the place where you’ll be for your retreat. Then, set aside the first day as a vacation do. Get a massage, go to a nice restaurant, and definitely relax. Slow your body and brain down so that the next day you’re ready to bleed it all out on the page. It may feel like a wasted day, but getting your head right is going to be the best thing you can do for your writing.

Getting your head right is going to be the best thing you can do for your writing. Click To Tweet

Well there you have it — the Five things I learned from my first writer’s retreat. Have you ever been to a writing retreat? Do you have any expert advice for other writers? DO YOU WANT TO PLAN FUTURE A TRIP TO THE WRITER’S COLONY AT DAIRY HOLLOW WITH ME?!


18
Mar 17

As I Write This

As I write this, I’m sitting in  my writing nook at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow. I’m staring out the window and hearing cars squeal their tires as they try to get through the intersection of Spring and Polk. I’m grateful to be here.

As I Write This

As I write this, I think there are a million other things I should be writing. There are always a million other things on the to do list. Why would I prioritize a blog post over short stories and a novel?

As I write this, I’m thinking about all the ideas I’ve had before. I’m thinking about whether or not I have any ideas worth hashing out. I’m wondering if I’ve left so much on the back burner in the past that it just kind of dried up and dissipated. I’m wondering if I can even tackle the stories I’ve been meaning to write for all these years.

As I write this, I’m remembering all the prolific writers I’ve met along the way. I’m constantly surrounded by people who bash out words left and right, regardless of whether or not they’re good. Hell, I know people who have built lucrative careers on bad writing. But that bad writing never seems to hold them back. Why do I let it bother me?

As I write this, I’m wondering where the hell is my damn trophy. My generation supposedly got shit tons of them for showing up. I don’t own any though. In fact, I would argue that instead I was probably given more negative reinforcement — constantly reminded of how mediocre I truly am. That’s why I’m practically crippled here at the Writer’s Colony because I know every last word I type is garbage.

As I write this, someone else picks up another copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.

(I’m not shaming anyone. Live your life. Read what you want. But I am saying that people will buy shit, and I am basically paralyzed here while trying to craft a damn paragraph about a 5-year-old wanting Chinese food for her birthday.)

As I write this, I remember what a unique position I’m in. I don’t know how I got here. I grew up the same as all my high school classmates, but they’re all different. Or I’m different. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say special. Just different. I couldn’t give a shit about granite countertops or spring trends or tropical vacations. I just want to write a damn book, and the older I get the less magic there is left in my keyboard.

As I write this, I can feel the crisp, Ozark air. It’s different than what I breathe in Oklahoma. I don’t know why or what it is. Maybe it’s all the hills. Or the way the air has to snake around the curves of the hills and the twisting pathways.

As I write this, I’m remembering that Hemingway quote about writing “one true thing” and it makes so much sense right now that it hurts. And I’m also disgusted with myself for identifying with Hemingway, of all the literary misogynists.

As I write this, I’m curious. I’m dodging self-defeating thoughts and crippling doubt. I get through a sentence, and remind myself that I’m not that kind of writer. I remind myself of the writer I want to be. I stall. Does this sentence work? Does this whole story work? What am I doing, other than wasting everyone’s time?

As I write this, I’m breathing quietly. I’m clearing my head and shutting down the thoughts that do me no good. I’m alive. I’m capable. I’m here. And I’m going to use my time wisely instead of wrestling with the demons of my own making.


16
Mar 17

I’m Going to the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs

The Writer's Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs

Today I’m heading to the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to do something that I never thought I’d do — attend a writer’s retreat.

Writer’s retreats are things I dream about. Sometimes I catch myself perusing Air BnB for the perfect little escape off the beaten path. I think of all the things I’d like to work on when I finally have some solitude, or just a quiet space where I’m not nagged by chores or papers that need grading. And ultimately I never do it because it’s always expensive, because I don’t have enough free time to do it, or because I just don’t think it’s in the cards right now.

Well, that has changed.

The Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs reached out to the Women Bloggers for a group of writery bloggers to come to a free retreat in exchange for some bloggy and social media love. So, in addition to the writer’s retreat experience, we’re also getting tours of downtown Eureka Springs and a haunted hotel.

This is basically my dream scenario. Pretty much the only thing I write about is ghosts. And pretty much the only thing I love more than writing about ghosts is seeing ghosts!

I’m also very excited to have the opportunity to do this with some really awesome women. Mari Farthing, Heather Davis, and Rebecca Loper will all be attending.

I’ve got a bag packed full of projects to work on. I want to focus on a short story that’s been banging around my head for a couple of years. I’ve only managed to get about 1,500 words of it on paper, but I’m optimistic that this will be the weekend that good things happen for that story. I’m also bringing a half-baked novel outline to keep on deck for when I hit a point in the short story where I need to back away.

And naturally, I’ll have my journal with me. I posted about In Your Own Words Journaling on Instagram earlier this week, and I’m definitely bringing those journaling prompts with me. I may use them first thing in the morning, or as warm-ups for working on other projects. Or hell, if I find that I’m unable to write anything else (God forbid) then I’ll hit my journal hard.

If you’re interested in following along on my trip to the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, I’ll be posting quite a bit on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. I may say something over on Facebook, but most likely I won’t. (I mean, I may share an Instagram post or two directly to my page, but that’s it.)

And of course, you know me. When I go out of town, I have to make a hashtag about it. So, follow #MarisawritesDairyHollow and you can keep up with all my shenanigans.

 

Have you ever attended a writer’s retreat? Anything special I should do in Eureka Springs?