The Just Write Writers Retreat (October 19 to 21) at Mount Tabor Retreat Centre at John Hughes in the green (especially green after the rain we’ve been having) Antiguan countryside was rejuvenating. And the post retreat reflection has been revealing, illuminating…other ‘ings’ I can’t think of now, just a blessing to the soul and spirit and confidence and motivation. Next time I see event organizer Brenda Lee Browne (fair warning Brenda Lee) I might hug her. And I hope you know that you’re in it now; this can’t be a one-off. It will grow. That’s a given.
The retreat was a mix of Caribbean-formal sessions on writing and publishing, exercises to coax the writing out and entice it in new directions, exploration and introspection, and a marathon muddle of liming sessions and sessions on liming (writing and life). The Retreat Centre is Catholic owned and as a born and raised Catholic, I’ll liken it to being in the Confessional…minus the judgment.
I was most nervous, I think, about the one-on-one sessions; that’s where Brenda Lee, Marie Elena and I consulted with individual workshop participants. They’d each been asked to submit samples of their writing and we read these in advance to provide some evaluation and guidance. I’ve been in more of these one-on-ones as a workshop participant than I’ve led and, on either side of it, it’s nerve wracking. On the one side is the writer hoping she isn’t about to hear how much her writing sucks, on the other side is the writer hoping not to be the one who crushes another writers spirit with her candor. The positive feedback from the participants about the one-on-ones (not to mention almost everything else about the weekend) was another one of those ‘ings’, eye opening.
Here are some excerpts (names withheld to protect the privacy of the participants):
On the location
“Mt. Tabor is green and serene. It felt like we had taken a flight and left Antigua for a bit.”
“I must say I couldn’t imagine a better location; so close to nature, peaceful, relaxing with plenty for the senses to tune into not just for separation from the busy, intrusive world but also to stimulate creativity.”
“The ability to connect with nature, or to have a feeling of an almost all-seeing eye from the balcony for example, was an enlightenment to the whole theme of perspective, and observation and finding the story you want to tell.”
On the sessions
“It felt like we were living the education we were receiving…”
“Of the sessions two of them that I found most challenging were the session that was based on the photo prompt by Brenda Lee Browne and the Session on fictionalizing personal experiences and emotions facilitated by Marie-Elena John-Smith. Both of these sessions took me way outside my comfort zone and asked me to dig further into my writing ability than I thought I could. ”
“…I felt like what I could create, though different, could be just as well appreciated; I did not feel like (it was/I was) any less.”
**UPDATE** “It was comfortable, familiar, easy to blend into and get lost in…Most surprising to me was the ease with which words flowed in response to the various writing exercises…Each writing exercise opened me up, brought out thoughts and feelings and awareness that, prior to, I wasn’t conscious of… and in the awareness I learned more about myself as a writer.”
On the one-on-ones
“…the one-on-one sessions were inspiring, on point and allowed us to see possibilities we haven’t considered.”
“That was very enlightening for me, and from the fact that she referenced things she had seen me do or say and not say throughout the workshop made me feel like I was a speaking to a person who, not only knew her craft, but genuinely cared or was interested about mine.”
“It was very helpful to have both strong points of my pieces and my issues highlighted and be given suggestions on how to make my work better. This session encouraged me to keep working on my craft and to pay special attention to my editing process.”
“The one on one time was welcomed and I appreciated the tenderness yet realness of the critique.”
“I came away recognizing a few of my weak areas; it was what I needed to hear to grow.”
*UPDATE* “Under the capable guidance of the more experienced writers – Joanne, Brenda Lee and Marie Elena – I came to accept the uniqueness of my voice, the significance of stories seen and shared through my eyes. During my one-on-one session with Joanne she said something in her nonchalant way that, for me, was like a big sister shaking sense into the younger. She said ‘you are a writer, you may not be aware of it yet, but you are a writer!‘. …She said many things in that brief meeting that resonated with me, but the most significant was the simple acknowledgement that I AM a writer.”
On favourite moments
“I enjoyed the field trip through the village, the opportunity to make new friends and strengthen the bond with old friends.”
“I enjoyed the exercises that pulled the stories out of us and challenged us to think outside of the box, to channel personal experiences into stories that were not too personal.”
“Mark Brown got me to draw; what can I say? Love him!”
*UPDATE* “…the ridiculously talented visual artist, Mark Brown, who spent less than half hour with us and in that time got us to tap into the Picasso within and bring that bad-boy front and center… on paper (for a person who was kicked out of art in high school you can appreciate how significant that must be).”
“I also would say that the passion that was demonstrated by you (Brenda Lee Browne), and all the ways in which you tried to communicate messages to us about this craft, even through art, was most empowering of all.”
On the overall impact on the participants
“What I experienced the most was an opening of possibilities and seemingly endless opportunities to write and to work out ideas.”
“My mind is still engaged and finding inspiration in different seemingly mundane places!”
“This weekend has truly been inspiring and reinvigorating. I feel urged to revisit old pieces, rewrite some, and create new pieces with the intention of publishing.”
“It freed me – from the self-imposed shackles I normally wear when writing – to Just Write… I learned that the things I struggle with are not peculiar to me; that accomplished and young writers share the same challenges (like doubt) and that was also freeing for me.”
*UPDATE* “…the honest opening to each other; the gentle, knowing smiles, the deep from the belly laughs, and the tears, all added a special touch to the overall experience. The Just Write Writers‘ Retreat woke me up from a long slumber and, now that I’m awake, the one thing left for me to do is Just Write…”
N. B. All images by Brenda Lee Browne.
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