Monday, October 3, 2011

On Going to a Writers' Retreat - Part 2

I'm sitting here trying to keep the puppies from feeling ignored (they make me pay when I leave them for a few days). Getting coherent thoughts is a little hard. The question everyone has been asking me is, "how was the Writers' Retreat?" I'm trying to keep all those thoughts together in one place before moving on to the next thing in life, but it is hard. Hubby and I are supposed to be having dinner tonight with a friend who is in from New York. The pauses are just not long enough sometimes.

There isn't enough space on this blog to tell you about the whole event. I could write a post just about Laity Lodge and the wonderful staff there. I could write another post just about my roommate and the things we have in common. Another essay could cover the way Kathy Hastings made artists out of a group of non-artists. I think I could go on and on about how wonderful it was to see water - the Frio River - while the rest of my life is affected by horrible drought, burn bans, and huge fires. I could produce a good five paragraphs about the way we all worshiped together every morning. And even more... I think you will have to email me your questions if I don't cover what you want to know about. There is just so much... let me see what I can give you now.

I walked in already in a state of sadness. I had driven down by myself, which means I had spent too much time alone in my head already. I passed through Fredericksburg, a town that Mama loved. The first time I had seen those streets since she passed and memories just washed over me. I called my sister while on the way to get a little boost and we ended up talking about how I am evidently embarrassing to some other family members. It might have been fitting that I was in my typical melancholy state when I arrived. 

Everyone there welcomed me warmly. You could tell those who had been there the year before from those who had never seen Laity Lodge. The newbies (myself included) all went back and forth between looks of wonder and  nervousness. It really did help that everyone was asked to wear name tags all weekend long. It is just so comforting when someone calls you by a name that isn't "hey you". 

I think calling it a Writers' Retreat was somewhat of a misnomer because we didn't bring in the part of ourselves that loves to work with words and check the rest of our personalities at the door. We came in as complete people - complete with assets and liabilities. It was a "warts and all" venture. I saw joy, compassion, faith, love, creativity, fun, excitement, sharing, and community. I giggled and heard laughter.The amount of pure talent I was exposed to was phenomenal. I also saw brokenness, insecurity, fear, disdain, rudeness, arrogance, and hurt. I cried. I saw other tears.  The positive things were what we were working for. The negative things just come with us everywhere we take ourselves. They are not intentional. They are just part of the human state. I believe we had a full human experience there.

We were such an unusual mix of backgrounds, and yet we all came together identifying as writers. There were published authors. There were one or two who said that they hadn't written anything and wanted to know where to start. What an introduction they got! 

I feel the need right now to tell you that nothing happened at the retreat to shake my faith in the power of a well-place comma. I am glad of that.

In the mornings after we had worshiped together, we split off into different spaces for our workshops. I attended a Creative Non-fiction workshop led by David Dark. This was not the kind of workshop where the leader stands up in front of a class and says, "this is what you do to be successful at this." It was very interactive and David let us all talk about finding our own voice. There was no voice there that was valued above another. I think those of us who completed both days of the workshop left there feeling heard. That is so important and encouraging. I'm going to skim here a little bit because I believe I am going to write more about David tomorrow.

There was a panel discussion one day to talk about the current state of the publishing industry. I think it could have been encouraging or discouraging depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Of course, there aren't many industries at all that aren't going through hard changes right now, so publishing isn't unique. I don't have any plans to work towards being published (at least God has not let me in on it if we are headed that way), so the conversation did not have an effect on my plans. However, I did enjoy hearing the authors and agents there talk about their experiences. 

Most of our times together as a whole group began and ended with singing. Sometimes we just listened to Andy and Jill. Sometimes we sang along. I could have listened to them for much longer than they played every time. I reached another rough spot on Saturday afternoon when what I perceived as someone's arrogance and obliviousness pushed one of my buttons (not like they are hard to find, are they?). I knew I needed to process it before I went and said something stupid, regrettable, and graceless. Jill happened to be in the room (the only other person there was furiously working on homework, so I considered her unavailable) and so I asked if she had time to talk. She let me vent a tiny bit and process some. She was so lovely and encouraging. She understood where I was coming from, and even though she had no clue as to what was going on with the person who set me off, she did help me try to get into a place of understanding, which is what I needed. I walked Jill down to the dock so she could meet Andy to go kayaking, and I thought that would be the end of our time together. She had been very generous already.

At dinner that night, Jill and Andy came and sat by me. We got to talk about many things. I cried a little. They made space for my tears. I hope that makes sense, because I'm not sure I have a better explanation. It was just a lovely, grace-filled time. We laughed a little. We found things in common. And I praised God. He had turned my little snit over a perceived slight into a chance to make some new friends. The sharing we did over our meal made the time listening to Andy and Jill sing at their concert that night all the sweeter.

Over ice cream sundaes that night, I heard more about sci-fi than I could comprehend. But the people in the conversation - David Dark and my roommate Amy Lewis - were both fascinating and animated, so I stayed past my absorption level just to hear their enthusiasm. Since Hubby is a sci-fi fan, it made me miss him a little more than I did already. He isn't a writer (that I know of), but I think he would have enjoyed being at the retreat. Who knows? He might have found his inner poet.

Sunday we worshiped and had communion together. It was amazing. I felt God there and I was thankful that He had made a way for me to be there. I was once again humbled by the gifts He has given us all to share with Him and each other.

I got overwhelmed in the Laity Lodge bookstore when I went to buy souvenirs. They have a rather large selection considering that they are a retreat center. You might be interested to know that one of the reasons that they carry books by Madeleine L'Engle, Henri Nouwen, and Eugene Peterson is because all of those authors have spent time at Laity Lodge, writing and "retreating". One of the books I wanted, Rumors of Water, is actually about the art of writing. The author, L.L. Barkat, was actually at the retreat, so I could have gotten the booked signed. But they didn't have a copy... I have ordered it from Amazon, but I am not sure if I will mail it to L.L. to have it autographed. 

I suppose you might be wondering if I learned anything that helped me to be a better writer. I think I did, but not in a traditional learning format. I'm learning to trust the writing voice God has given me. I'm learning to take seriously the responsibility that comes with putting words out into the world. "In the beginning was the Word...". He spoke us all into being. His voice caused all of this to happen. We must be careful with what we create with our own voices if we are to do everything as if for God...

Those are all of the thoughts I can put together for now. Ask me a question and it might help me focus. I will gladly give whatever answers I have. Stay tuned for the next post where I will tell you why I think David Dark should be more famous than he is. And don't forget to enter my contest to win a copy of the L.L. Barkat book they did have in stock!

Linking with Jen at Finding Heaven and the rest of the Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood.
(click on photo to go check it out)


  1. Wow! I mean ... really wow!

    Reading that account of a portion of your experience at the retreat put me in mind of an Ann Rivers Siddons novel...made me want to find out more about some of the characters in the story. That may not makes sense, but I wanted to share my impressions.

    It sounds like a really amazing experience.

    I am so glad you went, Carolyn.

  2. I love it Carolyn. I love the emotion, and in the way that God joined you in this all.

    We serve an awesome God!

  3. Hey Carolyn!

    Wow, that sounds like a lovely experience! I'll have to check out this retreat. :)

    I went to the ACFW conference--a truly GREAT conference for fiction writers.

    Great to find a fellow writer! And thank you so much for your encouraging words on my blog. Though it was hard to hear that there's no place for my genre right now, I was still so encouraged to learn more about the craft.


  4. Lovely -- all of it. It sounds that God is doing an incredible work in your life -- so many things at the heart level that just may not have reached the fullness of articulation yet. I'm so excited to see more and more of the fruit that was given to you there!

  5. So glad you got to go Carolyn... I've never attended a writer's retreat so I didn't have any idea what they were like!!!

    Blessings, friend

  6. "I feel the need right now to tell you that nothing happened at the retreat to shake my faith in the power of a well-place comma"

    This totally made me laugh! :)

    Thanks for sharing all these thoughts. Sounds like your time at Laity was extremely full. And I thought your observation about the newbies was so great. I remember my first time, just looking and looking.

  7. I loved this:

    "I think calling it a Writers' Retreat was somewhat of a misnomer because we didn't bring in the part of ourselves that loves to work with words and check the rest of our personalities at the door. We came in as complete people - complete with assets and liabilities. It was a "warts and all" venture. I saw joy, compassion, faith, love, creativity, fun, excitement, sharing, and community. I giggled and heard laughter."

    So very true. Nice to see you at Laity Lodge. You know, if you come back next year L.L. will sign your book.

  8. Whew,
    And now I feel caught up! What a woderful meet the real people behind all the little squre faces!

  9. I love that this is such a safe place to share all kinds of emotions. It will take a while to process it all.

    And this tickled me: He isn't a writer (that I know of) . . .

  10. Wow. Just now catching up on all the comments. Glad you all stopped by. It was an amazing experience. I wish it had lasted longer. I wish those of you who weren't there had been there. Definitely an experience to share. If you haven't already, please check out my post on why I've decided that David Dark should be more famous than he already is. :)


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