It’s my last morning in Las Vegas. I’m sitting in my room at the Aria looking out on the sprawl of hotels and pools and kitsch all spilling south toward the mountains. I came here on Thursday for a writing retreat and after three days of eating, spa-ing, partying, and (of course), writing, it’s time to take stock.
This is the second year in a row we’ve done this particular retreat. The idea is for a small group of journey-woman writers to escape their daily lives, get to know each other better, and support one another. Rather than revolving around critiques or workshopping, this retreat is just a chance to write in the company of other writers and to be able to talk freely about issues and challenges we’re facing both in our manuscripts and in our careers.
Every time we’ve done this retreat it’s been fun, easy, and drama-free. Best of all, it’s also always very productive, providing a needed jolt to languishing projects and a reminder of how much you can accomplish when you prioritize your writing and shed other distractions.
There are a number of different retreats, workshops, and Cons that I’ve taken to attending over the years. Each are different and each are awesome in their own ways. This particular retreat has a couple of qualities that I think make it distinctive.
First, it’s usually a small group (typically between 5 and 7 people). This has the advantage of intimacy, of really getting the chance to talk and work as a group with no cliques forming or drama brewing. Additionally, this retreat is organized collaboratively. No one person decides where we’ll stay, what we’ll do, or who will be invited. Both years the retreat has taken shape organically. Thus, we all feel we have a say and a piece of what’s happening. This, obviously, wouldn’t work very well with a larger retreat or workshop, but it works great with a small group.
Second, because it’s focused on producing material rather than critiquing material, I always leave this retreat feeling like I accomplished something meaningful. Typically when I go to a critique-based retreat I leave thinking of all the work I have before me (not necessarily a bad thing, but still…) rather than feeling good about the work I’ve already done. Both types of retreats galvanize you, albeit in different ways.
Third, this retreat emphasizes fun and socializing and indulgence as much as it does productivity. Vegas is a mad, crazy playground and thus the perfect place to let go for a little while — to dance and drink and eat and let your hair down. For better or worse, in co-ed work-related situations (which, at the end of the day, writing workshops and Cons are) many women often feel they have to monitor their behavior more carefully than they otherwise would. Indeed, I’m sure many men feel exactly the same way. While we always miss our male writer friends at this retreat, there is something freeing about being temporarily in the company of other women.
As always, when I leave a writing retreat or workshop I’m thinking as much about the writer friends I’ve been spending the retreat with as the ones who aren’t here. That’s the downside of retreats: whether you’ve invited everyone you know or just a small group, there are always friends absent. Because our community is so spread out and many of us only get to see each other a few times a year, these retreats — and their fleeting intensity — are both wonderful and a little sad.
So, as I head for the airport, I put my first writing retreat of 2014 behind me. I had a wonderful time and I moved my novel that much closer to completion (I wrote about 5.5K across 2 days). I’m chalking this one up as a win.