Retreat Report

I spent the past few days at the Cape Henlopen Poets & Writers Retreat, a four-day immersion retreat sponsored by the Delaware Division of the Arts. We stayed in the lovely Cape Henlopen State Park, and housed in the Biden Center, a former naval training center now renovated and open for groups and events.

An immersion retreat is one that focuses on the creative expression of your choice. We were all literary artists: 8 poets, 8 prose writers. Our retreat leaders were Joann Balingit and Alice Elliot Dark.  Though we enjoyed meals and camaraderie as one, we split up and met as separate genre groups.

The schedule was generous with both group time and private writing time. In the mornings, we had an optional 1.5 hour session. On Friday, the morning  session focused on meditation and addressing our inner critic. On Saturday, Alice led a characterization discussion about change and free will.

Days were free for writing on our own, walking on the beach, exploring the hiking trails and dunes, and commiserating with fellow attendees. I did a little of all of that.

In the evenings, we did long sessions with our groups. On night one, we shared samples of writing we thought were well done and why. This led to a discussion of character traits and left me with some useful questions to ask about the characters I create:

~ How do you decide what a character is like?

~ What central characteristic is the engine of the book?

~ What active character trait makes the story go forward?

~ What thread leads from event to event to event?

~ How did this trait develop in this character?

Our subsequent night sessions were devoted to discussing work we’d written during the day, based on assignments. Assignment one was to write about a memory. Assignment two was the prompt “Saturday night.” As always with a group of writers, I was astounded by the diverse interpretations of the prompts. We heard the voices of children, of mothers, of sisters, of best friends and boyfriends; of cancer victims, garbage men, abuse survivors; of people in love and those who’d lost it. As always, again, I gained as much from the give-and-take as we critiqued one another as I did in my solitary writing time.

But the solitary time is important, too. Tucked in a corner of the dining room in the wee hours of the morning, or in my room in the quiet afternoon after my walk, I pounded out new words. I wrote a scene that came straight out of a very small exchange with one of the fishermen, an hour earlier. It fits perfectly in my story, and it never would have come to life had I not been in that place, in that specific moment in time.

This is the value of such a retreat. This weekend was the perfect balance of solitude and sharing.  Writing can be a lonely business. We sit alone and, sometimes, the only other voice there is the inner critic. Meeting with a group that is simpatico–who understand and appreciate the process; who close their eyes when you read new words you wrote just today; who generously offer  impressions and suggestions–is a gift. Even if that gift lasts for a mere four days, the impact and impressions hang on much longer.

Joann calls such a group your tribe. I like that. This weekend, I found a new tribe.

Ramona

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