Last month I ran my How to Write Your Life Stories residential retreat at the glorious Watermill at Posara. Next week I shall run it again – a second time this summer. Last month’s course was without a doubt the most magical one so far. It seemed to be special for a reason none of us could really put a finger on.
We were lucky enough to have students from a range of backgrounds: some lived with illness; some knew divorce, bereavement, transition, abuse; some were artists; one a therapist and we even had a lay preacher.
Towards the end of the course as we sat on the Vine Terrace in the early evening for our daily feedback session, it was Dave’s turn to speak.
Wow! That was quite a phrase, but yes, that is exactly what happens on a Me-Treat. I am not so immodest as to think that it happens because of something I do specifically, but as a result of many many things: the environment; the people; the lessons; the fact that those who come do so for themselves and are hungry for what is to come.
“I lift thee and thee lift me!”
I was thrilled and grateful that such a massive phrase was attributed to my work, but yes, this is exactly what I want a Me-Treat to be.
If you would like to try one for yourself, and are ready to give yourself a gift, then maybe you would like to come to Italy next June for this very same course, or come to Stamford in England for a taster weekend in May or try the one in France next September?
Me-Treats can be booked on this website at www.writingmetreats.com.
I often think about Susanne (not her real name). She was a regular on all of my workshops, eagerly signing up for courses on writing articles, books, life story and even blogs. But in all that time, and all those hours getting to know, and I hope, trust, me, she never once shared a sentence of her work.
“I never stop writing,” Susanne would say, telling us that she was now well into the third novel in a series.
“So, when are you going to show me?” I would weedle.
But Susanne would just bow her head and avert her eyes.
Even in class, whenever the students settled down to a writing task, she would take part with gusto. But when the time came to read out what they had done, Susanne stayed silent.
After a few years Susanne moved away and I naively thought that she might then email me some work to look at. But no, it seemed no one would ever get a glimpse of her work. Not even a potential editor or publisher. This really saddened me. How would Susanne find out how good her work was? Or how she might improve it?
In all my classes feedback and sharing are an important component. It can be tough listening to someone read work in progress and having to come up with comments right away. But I think it is invaluable for the student not only to hear what I have to say but also from the other students. Students tell me that this is empowering and helps them to increase in confidence. It is also valuable for the students to feel that their opinions are valid too.
Whenever I give feedback I can always, and I mean always, find something positive to say, and I start with that. I then go on to suggest what might be improved. I never say that something is downright terrible.
When, back in 2007, I attended a residential writing retreat in a Scottish castle, we all sat down over gins and tonic before supper and shared the work we had been doing during the afternoon rest-periods. I think I speak for all of us when we say that this was the highlight of the day, leaving us all feeling optimistic.
On my Writing Me-Treats we too always reconvene after the rest-period over a drinkie for feedback. And, at The Watermill, in Tuscany, when I run a life story writing course for the same folk who organised that Scottish retreat, the feedback happens over sangria on the vine terrace. I tell you, sharing is a treat. I only wish I could get Susanne to believe me.
I know, I know, a residential writing retreat costs a lot of money but then you are getting board and lodging as well as tuition and even excursions, aren’t you? And they don’t come cheap. Still, it’s a hefty investment, so I thought I would ask a few folk who had attended writing holidays themselves to see whether they thought it was worth the investment. Let’s hear what they have to say:
Life Story Writing in Spain
A few months ago, Monique attended a retreat led by Brenda van Es down in Spain. Brenda, who’s events are led in Dutch, helps memoir-writers to come up with a plot for their work.
“With a laptop full of text I sat down with my fellow writers on the porch of the romantic villa in Spain, only to find out that I had overlooked an essential part of writing a book,” shares Monique. “I missed a solid structure. In my enthusiasm and impatience I had started writing before having a sound base to fall back on. I needed to ask myself why I was writing the book and who I was writing it for to start with. I soon realized I had to start all over again, but now needed to tell my story the other way round. Frustration all over. Should I throw all my written text in the bin? Sharing our emotions and experience within the group slowly brought me back to my true self. I started to enjoy writing again and with the realistic feedback we gave each other we all worked towards an individual writing plan that could support us on the long road towards our book that flirts with us, daring it to be written.”
A Paradise Retreat in Nova Scotia
Barb, a Canadian, recently attended her third Paradise Writers’ Retreat led by author, editor and publisher, Anne O’Connell. I too have attended three of Anne’s retreats in Phuket.
“Anne’s writing retreats are an excellent balance of inspiration, self discovery and practical tips,” says Barb. “There is lots of group time to share and receive feedback, as well as individual time to practice new techniques which can be applied to ongoing or future writing.”
Last November, Janice also attended Anne’s retreat.
“I had the opportunity to attend my first writer’s retreat this past fall. It was the Fourth Annual Paradise Retreat held at the Ocean Stone Resort on the south shore of Nova Scotia,” Janice begins. “Part of what made this experience stand out was the choice of venue, which was spectacular. Listening to and viewing the rolling waves of the ocean was the perfect choice to get the creative juices flowing. I had found myself at a standstill with my writing and needed a change of environment in order to jumpstart one of my novels, of which I have several in the outline process.
So there you have it. Now it is up to you to make up your mind whether a retreat will provide you with just the boost and bonding you are looking for. Would it kick start your writing? If so, maybe you should give it a go?
During 2018 I am running my Writing Me-Treats in The Hague in March, Charente, France in May and Devon in July. I have also been invited back to Lois and Bill’s beautiful Watermill in Tuscany to run my Write Life Story workshop over a full week not once but twice this summer. Sadly, the September one is full but there are still places in August.
author, journalist, teacher and poet
'Sharing what I know to help others to grow.'
Jo Parfitt has published 31 books, helped more than 100 authors get into print and more than 1,000 to begin writing. She's an inspiring, compassionate and encouraging teacher.
Jo has run Summertime Publishing since 1997. She has lived abroad for almost 30 years – in France, Dubai, Oman, Norway, the Netherlands, Brunei and Malaysia. She specialises in inspiring others who write about expatriate issues.
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