Vegas, for writers?

When you think of Las Vegas, writing retreats may not be the first thing you think of.  Booze. Gambling. Scantily clad women. Hangover-esque bachelor parties. But not writing.

And yet, Vegas is an unexpectedly awesome place to have a writing retreat.  Think about it. There are usually cheap flights and deals on hotels.  The rooms are often quite large – many are suites which have comfy living areas perfectly suited for a bunch of writers to get together to critique or draft.  If you want a distraction but don’t want to waste time, everything and anything you could imagine is usually located within the hotel you’re staying at.  There is no need to even go outside.  You can eat anywhere from a food court a to five star restaurant, see a show, go to the spa, drink, dance, shop or gamble…all under one roof.  This cuts time wastage to a minimum.

And if you’re looking for inspiration, there’s no place better.  I mean, come on.  The place itself is a massive temple to the imagination, to the absurd, the sublime and the tragic.  Vegas is humanity dressed in its most colorful follies.  It is surreal.  Grotesque.  Glittering.  The only thing it is not is boring.  I dare you to walk the length of just a single hotel in Vegas and not come away with at least 3 new ideas for stories.

So, yes, Vegas is actually a fabulous place for a writing retreat.  In fact, I just got back from one yesterday (my second in Vegas).  A group of my writer-friends from Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox decided it would be nice to have a retreat just for women (no offense, guys, but sometimes it’s nice for us to get away from you).  We wrote, we went to the spa, and we wrote some more.  In just two days I got more writing done than I have in the past month.  Better yet, I got excited about my project again — mostly because talking about it in person with other writers reignited my ethusiasm.

Many of us engage with other writers through writing groups — often online, exchanging manuscripts and feedback via the twisty tubes of the interwebs.  Sometimes we do Google chat or “hangout” online or Skype, but it’s no substitute for live, in-person interaction, for being able to bounce ideas off each other, share worries and triumphs, swap industry gossip and tips, and get to know each other better.

You can do all this at Cons, of course, but they’re so…overwhelming.  There are so many people and everyone’s attention is being pulled this way and that.  Small writing retreats offer a chance to develop relationships and support each other — both as people and writers — that Cons never could (at least in my opinion…please feel free to disagree in the comments!).  Writing can be a very solitary activity and the friendships formed at retreats and workshops help you feel tethered to a community when you’re beating your head against the keyboard alone in your office at 3am.  That is invaluabe, and thus the time and money sacrificed to travel to retreats and workshops is (again, in my opinion) money very well spent.

So, if you’re debating attending a workshop or retreat, I advise you to debate no longer.  Go.  And, if you’re thinking of planning one, I recommend Vegas.

Here I am. What do you think?

Since getting serious about writing fiction a little over two years ago I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon:  writers seem to form social bonds with each other very rapidly.  There is a lot of rhetoric in the writing community about “finding your tribe”, which is–I suppose–meant to imply the discovery of an alchemical union among those of like minds who color outside the normal lines of society.  I’ve always found the idea oddly cultish, but like so many things that worm their way into common vernacular, I’ve realized there is something to it.

Last weekend I attended a writing retreat in Dallas.  It was lunchtime on the second day and a bunch of us were sitting around at Chipotle, just hanging out.  It struck me that two years ago I knew none of these people, some I’d literally only met the day before, and even those I’d known longer I saw at most once a year or only online.  And yet I exposed my vulnerable insides to them on a regular basis and trusted them not to eviscerate me (or, to know if they did it was out of love).  Munching my tacos and pondering this, I though: “this is freaking amazing.”  And it really is.

When I attended the Viable Paradise workshop in the Fall of 2009 I didn’t know any other writers.  Because of the friendships I forged in that one short week on Martha’s Vineyard, today I am part of vibrant community of writers, many of whom I feel as close to as friends I’ve known for years.  How can this happen in such a short time and on such short acquaintance?  It sounds crazy.

It boils down, I believe, to the basic fact that sharing your writing and giving and receiving critiques is deeply, unavoidably personal.  It cuts right through the delicate dance of “how much of myself should I show these people” that we usually engage in when we make new friends.  You basically walk up to another writer (who may come from a different part of the country, have different political or religious views and a wholly divergent background from you) open up your chest, pull out your heart and say: “Here I am. What do you think?”  You’ve found your tribe when they don’t run screaming.

All of this leads you to come to trust people whose lives you may know very little about or with whom you do not interact much beyond your shared love of writing and desire to improve that writing.  It’s a broadening, life-expanding experience.  As an anthropologist, I admit I find this fascinating.  In some ways, the little tribes we writers form are nothing at all like real tribes, which are rooted in kinship.  On the other hand, if we consider this term more broadly, writer’s tribes are totally rooted in kinship, just not the biological kind.

So, sitting there in the Dallas Chipotle, looking around at a circle of friends I acquired by most unconventional means and cherished all the more highly for it, I felt profoundly grateful.  We may not see each other in person very often and our honesty with each other may sometimes bruise egos or rub up against prickly edges, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.