Last month I experienced two things I think every writer should do:
2. I went on a retreat
1. Nano. Why is this so important? Because it’s incredible for making you realize how much you’ve pushed writing onto the back burner, and how much you could accomplish if you’d just knock that off. That’s the intent of it, but I hadn’t really realized how truly it accomplished its intent until I went and did it. I recommend it for all writers, but especially for those who are mothers or have other sorts of jobs that they put first. You can find more time than you realize, if you’re motivated.
2. Go on a retreat. Why? This part, I can’t carry on about enough. There was so much that came out of this that it’ll take me this whole post to get through it all.
I won a sweepstakes to When Words Count Retreat in nearby Vermont. I hadn’t really intended to ever go on a retreat. It’s not something that I do… I’m a mom, I’m busy, darn it! When I won, I almost canceled… I’m busy, you know. The manager, Jon, had to call me several times in order to get through to me and set up the paperwork and such… I’m busy, in case I didn’t mention that.
Finally, though, the assigned date came. I left home on, of all days, my daughter’s Birthday. Off I went to mountainous Vermont in my poor little old Nissan. It’s a great car, by the way, so don’t let this story confuse you–this car has been a blessing.
The first thing to go wrong (converse to my previous statement there) was that I had car trouble. I foolishly pulled over to see if restarting it would solve the issue. To my dismay, I only barely got it restarted–now I was afraid of shutting it off. I called Jon at When Words Count, and told him that I needed a nearby garage to leave my car at. I foolishly thought perhaps I could get a taxi to the Retreat. (Don’t hurt yourself laughing, I didn’t realize Rochester, VT had a population of 5 or so)
He very kindly gave me the address of the Mechanic shop on (wait for it, wait for it…) Main St. Now, ready for the clincher? 123 Main St. You think I’m kidding? Look it up!
Therefor, I arrived at 123 Main St. Rochester, Vt. I believe I met all of the denizens of said town while I was there. Okay, now I’m joking. I might have met half of them. *wink*
Anyway, so now I’m really thinking… I shouldn’t have done this. I’ve ruined my car, I’ve left on my daughter’s birthday (she’s 6, we’d already had her party, so I didn’t abandon her sans b-day celebration, for the record)… this was going to cost me possibly over a grand (it seemed like tranny trouble)… and you know what? I didn’t have time for this… I’m busy!!
Well, to my surprise, they came and picked me up from the mechanic’s office and took me out to the Retreat. Before I tell you first impressions, let me tell you what I was expecting. Somehow, since at one point I’d seen that they “offered services” such as editing and the like, I had it in my mind that I’d be at a Holiday Inn Express type place and they’d be trying to high-pressure sell me a bunch of “other services”. But, I figured I could hide in my room and launch my NaNo Novel from there. Maybe they wouldn’t notice me huddling away in up there?
When we got there, I didn’t realize we had arrived. There was a large sign, yes, but I thought we’d drive past the big, beautiful old farmhouse and off we’d go to the REAL ‘Retreat’. Instead, we stopped in front of the old farmhouse and out we got.
Patricia showed me the front entryway on the way in, and I couldn’t believe it. This stately old home was the Retreat hotel!
First off, I hate to inform them, but they made just a teensy weensy mistake. This place is NOT a hotel. This is a Bed and Breakfast. I grew up on a farm with an ancient house on it, and there were issues… it was drafty and cold. This building reminded me of all the charm of the old farmhouse I grew up in–without the drafty and cold!
I was shown around, and right away, I felt immersed in “writing culture”. Each room was named after famous writers. In the dining area were food recipes written in the ‘voice’ of various authors. It was charming, but it was also lovely and had a sort of ‘heritage elegance’ to it that captured me from the beginning.
I loved this delightful old Bed and Breakfast immediately. But of course, I was still prepared for high pressure sales pitches. It’s the world we live in, you know? Busy… high pressure… Welcome to Earth…
I was upgraded for free to a room with a double bed; The Emily Dickenson room. It was wonderful, very cozy and an excellent place to sit and write for NaNo and hide from what I was SURE was going to happen SOMETIME.
Soon, it was time to have dinner. I came down a little early, during “cocktail hour”. I don’t drink, and I kind of thought, “well, this will be fun… chatting with all the drunks until I can’t stand it anymore”. No, I’m not a cynic, damn it! I call it “realist” because it doesn’t sound quite so harsh. :p
To my surprise, I found everyone very cordial and friendly. I met Paul, the chef. He insisted on making me a REAL hot chocolate, even though there was a perfectly good (massive) box of Swiss Miss sitting right there. I thought to object to yon food snob, because I happen to LIKE Swiss Miss, thank-you-very-much. But I didn’t want to be rude, you know… so I let the man make me some REAL hot chocolate (silly food snob, you’re wasting your time).
Ah. Well. There comes a time in every life when you must to hang your head in shame. Paul made me the REAL hot chocolate. And his didn’t come out QUITE like mine always do… mine are typically chalky and lumpy. Okay, fine, I admit it… I’m terrible at REAL hot chocolate. Okay? Fine, I said it.
Paul, on the other hand… is not terrible at real hot chocolate. Paul is a hot chocolate wizard. Nary a lump. Nary a chalky residue. Perfectly sweetened–not too much, not too little. Perfectly chocolaty–not too much, not too little.
Paul is now squarely in my “okay” book. But Paul is not just a hot chocolate snob. No, siree. Paul is also an astounding chef. He’s a 4 star rated chef. That must be 4 out of 3, because he’s just plain amazing. While signing up for the Retreat and going through all of that wonderful stuff… they talked the food up like crazy. Oh, it’s wonderful, you’ll love it… I thought the price was a little steep…
But then I got to eat my first meal prepared by the hot chocolate wizard. Ambrosia, my friend. Ambrosia. I would have called the hot chocolate ambrosia, but I was saving that for this. I can’t really say enough good about Chef Paul’s cooking, or we’ll all be here until next week. He’s THAT good. Better yet, he’s THAT friendly, personable, and professional.
Sorry, he’s also married. With kids. And 20 years older than he looks. Not that I asked! I didn’t ask. I learned this all through osmosis, I swear upon my missing pinkie. (I’m not telling you which that is–but I have 2 of them, so you do the math)
Alright, so I’ve covered the food to some degree–albeit nowhere near to the degree it deserves. Let me make a short note of the customer service and how I was treated there. Almost all such service oriented professions claim to want you to feel like “a guest” instead of “a customer”. Almost all of them fail. Oh, some have wonderful customer service, don’t get me wrong. Prompt, courteous, friendly… to be sure.
On the other hand, you don’t get to say this very many times in your life, and I get to say it now… I felt like a guest in their home, not like a customer. Not only were there no high pressure sales, but it was very much like being a much-desired guest in someone’s residence. I was treated with courtesy that came close enough to affection to be very warming and welcoming, but not so close to affection that I began to feel uncomfortable (oh, you KNOW what I mean there… oookay, overboard, buddy!). It was clear that they were concerned that I enjoy myself, “Anything you’re missing? Anything we can get for you? Would you like a drink?”
At the same time, you can tell that these guys are writers themselves. They are VERY engaged when they’re there. While we were eating, the conversations were fun, positive, and engaging. When I was sitting in front of the fireplace writing, they left me be… like one writer would do for another. As if they GOT IT. Not like at home, where “oh look, she’s writing” is tantamount to “oh look, she’s doing nothing!” And then when such treatment leaves heads rolling, surprised doe-eyed looks of alarm are the result.
No, here, I was left to write in peace. I sat beside another writer, and we felt no need to force conversation. We sometimes spoke, but it was brief and writing-related. Nothing intrusive. And there was a definite sense that we were here for one thing, and one thing only…. to write our little hearts out.
I loved the Retreat over all. I adored each member of the staff.
Patricia was the lucky one who got to pick me up from the auto shop. She was very friendly and kind. I felt like she was a friend waiting to happen, rather than “an employee of the place I’m staying”. She showed me around, not rushing, and not meandering. A fine line to walk, and she accomplished it to a T. Rare in any circumstance, but especially so in someone admittedly new to the process. She also has a berry farm nearby, so if you’re there around the right time, definitely stop in to see it and procure some yums! Nope, I’m not affiliated in any way (with anyone there).
I later met Steve, the owner, whom I had spoken to over the phone. Interestingly enough, he had given me the impression of being quite busy, while at the same time I got the impression that he was putting aside what he had to do in his day to take care of my car issue. And he didn’t treat it like it was “just a little thing” as some men are prone to do when a woman is in a panic over car trouble. Which is good, not only from an interpersonal viewpoint, but also because what was happening with my car was major from a road-safety standpoint. (Monetarily, it turned out minor, though–yay! Told you it’s a great car, didn’t I? :D)
I finally got to meet the persistent Jon, as well. He kept up with the phone tag, and I bless his heart for it to this day. This Retreat was amazing for me, but it wouldn’t have happened without Jon continuing to call me as many times as it was necessary.
Then there was Liz, who was the new Sous Chef. Like Paul, she was so friendly, courteous, and unobtrusive. She helped pick up plates and drop off courses without interrupting the flow of conversation at the meals at all. Each time I spoke with her, she had a smile and a kind word.
I also want to mention Sue, who was just amazing as well. She’s one of those type-A, efficient, businesslike people. Gets the job DONE! In my life, I’ve encountered many of these types. They’re wonderful people, of course. But many tend to take on a hard edge. They have a sense of suppressed impatience and demand to them that is hard for someone as laid back as I am to be around. I find that many writers are more like me, that sort of quiet personality. Well, Sue’s the perfect type-A to work with writers. She’s efficient, yes. She’s businesslike, yes. But she’s also patient and very courteous. I felt none of the suppressed impatience or the sharp hardness from her.
All of the staff there was amazing. The house is amazing! Er, sorry, the hotel… I still say it’s a Bed and Breakfast!
That being said, I got even more out of it than all of that. Now, before you ask, no, I was never asked to write anything for them. I’m not being paid, and I’m not personal friends with them in some way invested in whether or not you go to a writing retreat. I did sign an agreement that they could use my likeness and the video they took asking me about my stay in advertising. However, I could have said anything I wanted. I could have said the food stunk and the house was drafty. Nothing in any contract anywhere demands me to say any of this.
It’s just that, at rare times in life, you experience something that truly makes you gush. For me, this retreat was one of them. And that’s the truth. I got my money’s worth even if I’d paid three times the asking price.
As a writer, this was a powerful, powerful experience for me. Overwhelmingly so.
The staff was fantastic. The B&B amazing. The entire atmosphere astounding.
Most importantly to me, however, I left there feeling like being a writer is as much a part of me as being a mother, a wife, an artist, and everything else. I wrote 12,000 words towards my NaNo novel that day. But I left with something much more substantial and meaningful than I came with.
I’m still busy.
But now I’m busy being a writer, just as much as I’m busy doing everything else. Now I finally GET IT. I don’t have to feel guilty or ashamed when I take time out to write–because it’s not a joke, not a hobby, not a fluke. I’m a writer.
And that right there, as they say, is priceless.
So in closing, I say… if you’ve not yet internalized on a deep level that you’re a writer, you need to do NaNoWriMo and go on a real writer’s retreat. I happen to know of a good one. 🙂