Do You Really Need To Spend Money on a Writing Retreats to Write?

Are you a writer? Then yes, yes you can, IF you want to. But the amount you spend is up to you, and I’m not just talking about the money. The amount of time is important, is it for an evening, a day, two days, a week or more? Most people think of ‘retreat’ as more than an evening. Perhaps a long weekend is envisioned, or a trip to the Matterhorn to be inspired by the view to write! But it doesn’t have to be. You can gain a lot in a few hours if you have the right mind set, and unfortunately I know several people who spent a month’s salary on a hyped up event and walked away disappointed and unfulfilled.

There is a LOT to think about when you are deciding to attend a writing retreat. That being said, please allow me to reassure you – you have options and choices and a wealth of information to ponder – and every bit of it should be a joy and not a headache. The amount of effort is important too – will this be a financial hardship? Will it involve more than the actual retreat, is there airfare, hotel accommodations, and a car rental to consider?

If you are getting stressed out in this kind of decision making, take a breath and walk away, but deciding if you want to attend a retreat is easier than you think. There are a multitude of them on the web to be sure, but you might be surprised to find many of them locally too. If you’ve followed Touched By Words, you know I’ve shared retreats I’ve attended myself, as well as support in my local library as well as in my favorite Harley Davidson classroom. (See – you might be surprised where you find writers!)

Okay – so what is my point?  My point is you do not need to stress out about retreats. You can create a simple, lovely space to write. If you enjoy being outside – by all means – go outside! If it’s raining, find a quiet spot in your apartment, house or room, light a candle, choose music if you’d like, or wrap yourself in silence and a cozy blanket. You can pick up a notebook from the grocery store, or colorful pens at the office supply store- it’s your choice YOU are in control. Place a small bouquet of flowers or a single blossom or a lush plant near by– yes it can be to inspire or simply be a place to rest your eyes from the page. You do not need a bucket full of money to spend on a writing, or you can plan to attend one, save up and do your homework, read reviews, take a chance and explore what is out there. I did and I’ll always treasure the experience. Yet remember what you are ultimately doing, why you want to go, what you hope to gain, the point is to write! Write what you want, when you want, or when you can. Get it on the page stop planning to get it on the page and do it, work on it, nurture it, plow through it, do what it takes to get it out of your head and onto the paper. Of course, you can change it, add to it, erase it, but write it!

I know people who go to writing retreats and never write again. Really? Why are you going? Is it to begin? To meet others who write? To have your work critiqued? To share an idea? To get ideas? To finish your book, poem, essay, etc? Those are wonderful reasons! Or maybe you have no idea what you want and hope the retreat shows you a path. Then all I would say is to choose carefully and dive in to what the experience can offer.

There are lots and lots of reasons to write, and you can do it anywhere you wish and spend as much or as little money as you wish – but it comes down to the written word. Putting thought to page – to record what is burning inside you to get out. I do not want you to think you need something out side of you to accomplish. It’s, inside of you –  your experience, your word choice, your story -it is all yours!

Now – go write!

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It Still Hurt

In my journey of becoming a writer, not every lesson learned was pleasant or easy. I’ve met some amazing writers and authors. I’ve met some equally difficult people, some published, some not, who do what they can to cause people to doubt their own abilities, or steer them away from their goals. These people are toxic. They can infect your mind and sicken your spirit if you allow them to get too close.

Unfortunately there is nothing that announces these individuals, such as a flashing light, a  warning bell or terrible smell. So you proceed with caution and quickly develop methods to keep yourself and your work safe, while navigating choppy waters.

I’ve never sailed a boat, other than a kayak and row boat. Yet it has been a desire of mine to travel on the water up and down the coasts looking at lighthouses. To understand the tides, read the currents and steer your craft safely brings up all the romance of the sea, along with all the dangers. You may have blue skies and a strong wind quickly change into a frightful storm, your skill the only thing you can rely on.

Whatever skills I am honing, didn’t prepare me for this month. June took the wind from my sails, it tossed me on the waves and pounded me into the sands. My writing silenced as my body suffered. This was a month of painful tests, biopsies and the first time I said the word cancer out loud. For the past year I have fought a private battle working with a remarkable team of doctors to figure out what was going on inside me. MRI’s, multiple blood work ups and painful tests and waiting for lab results changed me. I looked at this life very differently – simply things would make me weep – because maybe, just maybe if the tests showed malignancies, I may not be able to do those simple things again.

Surgery was scheduled and several weeks of recovery followed. I was black and blue and green from clamps, bandaged holes from needles and wire placements, and finally stitches, still healing under liquid dressings. But no cancer. I was in terrible pain and endured tests I never knew existed. But no cancer. It still hurt. It still changed me – but as I finish this blog for the month of June – I find myself reaffirming what I’ve been working on for years now. I find myself in a better place then when I started and I can see a little clearer the simple things I love, too numerous to list, they give me joy and I look forward to doing them each day.

If you’ve ever slept through the night and awoken on your own – comfortable – in peace and you stretch and can’t help but smile. If you’ve ever worked hard, so hard your labor has drenched you with sweat and someone gives you a cool drink, it is the best tasting, satisfying and refreshing beverage you could ask for. If you’ve looked at a sunrise or sunset and felt you were actually, some how a part of it, connected to it, well then, you know how I’m feeling.

It still hurt – but I am feeling so much better, and living a much richer life than I was before, because I appreciate it now more than ever,  because I choose to and I encourage all of you to choose good health, peace of mind and the simple joys you CAN find in each and every day.  Now…write!

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The Secret to Getting Your Book Published!

That sounds pretty incredible doesn’t it? Here I am offering you the secret, that coveted delicious slice of knowledge so many are seeking to savor, and not only am I going to offer it to you – I’m not even going to charge you for it!

Yes, you read that correctly. This advice is free to everyone and anyone reading this blog. Good grief that sounded like an infomercial didn’t it? The only thing I didn’t include was the free set of pot holders, or a veggie slicer with separate shipping and handling.

Okay, now where did I get the secret? You see, this past Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to spend time in a Harley Davidson dealership. Okay, wait, wait, wait – where am I going with that? What do motorcycles have to do with publishing a book? Well, you could write a book about motorcycles, but that is not what I was doing. Hudson Valley Harley Davidson in Nanuet, NY allowed us to use their classroom for a writing workshop. Not just any writing workshop, this one was at a ridiculously low price by a woman who is writing her third book and was sharing her knowledge of how to write a memoir.

Now you might say, well, I’m not writing a memoir, so this would not pertain nor interest me, and that is where I would respectfully disagree.

A memoir, unlike a biography is simply a section, a part, a slice of your life. It is not a complete work from birth to present day, but a question you need answered, a segment of history you’d like to share, a lesson learned. But I learned an enormous amount of information about the craft of writing. How to weave the threads to make the tapestry. How to use different brushes when working on a painting. How the use of question and resolution combine to not only bring the story to life, but to develop and enrich and make you want to keep turning the pages.

Isn’t that what we want to do when we write? Have our reader enjoy the read? We want them to keep turning pages – we want them to keep wanting more!

What was intended to be a workshop of about 25-30 people did not turn out that way at all. As a matter of fact, in the history of planning for workshops – this was a bomb. In a classroom that can fit 90, we were a group of four. Traveling, BBQ’s and department store sales took precedence over the craft. I was saddened. I expected the author to politely decline, perhaps try again in the fall, and leave after the free bagels and coffee the dealership provided. But she didn’t. She stayed and not only did she stay – she taught, she shared and she told us the secret!

For two days, we sat together and talked and read aloud and listened and asked questions and discussed and agreed and disagreed and enjoyed the time together and the craft so much it was magical.  What was to be a workshop, became a personalized seminar in what each of us was working on, struggling with, attempting to do. It did not matter if I wasn’t writing a memoir, but it helped us me to write and understand the craft a little more. The author was so kind, sharp, witty, caring, strong, direct, bold and with all of her experience she gladly and openly shared what she had learned, what worked and what didn’t and how so many people seem to be making a living off keeping the secret to themselves. THAT is the travesty. Writing was never meant to be kept a secret. It was never intended to be only for a select few. Writing is a pleasure, a joy and torture all rolled into one long line of ink! It is the best of both worlds – it is balance.

But hey, I said I was going to give you the secret. I stated in the beginning of this blog I would tell you how to get published, and I was going to do this for free.

So here it goes – the secret to getting published is – – – there is no secret. YOU the writer have the gift inside of you – or you do not. Now, let me pause here for a moment. You can enjoy writing and not be published. You can enjoy the process and create wonderful things – and that is enough. IF you choose to self-publish there are a ton of different ways to do it that can all be researched online. And please, please, do your homework. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you invest in hardcover, gold edged bonded paper with beautiful illustrations – you might have to get a second mortgage – but please don’t. Write because you desire to write. The written word is indeed magical – it can take you anywhere and it can drop you on your butt in a puddle. Decide where you want to go.

IF you want to get published – learn as much as you can about the process. Don’t just say you’re going to write a book. Write it! Figure out the How To and do it. Don’t explain it, don’t defend it, don’t judge it, just do it! As you write, there are a wealth of different avenues to learn about beside, good grammar, punctuation and spelling – but guess what – these are important too. If you’re going to do this – Do The Work it takes to learn how to write the best way you can. Then write! NO ONE is going to give it to you. YOU have to earn it and as you earn it, you will discover so many secrets within you. How you craft the story, how you describe the scene, how you give voice to the characters, how you weave the story together. It comes from you.

Now tell me – did this help? Do you see now you do not have to spend a bucket full of money to pay for the secret? BUT you do have to have a good, solid, well written, spelled correctly, formatted correctly, edited (by someone who has edited your type of genre before, not a well-meaning friend who is an English teacher) book. You have to package your work the way the literary agent requires it and know that you can not approach a publishing house – they will turn you away. You must follow their rules and regulations and you’ll probably have to hire an attorney if they offer you a contract. But the point I am trying to make, the information I’m trying to share is – there is no secret and if someone is telling you, if you pay them, they’ll tell you what the secret is– put them in your story and…(giggle) hey, you know the rest!

Breathe Deep, Think Peace

Patty

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I Came For The Sunrise

A bit of insight into this months post: I was given a great gift, for six full days in Cape Cod. I was given time, freedom and the beauty of the ocean to write.  It was off season, so the people who would meet my eye and smile, giving me permission to visit with them for a moment or an hour, were the locals who are truly blessed to live in this very special slice of earth and water.

I met wonderful people, genuine and thoughtful,yet cautious to share their stories and views with an outsider, until they realized I’m not a traditional definition of a tourist. I was not a snotty nosed, careless individual who expected everything. Nor was I one to barge in, build multi-million dollar homes in their neighborhoods, adding nothing to the community, then occupy the estate for only two weeks out of the year. Mine was an unexpected visit and I was star struck, excited and overwhelmed by the beauty and power of the ocean. How the grass drew circles in the sand when the wind blew on shore and danced. That each sunrise was spectacularly different each morning. That toasting the day with coffee in silence was something more than a morning jolt. Also, I must thank my mother for her valuable lessons – because having manners was recognized and returned, a hand extended in friendship and email addresses shared. I invite you to read my prose-poem, I hope it reveals some of the magic found in Chatham,MA.

I Came For The Sunrise

This is not a cool spring breeze. Nor the showers with promises of May flowers. This is fury.

The wind does not dance among the Adirondack chairs, but slams them to the ground and dares them to sit upright again.

The ocean rages against the shore. It grabs itself like a lady gathers a long and obstinate gown to rush up a flight of stairs. Then smashes the fabric against the lace of an angry wave again and again and again. The wind screaming above it all, demanding to be heard.

The window rattles in front of me as I watch this raw display of nature. Only death itself would keep you from feeling the energy as the Atlantic claws its way up and over the sand. Licking at the sea-grass and gobbling up the walk way.

I felt an icy finger slip down my spine. Perhaps a sailor from the past walked through the room and back to his ship lost at sea, missing a woman’s touch.

The rain splashes the window, it reminds me of the glass men were learning to master, when it was as wavy and imperfect, scarcely letting in the sun, but distorting the view perfectly. I can barely see the tormented waters on the vast horizon.

But I feel its strength and the power man can only harness in a dream.

Although I am in the castle Chatham, whose walls bravely face the dragon’s cold merciless breath, I am anxiously unafraid. Watching the lanterns swing back and forth, their light struggles to cut through he wind and driving rain. Veranda chairs tip and shift positions. Rattan washed clean sit unusable today.

Trees brace themselves fromt he decades of storms and gales and pray for the summer breezes to arrive soon.

As dawn attempt to brighten the sky, it exposes dark flat stones that glisten in the pale light. White caps now appear, as an ever changing landscape of salt, water, sand and I’m sure hidden creatures safe beneath the anguished surface, in depths I cannot fathom.

Far above a lone seagull navigates the tempest, tossed and beaten he seems to evaporate right before my eyes. I strain to find him – he has vanished. There was nothing I could do. My chest feels tight. As I watched, I was holding my breath.

The wood of the Captain’s chair feels smooth and comforting to the touch. I grasp it tightly as I sit alone in the great hall. The fire crackles and burns on, undisturbed by the squall.

A bell’s mournful sound, dampened to a thud more than a crisp sharp ring is heard far away. It sounds sad and lonely.

The time suggests the sun should be up. Yet the sky and ocean share the sea glass blue and safe green with frothy white bands of waves impossible to distinguish one from another.

The sunrise I had hoped to see has also succumbed to the storm.

Is it truly morning? Or is it really dusk? Is that the mast of a ship? Or the shape of a whale?

The ocean refuses to reveal details – only shadows in the storm.

 

 

    

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Sitting With My Muse On The Veranda

It’s at times you least expect wonderful – that it sneaks up on you. When it’s cold and grey. The sleet has chased all the sparrows back under the safety and warmth of the awnings. That’s when the magic happens.

The sky over the ocean is one giant cloud. The water a sage green. Every now and then a bright white wave rises then disappears as quickly as it rose. The ocean is not angry, but it’s not to happy either! Waves are constant, even, regular, a 41 degree recipe for distress.

Seagulls must not have any feeling in their butts. They bob around in silence. Only the sleet whispers over the sound of sea on sand. I’m glad I’m not here for the Great White migration. Watching seals get eaten is not appealing to me. I remember crying while watching Wild Kingdom with my father. “It’s the circle of life. ” he said before Disney. His words brought no comfort.

The lanterns have been lit. My fingers feel the chill. I’m crying and I don’t know why. I love it here by the ocean. It frightens me, calls to me, reassures me. It could take my life and never stop to mourn. Not one tear. No eulogy. No regret.

Suddenly I feel the presence of those who went before me. A heaviness on my shoulders. I no longer fear death, as I watch the wrinkles touch my hands. My vision blurs a bit, an ache here and there. No more a blushing bride. But a woman grown, nurtured from nurturing. Looking for the beauty in each day.

The gift for me to find. Like the sleet dancing on the windows. Salt water on sand. The blanket someone thoughtful enough to bring to me.

I am content.”

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Finding My Voice

Haven Winter Blog Series 2017 http://blog.lauramunson.com/2017/02/22/haven-winter-2017-blog-series-8-finding-your-voice/#respond

With great joy I am posting the piece that was selected for this years Haven Winter Blog Series. This is the fourth year in a row one of my pieces found its way to Laura Munson, along with a talented group of writers, appeared on her blog page. You can explore for yourself and enjoy all the Haven alumni on the link above. This year we were asked when we found our voice. Little did I know how much my life would change after meeting Laura and the Haven she has created in Montana. I sincerely hope you can experience it for yourself – tell Laura I pointed the way. Remember, you do not have to be a writer, only a seeker. What you find, well that’s up to you ❤

***

In all honesty, I never lost my voice, how could I? I’m half Italian! To vocalize and express ourselves is one of the things we as a culture do best. That being said, in 2014 over time and under the pressures presented, I dropped to my knees, my voice hardly a whisper.

I found myself echoing other voices, but not conveying any personal impressions. My own sound and pitch became monotone. Life had thrown too many challenges at me so fast and furious that I did not even bother to get out of the way. Leaning on defeat was easier, I accepted failure, wrapping myself in pity and sadness was frightenly comfortable.

Laura Munson made it possible, in a ridiculously short amount of time, to empower my voice and turn up the volume of life. Haven is an abridged version of a writing-retreat-self-discovery-get away-reflection-sanctuary. I hardly have time to unpack and settle in before it began.

I can only share my own experience, for me it started with an unexpected emotional deluge of tears. Once the storm passed, my words revealed so much more than I anticipated. It was a cleansing of sorts, when I look back at my notes, my needs and desires were clearly articulated. Communication with myself spoke and guided me to believe I can do this – I can write and make myself heard. I can write and people enjoy reading what I’ve enjoyed creating. I can write just for myself and value what is written. My voice opened the doors into publication only a handful a weeks after I returned home from Montana. My voice was so much more than I ever thought it could be, it was the beginning of self-worth – I am worthy, I am enough. I am a writer.

Rediscovering my voice was what I needed to do, but it unexpectedly allowed me to find other voices. Once the confidence grew, I found many writers that were just as passionate, responsive and excited about their voices. We harmonized well, supported and nourished one another. It made me think of a soloist who sings beautifully. However, when you put a choir together, the richness of tone is fuller and the sound of many voices singing in unison is amazing and powerful. Thus writing took on many connotations – there is always something to learn on your own. There is always a group you can sing with and enjoy, and if you do not enjoy them – move on. Take your voice and share it until you find the right melody.

Writing is also a solitary art I love, when my muse whispers to me and the words flow.

Currently, I am a handful of pages away from the final rewrite of my first novel. My editor – author Susan Strecker has shared her voice with me, challenged me, pointed me in new directions and given me a deeper understanding of this journey. With a little luck, query letters will be sent and I will wait to hear from the powers that be at the publishing houses. Good or bad, it’s all part of the process. Yet now, after writing and rewriting, and many months of reflection, if the publishers pass me by – so be it. It will not silence me. I will self-publish this novel, and proudly place it on a shelf in my home. It is after all, written in my voice.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace

Patty

 

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The Gift of Critique

This has been a whirl wind month hasn’t it? Through all of the turmoil, I am extremely grateful to be able to sit still and write. An invaluable way for me to express myself yes, but to calm and focus from the events at hand is even more important. I am deeply saddened and upset by much of what is taking place.

The unrest in the world around me has clearly defined a path to the sanctuary of my writing space and the solitude of my own thoughts. I do not owe anyone an explanation or reason I choose to write like this or that. I do not have to apologize when I write a vulgar poem or shift gears and create a child’s lullaby. In the writers’ life, you are completely free to write whatever you wish without justification. You have the freedom to choose.

So instead of filling this page with my views, positive or negative on the climate in this country. I choose to share something I came across that I found helpful, perhaps you will find it of value too. The purpose was to ground myself. Use my solitude and delve a little deeper into the art of writing.

I’ve taken workshops, gone to seminars, immersed myself in the technical courses of writing and explored the nature of poetry. It was a gift to find an editor who pushed me to experiment with ideas and pulled me along into understanding the formatting of a good story -how to make it work and work well. How to take my ideas to the next level. So now, my hope is that when I write something, it is richer, fuller, crafted tighter. Learning how others have approached this craft is of great interest to me. So when I heard author Veronica Roth speak about her journey writing and how she came to embrace being critiqued, I took noticed and listened carefully.

I found her interview extremely insightful. It was not the discussion of the success of her books which have topped 35 million in sales. The first being Divergent, followed by Insurgent and then Allegent, all which have been made into movies. She spoke about taking one creative writing class in college. There she learned how to accept critiques.  Notice I did not say criticism, and if you are in a writing circle that criticizes your work – get out, that’s just toxic. But if you are in a writing group that critiques – listen and really hear what is being said about your work.

She said at first it was truly an overwhelming experience. You are to sit in silence while everyone in the room takes turns critiquing (defined as: analysis, evaluation, assess, appraise, appreciate/or not, review, study, comment) your work. Anyone who has gone through this knows how difficult it is and our first reaction is to explain why we did this, or said that. But that’s missing the point. She said she learned how important is was to sit silently and listen to how your work was read. Not explain. Simply understand if they don’t get it, you didn’t say it right. The solution is within you – but the critique is imperative to accept and use for help.

So if you are able to receive the gift of critique – take it seriously and with grace. Listen, hear and take notes.

Lastly, I also admired her honesty when she spoke about the publishing world. When asked what she thought the reason her book was selected, without hesitation she said, “Timing and luck.” For some reason, this helped me relax as I begin the next part of my journey. Learning to write a query letter, and not taking rejection to heart. I can’t find an agent if I do not put myself out there – putting myself out there is a little scary, but, with a little luck that is exactly what I will do. I can only hope the timing is write.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace

Patty

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