A hop, skip and a jump backwards two weeks ago you probably wouldn’t have found me. I say that because I was chilling in a cabin with a handful of other writers. Welllll, maybe you would have found me because I’m kind of an Instagram junkie, but anyways. This little cabin was called Cirenaica and we writers were gathered for a writer’s retreat.
Yeah, you’re probably thinking; ‘What does one do at a writer’s retreat?’ (Probably write…) Generally when I think retreat some things come to mind, like spas, massages, sitting out on a beach (maybe that’s a resort). However, the name kind of says it all. This was a retreat for writer’s.
There’s a cool group in Eau Claire called The Chippewa Valley Writers Guild and they put on a variety of literary events. They’re becoming well known for summer writer retreats. Located out on the edge of Fall Creek, tucked behind a farm you’ll find a sweet little cabin named, you guessed it, Cirenaica. The Guild brings in guest authors/writers throughout multiple 3.5 day weekends during the summer. Those applying can choose from sessions involving poetry, fiction, story structure, non-fiction writing.
I just so happened to take a giant, scary leap and apply to attend one of these. Specifically with author, Michael Martone. Shocked, I was accepted (I’m a fresh out of the water writer here) and for months I daydreamed about this writing getaway, ‘What would I learn?’, ‘Who would be there?’, ‘Am I too new to writing?’
Preparing for the retreat, each attendee was asked to submit a workshop piece that was 10-12 pages double spaced. Now that I have a blog I’ve found myself writing somewhat longer pieces than 800 words (longest around 2,000 something), but this length felt like quite the challenge. Pushing it off, because of the intimidating page amount I ended up adding onto my Mental Illness Journey blog post and submitting that. As the days grew closer I anxiously regretted my workshop submission. I mean how could I go to something with a bunch of strangers and submit a piece of writing which talks about some of the most vulnerable things a person, specifically me, has experienced in life. What was I thinking? (clearly I wasn’t)
The time drew near and soon enough bags were packed and I was hopping in the car, no turning back. Heck, if I wanted to turn back I was at least only a quick 23 minute drive home. (I may have thought about it the first day.) Arriving to the cabin my awkwardness kicked in overdrive, but I managed to contain it. Everyone I met were warm and welcoming and it helped that the group of us was only 10 people.
Each day we followed a scheduled which consisted of breakfast and free writing time in the morning until lunch at Noon. After lunch we huddled in a circle and learned from Michael Martone, ate dinner and then had free time. The workshop focused on structure of our writing. That seemed simple enough and less scary, until we actually had to talk about pieces in our writing. The first day felt very intimidating as I quickly learned that many of the attendees were teachers and/or have submitted writing to various publications. Who was I as a meek little blogger to join all of these talented people, I had thought.
Yet, as time went on and we had free time to chat I really enjoyed the connections I was making. I discovered, what I kind of already knew, that conversing one on one or with a couple other people was much easier than a group setting. So, as we continued our sessions I observed as writer’s around me discussed titles, beginnings, middles and endings to each of our workshop pieces. It was incredible not only to learn strategies from Michael Martone, but from others of various skill levels and backgrounds.
A moment that really sticks out to me (besides all of the delicious food we ate and incredible feedback) was when another writer reached out to me about my piece. She complimented me on my bravery to share such personal experiences. We chatted for a couple hours as she shared with me her story with Mental Illness, how she started writing and various publications she planned on entering her work to. She pointed out options I could even look into and then before parting ways for the night she sent me a personal piece about her Mental Illness Story. I was in awe that someone would pull me aside and share all of this with me. Usually I am the one asking to interview people for this blog! I felt a connection with her and honestly it’s the main thing I remember about this retreat.
Towards the end of the weekend we also approached the endings in our writing. I received feedback I didn’t expect, desire to learn more about each of the moments in my story along with compliments and more curiosity. It’s inspired me to work on writing more stories about each of the moments I note in my journey, because the piece was written more as a timeline, I hope to address each memory with more detail.
Following the end of our workshop we gathered with friends and family for a reading on the porch/fire pit area of the cabin. I was in awe of all the talent these beautiful people shared with us. I did not read, but instead took photos of the wonder happening before me. Reflecting on the few days we had spent together, I hoped to run into everyone again. I am happy to say I stayed the entire retreat and faced something that scared me in order to grow as a person and an artist. Retreats like this are important for growth and to meet other people who have similar interests as you. Thank you Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, Michael Martone and Cirenaica.