Joyful Journey in the quiet before dawn.

Writing & Retreating Time

Joyful Journey in the quiet before dawn. Joyful Journey in the quiet before dawn.

I’ve just returned from Joyful Journey Lodge & Spa in the the San Luis Valley, after four intense and inspiring days leading this year’s first Write & Retreat workshop.

I created this new series of workshops to offer writers a “time out” to focus on and grow their work in a place that would combine the healing magic of the wild with nurturing surroundings.

My plan was to spend mornings in workshop, writing, reading and commenting on each others’ work, and talking about the process of writing and the writing life. Afternoons I would offer one-on-one talks with individual writers while the rest of the group fulfilled the retreat part of the title: soaking, hiking, sitting, getting massages, and otherwise nourishing their creative spirit.

Over delicious and bountiful meals prepared by Ploughboy Local Market, I imagined reading to the group from authors whose work inspires me, and talking about what makes each piece sing.

The San Luis Valley and Sangre de Cristo Range at dawn from Joyful Journey The San Luis Valley and Sangre de Cristo Range at dawn from Joyful Journey

We’d leave inspired and renewed, with an expanded sense of our writing, and new tools to find space for our heart’s work in the crazy rush of daily life.

This first workshop succeeded in ways even I hadn’t imagined. The group meshed quickly, weaving a supportive, thoughtful and creative workshop. The quality of the writing shone, its depth and  power often surprising the participants themselves.

The food was stellar, the soaking and spa treatments worked magic, and the retreatful time nourished body, mind and spirit.

Of course, everything did not go perfectly. The weather was as wild as only springtime in the Rockies can be: roaring waves of wind and dust, followed by a blizzard that blew through leaving not much snow but bone-chilling cold…. There were glitches with kitchen storage and equipment.

The conference center wing at Joyful Journey. The conference center wing at Joyful Journey.

Still, as we parted today, I heard comments like “inspiring,” “extraordinary,” “outstanding,” and my favorite, a simple, “I am so glad I came.” I’ve already booked Joyful Journey for next year.

For those of you who couldn’t attend Write & Retreat, here’s a thought on how to make time for your heart’s work in the crazy rush of life from an earlier blog post:

Make a date with your writing. Perhaps just once a week at first. That’s enough to set an intention, to affirm to yourself that your writing is important.

Keep that date. Don’t make excuses. When the appointed time comes, get your butt into your writing chair and write. Whatever. If you can’t think of anything to write, write that: “I can’t think of anything to write.” “I can’t find the words.” “I don’t know what to say.” Keep writing until something happens.

After you write, set your work aside to “season,” to give yourself time to forget its particulars. Go back to it only when you can look at it fresh.

Read it carefully, feeling what contributes, pruning out what doesn’t. Be ruthless: cut out every sentence, every word, every scene or chapter that doesn’t add something important.

The Sangre de Cristos over the outdoor soaking pools at Joyful Journey. The Sangre de Cristos over the outdoor soaking pools at Joyful Journey.

Read it aloud. Listen to how it sounds, to the cadence and rhythm of it, to the flow of narrative and word, to the swelling of its themes, the growing pains of its characters.

Set it aside again, and pick it up again. Repeat until the work is as tight and compelling as you can make it. Repeat until what you have written honors the impulse that set you to this crazy, solitary business of writing in the first place. The need to say something in a way that moves readers, that touches hearts and souls, that makes them laugh, cry, wail, think.

Then make a new writing date.

Join me at the next Write & Retreat for inspiration and renewal!

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