Tag Archives: retreats

Friday Favorites: Writing Retreats


A couple of days ago I returned from a seven night Kindling Words West retreat in Marble Falls, TX. The Retreat at Balcones Springs offered cozy cabins and beautiful scenery, and our workshop leaders Nancy Werlin and Karen Romano Young provided guidance on how to find “unseen visuals” in our stories that could help transform our writing.


The goal for our morning workshops was to work on visual poems and other graphic representations of our stories, but Nancy and Karen encouraged us to follow our own path as much as we liked. As it turned out, I got caught up in this (not great) watercolor painting. I started with a random tree, added to it each day, and ended up understanding so much more about my protagonist and her relationship with nature. (Also, I got to live inside her brain in a new way, for she is an artist who works with pencil and watercolor.)


The bulk of each day was spent in silent retreat, and this was my main work station from 10am-5pm. Working on a bed is a little unorthodox, I know, but it turned out to be a good shift for my brain and body. (And strangely enough, I never napped!)


We didn’t spend all our time working. Each morning we had the option of yoga, and during the day there were always opportunities for long walks. We encountered bluebonnets and other wildflowers, live oak and mesquite trees, insects, snakes, lizards, and for one group, a herd of wild boars! I really, really need to remember that when I’m blocked, a good walk can shake things up nicely. (I’ll steer clear of the boars, however.)

I so appreciated all the time for writing (without the usual distractions), and I treasured the opportunities for communion with other writers. You artistic types out there — give yourself the gift of a retreat! It doesn’t have to be Kindling Words (though I strongly recommend it). You could take a day alone, or gather with friends for a weekend or longer. No matter how or with whom you arrange it, I really urge you to set aside silent work time.

For those who make a regular habit of retreating, what sort of activities, formats, locations, etc., inspired you?

The Writing Barn

Last weekend I ventured south to Austin, TX (with the lovely Bettina Restrepo as my traveling partner) to attend Sara Zarr’s Advanced Writing Workshop on Emotional Pacing at the Writing Barn. What an amazing experience! Thought I’d share some photos (click to enlarge) . . .


The Writing Barn is situated in a large, wooded plot in south Austin. When we arrived for the mixer Friday night there was a magical atmosphere to the place. Cool and misty with a herd of deer wandering about — like something out of a fairy tale. (Sadly, the herd eluded my camera.)


Here I am mixing it up with Samantha Mabry and Sue MacLeod. (You can see more photos from that night–all taken by Sam Bond of Sam Bond Photography–on the Writing Barn Facebook page.)


Saturday morning started with a lecture on Emotional Pacing from Sara Zarr. (One little tidbit from Sara’s lecture as written in my notes: “It helps to have some understanding of human psychology, for this can deepen the story. Co-dependent No More is a great craft book!” Who knew? I’m definitely getting a copy.)


Sam Bond’s photo of Sara Zarr truly captures her sassy charm, don’t you think? I already had an author crush on Sara–I adore her books–but now I know how warm and funny and REAL she is in person. Yay!


After lunch we gathered for the afternoon workshop. Oy. This is where I confess that I’ve never truly workshopped a piece of writing before. I have critique partners, of course, and we get excellent work done, but we’ve all known each other for years and are comfortable giving feedback. I’d never done this with people I hadn’t met before. Each piece was allowed 30 minutes for discussion, starting with positive feedback and then transitioning to concerns and suggestions for improvement. Intense! And incredibly illuminating. (The workshop continued all day Sunday.)


Our esteemed hostess, Bethany Hegedus, took this photo. We are standing on the site of a future building that will house eight people for a writing retreat. As Christina Mandelski said, “If you build it, they will come!”

I’m certainly planning a return to the Writing Barn. Thank you, Bethany and Sara!