I spent this past weekend at a writer’s retreat in Cashiers, NC, at the lovely High Hampton Inn. I’m actually still at the retreat, but connectivity is spotty, so I know this won’t be posted probably until I’m back in Augusta.
But that’s okay! I fretted a bit about the lack of connectivity, being a connectivity addict, but it turns out that less connectivity can sometimes be…more. If you know what I mean. 🙂
I wrote about 1200 words today (Saturday) for my new novel. I wanted to look up several things while I was doing it, but had to abandon the spinning wheel and just…write. Connectivity is not everything. Writing is.
Luckily, after our evening cocktail and engaging panel discussion and Q&A with some amazing writers on Friday, we all woke up to a very rainy Saturday morning. In fact it rained most of the night, the pattering of which was a lovely sedative that helped most of us sleep well and soundly. (I’ll let the other writers that attended and did not sleep well that first night tell their own story. ;-))
I thought I might take a nap this rainy Saturday afternoon, after attending our morning sessions and accomplishing my ambitious writing goal for the day. “2 pages!” said Sue, one of my retreat mates, when we parted for lunch. She went into town and ate at a local restaurant, to, I’m sure, her delight. I grabbed a sandwich at the hotel market and went to write in my room. (Which was also delightful, by the way. The sandwich, I mean. They customize. Just ask.) I had, after all, come up here to be in a community of writers, and also to write.
But I was so hyped up after our writers’ morning together…after our writer’s evening the night before…after writing the first real scene for my new novel…after reading the beginning of my new friend Kimberly Brock’s award-winning novel, The River Witch…that I couldn’t fall asleep. I was wired to hear the next two authors tell their amazing stories.
And then the sun came out. And I realized…crap. I didn’t have enough time to walk a trail. I wasn’t going to have a walk outside in this amazingly beautiful place.
But! What I did know was that the organizer of this fantastic event (Mari Ann Stephani! Bless her heart. ;-D!) had given us other, non-speaking-yet-published-authors permission to put our books on the semi-circular table on the other side of the door from the official speakers’ book table.
So, before the afternoon speakers began, I went out to the trunk of my car, grabbed the books out of the cardboard box I’d been stealing a single copy or two out of for the past few months, opened one of my Publix green re-usable tote bags, and threw them in.
When I got inside, I staged them as best I could, threw down the one business card that I had on me still connected to this book—which is, by the way, now five years old—and then, when seemed appropriate, hovered in the general vicinity, in case anyone should want to know more or possibly be so interested they would actually buy the book.
Bottom line? Sold them all. Wish I’d remembered to put more in the trunk!
What happened was this: connections. I LOVED these people! They told me their stories, and I told them mine. Some of us spent literally hours talking before they said, “Your book says what?” And then they opened their wallets.
But that’s not exactly what happened. Because those conversations—and I’m not kidding about actual hours of conversation happening before they were intrigued enough by me and my message to want to buy my book and read what I had written—told me who they were, and what they were trying to accomplish. And I was completely engaged by their stories, and what they hoped to accomplish, and by what I saw in them, and what I knew they could create!
And the whole dynamic changed. I came to the retreat to be inspired and to be quiet and to write, but what ended up happening was that I was inspired, and I did find quiet, and I did write, but…I also inspired. And I envisioned reading the great and as yet unwritten works of other participants who shared their huge and must-be-written stories verbally. And I was schooled. By much more educated people than myself. And I was reflected. Because these smart people were not going to let me off the hook of my creativity. Nor were they going to listen to my smartly designed excuses for not writing. Nor, it turned it out, were they going to allow me to continue to be a fake version of myself. If I heard anything, it was about the freeing power of truth telling. Whatever the cost of that may be. Because nothing else can free you the way really telling your truth can let you go.
The stories told at the lectern by the published authors that we were so privileged to be in the presence of…Cassandra King, Winston Groom (Forest Gump), Rosemary Daniell, Kimberly Brock, Jedwin Smith…were liberating. They were startling. They were familiar in the rawness of being human. They were cautionary tales regarding giving your whole self away in order to achieve a definition of yourself that IS NOT YOURSELF.
Jesus, people. Don’t do it.
And I write these words knowing that I am a total hypocrite, and that I have done exactly that. It is my work right now to struggle back to that far away and seemingly impossibly un-reclaimable version of myself that I knew with such intimacy so long ago. And also to re-adopt the value system that juiced me then, that was my mojo, that was my magic…long before anyone knew me or cared anything about who I was. Or how much money I made. Or how “successful” I was.
I did not come to this retreat to sell books. I didn’t think I would be given the opportunity. I just happened to have some books in the trunk of my car.
And a message that some writers needed to hear.
A message that I need to remember.