I've been to three writing retreats over the past four years. Two of these were located in the Okanagan, and one was actually online. I've also taken private writing retreats at a country acreage. If it hadn't been for Covid, I would likely have attended more.
There is always something worthwhile about a writing retreat. It isn't always the courses.
The first time I went to a writing retreat, everything about it inspired me. The location, the meals, the variety of courses, and most of all, the people. I met great people. Everyone was excited and happy to be there. Between writers, there were no barriers. Not age. Not gender. Not income. Not genre. You sat down at a table full of women and next thing you knew, every single one of you was comparing projects. You sat down beside an older, solo man, and within minutes he was telling you the entire plot of his newest novel, chapter by chapter. And...you just got it. Because you do exactly the same thing.
At that first writer's conference, one of the speakers made us say, "I am a writer." I went home from that event and said that to other people... and it was one of the hardest things I'd ever done. And then I told my mom, "I found my people. This is my tribe."
The online conference came next. It was a totally different ball game. Of course, I built no relationships whatsoever there. Also, it was a Christian conference, and I am not writing Christian novels. I am not even writing 'sweet' romance novels. I really wasn't certain how much benefit I would get out of this conference.
I was pleasantly surprised. Of all the writer's retreats I've ever attended, this is the one where I ended up learning the most. Where at in-person retreats you must choose from a selection of courses occurring at the same time, an online course allows you to watch around your own schedule. So, if I had to work in the morning, I could still watch those courses when I got home that evening. I didn't miss a thing. Plus, many of their courses were geared toward business concepts and marketing. I might have gone to University for years to learn to write, but learning business is a different skill set. This retreat had a lot to teach. When it was over, I even followed several of the writers and presenters who had been involved.
Over the Covid years, I was fortunate enough to have parents who owned 20 acres of treed land in the country. I had a trailer at the back of the property with a beautiful patio overlooking a meadow of wildflowers. I could hear birds singing in the morning. Deer wandered down the drive at dusk. The trailer had a beautiful, comfortable layout, a stocked fridge, a liquor cabinet, a large screen monitor to hook up your laptop to for a larger picture, Bluetooth speakers, air conditioning, and even a bathtub. I'd bring my dog for company and for chasing squirrels, my bikini for tanning breaks in the sunshine, my yoga mat for early morning centering, and coffee. Lots of coffee. I'd relax, put the stresses of home behind me, and would write for hours. It was fantastic. I recommend it highly.
The most recent public writer's conference I attended was less than a month ago, so it is fresh in my mind. I wasn't intending to go. But, I had spent several months at home renovating my home and traveling to do research and really doing very little actual writing. With the season changing from summer to fall and the renos wrapped up for the time being, I decided what I needed was that inspiration of just hanging out with other writers who could jump-start my writing excitement with their own.
That was pretty much what happened.
I was only able to attend one of the two days of the conference, which set me apart from other people, and I really found very few of the topics offered grabbed my attention. My expectations were pretty low, and my personal agenda was divided between the conference and my plans for later that day. I had my guitar waiting for me in my hotel room, and I fully intended to leave in time to go sit on the beach at night and play. The next day, I had another place to be so I could complete the research for my next book. My brain was only partially engaged in the conference itself. And yet, I found myself pleasantly surprised to realize that the talks did what I needed them to do -- they got the engine revving. I couldn't wait to get home and start up my writing routine fresh.
This conference did not provide meals. We were situated at a four-star hotel in the downtown core of the town, so getting food was not an issue. I realized, though, that the lack of meals together also meant a lack of conversation and bonding. Compared to the first retreat, where I met so many people and had so many conversations with so many types of writers, the lack of mealtime changed the dynamics. I ate lunch in the hotel bar with another conference attendee, but rather than discussing writing, she talked about her recent dating experiences. I enjoyed the conversation and getting to know her, it was just different, was all.
Later that evening the conference ended with a wine tasting offered by a local vineyard. Again, the experience was enjoyable, but for me the highlight of the conversation was when a vendor approached me and we somehow stumbled onto the topic of trying to be writers while also being moms. Next thing you know, she was pouring out her concerns about her recent divorce, and wondering how I had handled my own, and how it had affected my children and my writing. The conversation was deeply personal and genuine, and she made me feel as if my experiences had personal relevance for her. That moment was far and away the highlight of the conference for me this year.
I snuck away shortly after she returned to her booth.
"My cheeks can't smile anymore," I told my mother when I called her to tell her all about my experiences. She laughed, but I was serious. The event was everything I needed it to be, and for me, when it was over, it was over. I retreated to my guitar, the darkened beach, and the multi-coloured city lights dancing over the surface of the water. I came home satisfied that I'd gotten exactly what I'd come for. The conference was money well spent. I was excited and ready to enter a season of writing once again.