Retreat from writing or writing retreat?

You know how excited you feel when those advertisements pop up for writer’s conferences in America and you toy with the idea of getting up at four in the morning to hear your favourite authors speak? Yeah, me neither.

I saw one of those adds last September when I was feeling particularly blah. At the time I wasn’t writing, apart from this blog. It was a writer’s conference run by with Julia Cameron, Ann Lamott, and some other megastars of the writing world. I dismissed it, even though it was online as well, because it was in America. Yeah, nah.

A few days later a friend visited, she’s a Julia Cameron fan too. We ended up talking about how cool it would be to escape and spend time watching the conference (available to watch for twelve months) in some exotic place far from the chaos. For some obscure reason we said ‘Let’s do it.’ I booked us a weekender in January and promptly forgot about it.

January whipped around and we packed our bags and headed to Daylesford.

We set up the lap top and readied the dips and the Ver Jus spritzers. I’m going to give you the few tidbits that stood out to me, my key learnings from each speaker. (If I covered it all we’d be here for hours.) I make no apology, this is for those who love to do ‘creative stuff.’

Jacob Nordby was the first speaker. His key points were simple and powerful.

Journal every day using three questions. (just a few sentences)

  1. What am I feeling right now? Include physical – the senses. Answer how it relates to your inner world.
  2. What do I need right now? No matter how big or small.
  3. What would I love? It may help to look back over question one and two’s answers. Or ask: How would I love to feel?

He posed a question: ‘Who do I admire, and why?’ We had to write down two of our favourite writing gurus.

Then he said: ‘What you see is a mirror.’ Wait – what?

When we admire someone we are seeing a reflection of our creative self, the ‘who we are’ on the inside. Not confronting at all. Years ago I was told: ‘The things we hate in others, those irritating things, is a reflection of what we need to work on in ourselves.’ Hard to hear but it felt right and I am excellent at self criticism and the self flagellation that follows. What Jacob said was the reverse.

The next speaker, Lauren Sapala, should have come with a warning. She spoke on ‘Procrastination and Perfectionism.’ I took pages and pages of notes and it’s impossible to give you the nutshell version.

She said toxic procrastination and perfectionism spring from a deep sense of shame and/or guilt. Most people think it’s their fault, seeing it as a flaw that needs fixing, when it’s a scar that needs healing. It stems from wounds growing up as an empath. She asked for a show of hands to see who thought they were empaths. Most of the room. Writer’s often are.

According to Auntie Google: ‘Empaths are highly sensitive individuals with a keen ability to sense what people around them are thinking and feeling. Psychologists may use the term empath to describe a person that experiences a great deal of empathy, often to the point of taking on the pain of others at their own expense.’

Lauren spoke about growing up in a family where the empath sees the truth and is shut down by the family because they don’t want the acknowledge the truth. What problem? We don’t have a problem? The empath can’t ignore the truth. They learn to hide it from the outside world because of family pressure to keep it hidden, keep it safe. Family empaths take the emotions others can’t deal with, absorbing the negative energy, making it palatable. They become like a human garbage dump for everyone else’s negative emotions, giving back the positive energy the others need, while depleting the empath.

Empaths threaten those who are committed to their masks. They have to learn to hide or shut down their true thoughts and feelings. We reach adulthood and our inner voice says ‘Never self express, never create.’ When we attempt something creative, it triggers our flight response, shutting us down.

Most of us are taught ‘how it looks,’ not ‘how it feels.’ The unspoken message is: ‘It doesn’t matter how you feel it matters how you look.’

The truth is: It doesn’t matter how you look, it only matters how you feel.

The healing starts as you begin seeing your inner creative as a small child needing love and tenderness. Give them permission to take baby steps. To see the truth and express it. For writers, during the creative stage of writing the first draft, she recommended not showing it to anyone, including ourselves. The perfectionists in us wants to crack out the red pen because it soothes us, but the inner child needs you to lock the red pen away, to allow your nervous system to relax. I could go on, there was more, but how long do you have?

The next speaker was Linda Jones – she called herself ‘The Writing Doula.’

Linda read us a poem, a pantoum. She then led us through writing one. Written to a formula, using numbers. I was already on the back foot but I went along for the ride. When we had finished writing our pantoum we had to share it with each other. We were in tears by the end of the two readings. It was profound and beautiful and very moving. Let me know in the comments if you’d like the ‘Pantoum’ formula. Mind blown.

The next speaker was Julia Cameron. ‘The Artist’s Way.’ cue the Hallelujah chorus…

One take away was what she called a ‘cheap trick’ to get the words flowing. Julia recommended using ‘media deprivation.’ Deprive yourself of media for a week. We have a certain amount of words a day. If we deprive ourselves of reading, the words will start to spill out. They need somewhere to go. Ok, one more. Julia encouraged us to trust our first thoughts. Often the first thing that occurs to us, is dismissed, yet first thoughts are important, valid and not to be censored. Trusting our first thoughts crumbles our resistance. There is a wisdom in our first thoughts and they will lead us to the second and third thoughts. Allow the thoughts to rise.

The next speaker was Eric Maisel – he’s written over fifty books. I wrote copious notes and he covered an enormous amount of ground. Here are some quick tips:

Be your own cheerleader because we go through times when we don’t like our book. Tell yourself you are writing the most wonderful f&%#*@ book.

Show up every day and write some words, even if it’s only a few, keep engaging. Don’t leave it more than 2-3 days without writing. Stay connected to the story. He talked about neurons and sleep thinking and generating ideas and a bunch of other fascinating stuff. He was amazing. I can’t recommend his books as I haven’t read any yet, but I can recommend him.

The next speaker was Sam Lamott, ‘How not to write your book.’ His premise was if someone tells you not to do something it makes you want to do it more. His key statement was ‘Don’t write your book.’ It was brief, funny and true.

Sark was the next speaker. She talked about the power of intuition and trusting your inner self to help overcome blocks. Lots of visualising and changing our self talk and a few examples of live coaching.

The last speaker was Anne Lamott. – ‘The debt of honour.’ Anne said writing is a calling, a skill and a radical act. Doing it daily builds muscles. For those who are looking at how to reinvigorate their passion for writing, she said you need to decide to write. How? You stop not writing. Feel the pulse of your creative child. Be back at the kindergarten easel painting, with no one looking over your shoulder. If you’re stuck try starting it as a letter to someone you love, or use writing prompts. Anne’s favourite is from Mark Yockinelli: ‘There was a tree…’ What happened? Get it down. Write it on anything you can find, but get it down.

The videos were over and so was our weekend. We had saturated ourselves in thinking about creativity. We had eaten delicious food and taken pages and pages of notes. On the way home, we stopped for a a picnic in a park with my online writing community ‘The Duck Pond,’ led by one of my writing gurus, Jen Storer It was a perfect ending to a wonderful weekend.

It felt indulgent to dedicate a weekend to hearing a group of creative thinkers and writers. Indulgent but necessary. I think it counts as an artist’s date. (see Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way)

My inner artist is now brimming with ideas, motivation and energy. It was time well spent.

How’s your inner artist today?

6 thoughts on “Retreat from writing or writing retreat?

  1. Omg Julia Cameron and Anne Lamott in the same event?! That must’ve been amazing! I love the idea of media deprivation, but I’m not sure I can stand the idea of not reading. And I’ve always admired Lamott’s craftsmanship approach to writing. Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s definitely gave me some inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading. It was a huge weekend and some truly inspirational people. Julia said the media deprivation was hard but worth it. It was to help ‘unblock’ and it was for a full week. Quite a challenge. She guarantees words will flow.


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