As local authors, published and unpublished, look ahead to 2019, some are considering attending a writing retreat to help hone their skills or improve their industry knowledge and networking opportunities.
An intensive writing retreat, conference or seminar ranging in length from a weekend to a full week or even longer, aims to allow participants to separate themselves from the distractions of their daily lives and commit more fully to their craft.
Some writing getaways are structured with daily workshops or interactive events, while others employ a residency format, where participants have largely an uninterrupted time to work on a particular piece or project. Picking the right event requires balancing the cost, location, format and focus of the event to ensure a good fit.
With many options and venues available, selecting a writing retreat may seem daunting. Aspiring author Darlene Nastansky of Bend works full time as a physician’s assistant, so has limited time to dedicate to writing her novel — a work of fiction that includes some nonfiction elements. Since she began writing more seriously around 10 years ago, Nastansky has attended several workshops and conferences in Oregon and throughout the U.S. Before selecting an event, she recommends clearly establishing what you want to accomplish to help narrow the choices and maximize your investment of time and money.
“In a class that meets weekly, you’re likely working on a project or manuscript while you’re learning and honing in on certain techniques,” Nastansky said. “A two- to three-day workshop is often more personal and representatives from the industry (published authors, editors, publishers or agents) might sit with a small group of aspiring authors and help critique and rework their manuscript. A large three-day conference has lectures, workshops, evening socials, and one-on-one meetings with industry professionals.”
For authors trying to find good networking opportunities or land a publishing deal, Nastansky suggests identifying the agents and publishers of authors of similar works, then researching online to find events these professionals will take part in. At the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland last August, Nastansky participated in several 10-minute meet-and-greets with agents where she was able to pitch her novel. Four agents requested copies of the manuscript once it’s complete.
Location, inspiration and focus
Local poet, author and writing instructor Ellen Waterston has been hosting various writing classes and workshops through the Writing Ranch organization since 2000. For the past eight years, she has staged the Writing Down the Baja week-long retreat in late January or early February each year at a small hacienda-style beachfront hotel in Todos Santos, Mexico.
With morning and afternoon workshops limited to 15 participants, the event is oriented toward poetry and prose authors in the fiction and nonfiction realms. Waterston combines prompt-based writing exercises with free writing time and organizational assistance for larger manuscripts.
“The entire workshop helps you with the literary mindset to establish a writing discipline and take that back with you,” Waterston said.
At a cost of $1,965, plus airfare, for the 2019 Writing Down the Baja event, this is not a cheap undertaking. But among those who can afford it, there are many repeat attendees, and the 2019 event had already sold out by November.
“I think that being able to carve out dedicated time is of the greatest benefit,” Waterston said. “It’s a little harder to achieve when it’s a course or a class and life intervenes on a regular basis, but it doesn’t have to be exotic and terribly far away. I think the most magic ingredient is dedicated time.”
Personal motivations and goals
Despite the higher cost and travel logistics for longer or more far-flung retreats, many participants find they offer experiences that can be harder to obtain in a shorter class that might be closer to home.
Tumalo resident Gail Hill first attended Waterston’s Baja retreat several years ago to help jump-start the personal writing and creative nonfiction she had begun working on in retirement. She plans to attend for the second time in 2019.
“I took The Story You Came to Tell class at Central Oregon Community College and then went to the Baja retreat for the first time just to kind of get going,” Hill said. “The contrast from the winter here to the sea and the sand there was just incredible. The idea of a retreat and the total embrace of an objective or an intent or a desire helps you dig a little bit deeper into yourself and peel off more layers. Every day, you feel a little more comfortable and inspired and it builds on itself.”
Dick Linford of Bend has coauthored two nonfiction books about his years as a river guide. “Halfway to Halfway: And Other River Stories” was released in 2012 and “Halfway to Halfway and Back,” was published in July. While not undergoing an epiphany during the several classes, retreats and the residency at PLAYA at Summer Lake he attended, he does credit these experiences with giving him confidence in his ability as a writer and providing tips and techniques he was able to apply to his work.
“At the retreats, we were totally immersed in writing and interacting with each other almost constantly,” Linford said. “It was a very intense experience with really constructive feedback.”
Hill also found that the group dynamic of her one-week retreat provided unexpected benefits.
“Going into it, you think about yourself and what you want to get out of it,” she said. “But you’re surrounded by incredible people who are also motivated and inspired and discovering. It’s a very satisfying and exciting experience.”