Sunday, February 21, 2016

Writing Retreat Review

When I was researching writing retreats for my book on Te Araroa, I was completely overwhelmed by the quantity and variety of retreats offered. Some lasted just a weekend. Some lasted longer. Some were local. Some were international. Some included food. Some didn't. Some included lodging. Some didn't.

Eventually I weeded through the mountain of information and decided 2 things. 

1) I wanted to be among all women. I wanted this at least for my first retreat, thinking I just might feel more comfortable and less intimidated. 
2) I wanted to do yoga. Hokey as it sounds, yoga clears my mind and relaxes my body. 

So when I stumbled upon Patchwork Farm's Writing Retreats and there was one coming up with both of those criteria in NEW ZEALAND, I attributed it to serendipity. 

Fresh off my first writing retreat, I have a little insight for anyone thinking about a writing retreat, or for anyone just reading my blog and curious.

Retreat Leader
I cannot say enough about Patricia Lee Lewis, founder of Patchwork Farm and leader of our retreat. She is just one of those people you want to hug. She is extremely diplomatic, making for a great leader of strangers (after 25 years of leading retreats, she has a little experience in this area). She has an open door policy and is very genuine in all her feedback. It doesn't hurt that this lady has spunk! Our yoga instructor was Jane Mortifee, who was equally energetic and kind. 

Environment
You cannot go wrong with New Zealand. Okay, but really, I liked the setup of this retreat. We stayed at Mountain Range Lodge, an 8-bedroom house, complete with a kitchen, dining room, 2 living rooms and ample outdoor space. Most of us shared a room and bathroom, but 3 people opted to upgrade to singles. We were all able to spread out and find alone time. 




The house was 1.5 miles from the center of Wanaka, up above the lake. It was just close enough that going into town was feasible. Plus, the house had bikes for borrow. 

Food was included in this retreat. The team at Aspiring Caterers took care of breakfast, lunch and dinner and we seriously ate our hearts out. It was a lot of healthy foods, but I don't think the yoga balanced out the hearty meals. I have to say this was a crucial piece of the retreat for me ... I didn't have to think about preparing foods. Take that piece out of your daily equation and of course you have time to write! 




Writing Prompts/Group Dynamics
We had 13 in total, including Patricia and Jane. The size of the group worked perfectly for me. Apparently, Patricia has a strong following because 5 of the ladies had been on at least one of her retreats and even knew each other. It was helpful to have people who had been before because they really eased the group dynamics. 

I had a roommate, Lisa, and we couldn't have been matched more perfectly. So I had no problems sharing space. I was, of course, the youngest in the group, but it made no difference. I always appreciate age-old wisdom anyway. The group was a mix of published/unpublished folks, so beginners need not worry. Patricia makes it a very friendly environment. 

The way the 10 days went is everyday, sometimes twice a day, we would gather and Patricia would give us a writing prompt. One example is she would give us a verb and a noun. She would send us off to write for anywhere from 7 minutes to 2 hours. We did not have to follow the writing prompts; I hardly did. I was focused on making strides in my book and most of the prompts didn't really fit in. Then we would gather again in 2 groups and read what we wrote. We didn't have to read, and I didn't read during my first 2 sessions. The point of reading was to give positive (only positive) feedback. I found it to be extremely encouraging. I was also surprised at how much I gained from hearing what others read. 


Other Notes
We had free time (4 hours or so) everyday. While I did go for a hike and a bike ride 2 of the days, I typically used my free time to write. Others painted, explored town (wine tour!), read, napped, etc. We started everyday with yoga at 7am. Not everyone participated and that was perfectly fine. I love any yoga, but if you are going for the yoga component, know it is very beginner-friendly. Jane is a very good instructor and you can always take your practice to your own level, but she made it so others wouldn't be intimidated in yoga. 

Verdict
I am so glad I went to a retreat. It really kicked my book into high gear. I ended up coming away with 35 pages written, which non-writers should know is great progress. Plus, being among other writers is a huge inspiration. I was able to draw on their experience and ideas. I did think there would be a little more instruction on the writing craft, instead of the writing prompts, but I know I can go elsewhere to seek that. Lastly, uh, New Zealand!!!!! Being back there really opened the floodgates for writing about Te Araroa. I don't think I will go to another retreat (never say never), but I am looking into writer residency programs and working with a writing partner.