writing together in place and time
By Susan Lynn Reynolds
This article appeared in the International Lifestyle magazine in Summer 2014. But the subject of the article is the benefits as a writer and simply as a human being of traveling and writing together, so with the announcement of our upcoming writing/yoga workshop in Ireland, I thought it was worth adding here.
This beautiful world is full of luscious, and even holistic, experiences – all you have to do is flip through the pages of this magazine to be convinced of that. Travelling and “retreating” in groups is everywhere: bus tours, cruises, golf holidays, photography groups, painting groups, yoga and meditation groups.
So why writing? And why in a group? Aren’t writers supposed to be scratching away alone in a garret somewhere?
Three words: Intimacy. Meaning. Affirmation.
Travelling together tends to promote intimacy no matter what the format. You can’t help regard another human being with more affection after you’ve seen them before their first coffee of the day.
But when we know we are in a safe space and we write together – stories from our lives, or poems, essays, or fiction – we tell things in a different way than our everyday, anecdotal voice.
We write in our truest voice, from our authentic selves. Even when the story is fictional, the voice is deeply ours.
The Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) Method – the protocol I use to facilitate groups – is a pedagogical practice with a track record of producing outstanding writing and keeping writers safe, so that they can say their truest things (even if they’re said in fiction).
The effect this has on a group who are travelling together, or on retreat together, is electric. People recognize that they are witnesses to a form of storytelling that goes much deeper than “normal” social interaction. And the writers not only move into their most meaningful material, they experience immediate affirmation of what’s strong in their writing, giving them the confidence to continue and build.
The AWA method insists on confidentiality once writers have moved away from the writing space; this includes talking to the writers themselves about their pieces. We don’t refer back to any writing we’ve heard when we’re in general social spaces later on – eating, touring, hiking or just relaxing together. But the tenderness that happens through listening to each other’s writing pervades all the other interactions. This is likely why writers’ retreats are known for kickstarting new romances!
For almost two decades now, I have been participating in extended, group writing retreats (of between 7 and 14 days), and I’ve been leading them internationally for the last five years. I’ve been to New Mexico, Seattle, Massachusetts, California, Ontario, British Columbia, Costa Rica, Mallorca, and Italy, to name a few of the exquisite places I’ve settled into to write with a group of like-minded colleagues.
But no matter where the retreats take place, they all happen in the country of the heart.