Every winter I do a writing series where I open up my blog to other writers to explore a theme. This year I asked my Haven alums to consider submitting a piece about what it took to get themselves to the retreat, what their blocks were, and how it has informed future decision making when it comes to creating possibilities for themselves in the field of their dreams.
If you’d like to come on a Haven Retreat, here’s our 2015 calendar:
February 25- March 1 (only a few spaces left)
June 3-7 (filling fast)
June 17-21 (filling fast)
April 29- May 3- Haven joins the fabulous luxury guest ranch Ranch at Rock Creek for an activity-based retreat that will blow your mind!
Click here for more info. You do not have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker…
So now I hand my blog over to the first two writers in this series: Suzanne Brazil and Christie Coombs.
By Suzanne Brazil
I woke up the last week of March 2014 and checked Facebook from my phone in bed. My talented, funny sister had started a blog. WTF?! How dare she? The big sister in me was proud but the 48-going-on-49-year-old wannabe writer in me was enraged! I was the writer in this family. At holidays, around the lunchmeat and hardening cheese tray, I got to act fake-modest whenever someone asked “when are you finally going to make us all rich by writing a bestseller?”
Aside from anger, my overwhelming emotion was fear. Had I wasted all my time, all my talent, all my possibilities? I had been writing on and off my entire life but never believed I could “be” a writer. What could I do about it now? Truth was I wrote a lot of different things when inspiration struck but I finished little and submitted less.
I remembered attending a Romance Writers of America conference years ago. I didn’t write or read romance novels but it was cheap and it was nearby. I didn’t attend as a writer or author. I attended as a voyeur, a writing mouse in the corner waiting for a crumb of inspiration to fall from the plate of a “real writer.”
Something sparkly shimmered around the edges of my memory. I realize it’s the feeling I had being around other writers. I threw back the covers and headed for Google. I searched for classes, conferences, magic fairy writing mothers. Then I searched for retreats and Laura Munson’s website popped up. Her name was familiar. I’d just finished her memoir and the part about relying on forces outside her control for happiness resonated with me. I emailed for more information.
On April 8 Laura sent me a personal email. Eating lunch in my car, I read it and cried. I called my sisters and my best friend and read them the encouraging, loving email from a REAL FREAKIN’ NY TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR.
On April 15, David, Montana mountain retreat guru, called and described this magical place where I could figure out if, how, why and what I wanted to write.
Then he casually said “I’ll put Laura on…” Again, WTF?! We talked for 45 minutes. I cried, she consoled. I lamented lost time, she pointed out a path forward. I downplayed accomplishments, she uplifted efforts.
I decided in April to give myself the gift of a Haven Retreat. Now what?
April – Take a one-night writing class in the city. I’m from the suburbs. I don’t drive to the city.
May – Take a six-week fiction class in the city. Begin a story via emails to my BFF about my mid-life crisis.
June – I now drive to the city weekly for class. Start a website. Start a blog. Start contributing to other blogs.
July – Finish fiction class. Take another. Write, revise and perform a Live Lit piece in the city.
August – Turn emails into a finished first draft of my first novel.
September – Haven… #Heaven….then home.
October – Helpful Haven Mavens critique a story about my mom. I submit. Attend another class. I’m blogging, guest blogging, publishing book reviews, interviewing published authors.
November – Based partly on Laura’s critiques, begin revision process of novel with confidence. Apply and get accepted to Novel in a Year program.
December – Query, submit and publish guest essay on popular website. Today, receive an email from publisher. Mom story has made it to final selection round for anthology.
Now what? Can you afford not to go?
by Christie Coombs
My heart was gaping and yearned for distraction.
The hole that was torn wide open with Jeff’s death on September 11, 2001 had healed somewhat with time. It’s true that my heart will never be completely healed. I still feel the loss of my husband every day, but I’ve learned to live without his physical presence in my life, not because I wanted to but because I had to.
And I learned to let someone else in — even though it took me nearly 8 years. I discovered love again. It was a different kind of love that I felt for Jeff, but it was definitely real love. I don’t believe love can ever feel the same anyway. The man I was seeing seemed to understand the trauma I felt losing Jeff in such a surreal tragedy, and that made him special to me in his own rite.
Then in August, 2012, after being together for 3+ years, the man I loved, trusted and felt safe with, ended “us,” leaving my heart wide open once more. The words ‘I can’t do this anymore’ rang through my head like a broken record stuck on the most ear-piercing verse. There I was, left reeling. Alone. Feeling completely empty again. But I would persevere, because I had to, and this time, because I wanted to. (Somehow we’ve even managed to maintain a friendship of sorts, even two years after the breakup.)
I was determined to be ok. I had survived worse – much worse.
So with my “month from hell” upon me — the anniversary of 9/11, my birthday and Jeff’s birthday, all within a week, our anniversary a few weeks later, and facing the empty nest with my youngest having gone away to college – I plunged back into life. I decided to do things for ME, that would make me feel ok with not being part of a couple. I did it for 8 years, and I thrived. I could do it again. To help get there, I searched for an adventure.
I heard about Haven retreats from a facebook friend. I had always wanted to go to Montana, and I needed something to re-invigorate my writing. So I took a huge leap of faith, jumped out of my comfort zone without looking back, and booked a Haven retreat.
My flight left Boston on Jeff’s birthday – September 18. Mid flight of the first leg I realized that I booked my car out of one airport, while I was landing at another. Ooops. After some begging to the rental agent on the layover, I was able to fix that snafu. While checking in, I noticed my license had expired … 3 days prior, on my birthday. I prayed the agent wouldn’t notice. I think he did, but opted not to pay attention to it since he knew I was in a bind already trying to get a car. My little travel mess-up meant that I would drive two hours to Whitefish, but I was fine with that. I wanted to see Montana, not just go there. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, stopping on the way to take pictures and soak up the stunning Montana scenery.
Walking Lightly, where Haven is based, was amazing. I was greeted by David, a truly kind soul who walked me upstairs, and told me to choose my room. The decision was easy – I chose the room with a picture window over-looking the small lake. Haven had just become my Heaven. Any nerves I had were gone. I felt my burdens lift. Meeting the wonderful women I was spending the next four days with confirmed that this was just the distraction I needed. Over the course of that time, we wrote from the heart, pouring out the details of our lives that defined us, tormented us, amused us and excited us, with Laura Munson, our writing mentor, at the helm. We laughed, we cried, we laughed some more, we encouraged each other and we constructively critiqued each other’s written word. We became friends – Walking Lightly Sisters in Writing friends.
Since then I’ve gone on another Haven retreat, this one in Los Cabos, Mexico. It was very different from Montana, but the women, fellow Cabo Wordshakers, were equally inspiring, as was Laura, and the environment. I came home with more new friends and a renewed appreciation for my own writing.
Through Haven, I gave myself the best gift ever, one that I knew I truly deserved – the gift of self-recognition, acknowledgement, and time for myself. And in return, Haven gave me confidence in my writing, and courage to face, rather than run from, that which we can’t control.