Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Girlfriend's Best Weekend Retreat

By Cindy Bailey 4.18.08

At the start of the year, I set some ambitious writing goals and got a good head start on them. Then February happened. My whole family got sick, and all that could go wrong did. Needless to say, the writing didn't get done.

Lucky for me, I had planned to spend the first weekend in March at a women's writing retreat in South Lake Tahoe. Created and run by Jennifer Basye Sander—author, book packager, and publishing consultant extraordinaire—Write By The Lake, her intimate, four-person retreat, turned out to be the oasis of calm I desperately needed.

It was all Jennifer had promised, and more. Late night chats by the fire with a bottle of red wine? Yep, that happened. Walks by the side of the lake? Yep, we did that. A quiet room of ones own to focus and write? Definitely! Access to a publishing guru who can give feedback, advice, and answer questions? Most definitely! Delicious meals? Absolutely! I'm talking lobster ravioli one night, roasted chicken another, fresh split-pea soup and sandwiches for lunch, homemade bread, plus a trip to the local café for Sunday breakfast.

But what made this retreat supremely successful in my view was a combination of the setting, the company, and the way the retreat was run.

Jennifer's gorgeous, comfortable three-bedroom cabin just a couple blocks from the lake provided the setting. Each woman got her own bedroom with either a double or single bed and a basic, clutter-free desk at which to write. (This is huge .) The atmosphere was peaceful, quiet, and inspirational.

Perfect. But what really blew me away was the company. I got to spend the weekend with three talented, accomplished women—women who wrote magazine articles, produced Emmy-award winning television, and authored numerous books among them.

Together, we told stories, personal and professional; cheered and supported each other; and exchanged tips on career and craft. We shared this collective, creative energy that I found both intoxicating and empowering.

A lot of this success was due to Jennifer and the way she ran the retreat, with a perfect balance of structure and flexibility; encouraging discipline, while also accommodating play time.

From the start, Jennifer, a self-described happy, chatty person, got us talking about our backgrounds and holding us to task. This is how the retreat ran:

We met near Sacramento to carpool with Jennifer. Upon arriving at the cabin, we unpacked, had a snack, and went for a walk. Before dinner, Jennifer had invited a guest and neighbor, Barbara Curtis, a former book representative, to share her experiences about the book business while we sat by the fire with wine.

After a tasty dinner, Jennifer handed out packets, and we agreed as a group to get up around seven the next morning and start writing by nine.

After an informal breakfast the following day, we gathered in the living room with our packets. First Jennifer had us pull out a one-page contract on which we had to write what we promised to complete by the end of the retreat, and sign it.

Our packets also included a number of “writing prompts,” a sentence or two that starts a story we would complete as a timed writing exercise. We did two of these, and then (voluntarily) read what we had written. What we came up with on the spot impressed us all, and you could really hear the differences in our styles.

After that, we each disappeared into our rooms. Complete silence descended and we wrote for three hours until we naturally convened in the kitchen for lunch, around noon.

After lunch, we chatted and told more stories. We took a walk to a local store, and then returned to the cabin for another three-hour writing session before dinner, wine, and more gabbing by the fire.

All of us accomplished our writing goal by Saturday evening, and so we decided to use Sunday morning to share our work and get each other's feedback, which proved very productive.

After lunch, we packed and left.

It was such a fabulous, energizing retreat. I would do it every weekend if I could get away with it. I'd get more work done and have more fun doing it than at home with all the distractions screaming at me.

On the car ride back, I felt what one of the writers expressed: “I'm sad that it's ending because I know with the kids and job and everything else, I won't have time to do this again for a while.”

We all exchanged contact information, and parted. I left with fantastic, new friends and enough uplifting, creative energy to keep me persevering on my writing goals—despite whatever awaited me at home.

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