Writers are an odd lot. I think I can safely say that without offending any of my writer pals. We are not easy people—either inside ourselves or in the world in general. We can be both entertaining and irritating, fascinating and frustrating, self-assured or a quivering mass of insecurities.
Last week, I spent four days with seven other writers—we were on a retreat at a state park inn, which was a lovely place, by the way. We took over one corner of the huge common room, shoving two large tables together and rearranging the chairs so we all had a comfortable place to set up our laptops and still be a group. I think we were probably a source of fascination to the other guests and maybe a bit of an irritation to the staff, although they were so very gracious to us.
We drank bottomless cups of the complimentary coffee provided by the inn, but begged for real half-and-half instead of the powdered stuff they had sitting by the coffee urns. We put a “reserved” sign on our table set-up so no one would dare change the arrangement while we took breaks for meals or hikes around the gorgeous park. We chattered, laughed, drank some adult beverages, and had to remember to watch our words when familes came through. But we also actually got some real work done. We were a good group—companionable and an excellent mix of personalities that meshed well. Some parts of the retreat will always stay at retreat, but I can share a couple of my favorite things about being there.
Of course, I loved being with my dear pal. fellow Word Wrangler Liz Flaherty, who always entertains, inspires, and just generally is a kindred spirit. Each time she and I travel together, we discover all over again how well we travel together. That’s significant. It’s important to find someone you can travel with, who respects your limitations and your space, and who is willing to make decisions and yet also willing to compromise. Liz and I are excellent roomies and I’m grateful for that.
But I think the best part of the retreat itself was the brainstorming. Eight writers gathered around a giant table helping one another with sticky plot points, character analysis, and other writing issues. From something as seemingly minor as what a certain character does for a living to the big stuff like what a novel’s conflict should be, we took story apart, analyzed, and scrutinized. I wrote, I took notes, but mostly, I listened as others discussed the finer points of structure and characterization. And I confess, sometimes I was eavesdropping on conversations that I wasn’t a part of, although I believe that if it happened around that table, it couldn’t really be considered eavesdropping. Besides, isn’t that how writers find their best ideas—by eavesdropping?
It seemed no matter where we were gathered, whether it was around our big table, up on the lovely second-floor veranda, at meals, or even sprawled around one of our rooms (adult beverages time), the conversation almost always came back to story. Suddenly, the word that our friends, LaniDiane Rich and Alastair Stephens invented hit home to me—StoryWonks. We were, for three solid days and in the purest sense of that word, StoryWonks—endlessly absorbing and examining and taking apart stories. And know what? It was great!