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A Summer Personal Writing Retreat: Turning your home into your sanctuary

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Say you want to write.  Say you dream of  a cabin in the woods like the one in this photo. With a little creek running through. A vegetable garden. And a writing table. No internet. No phone. A fireplace and a screened porch with a comfy bed and lots of pillows. If you looked at my Montana home, you might think my life is already pretty much like that. And if I put my house on VRBO and wrote: “Writer’s Cabin in Montana,” I would probably get some renters who are taking a break from their lives to write in just this dream I dream.

Real life houses, however, usually hold too many of our responsibilities for that kind of quiet sanctuary. There are too many plugged-in things that demand our attention. And often, too many people who need us. Bottom line for me right now: my life doesn’t lend itself to that kind of exodus. I signed up for this life and I wouldn’t wish away one drop of it. To everything there is a season, and in this season of my life I am writing three books on top of preparing my son for college, and his typical baseball rigor. Add to that the full time job of running my Haven Retreats. Enjoying a little summer in Montana on my horse and on the hiking trails would be nice too!  But how to find the time to write?

So rather than complain, or become resentful, or run myself ragged and end up flunking in every pursuit…I’ve developed a plan, and so far, it’s working. No matter what you’d do in a cabin in the woods alone this summer, regardless of what your life’s responsibilities are like…see if any of this regime could work for you in your current daily schedule (or maybe on weekends)  in the way of weaving dreams into realities, right where you are.  Some of my method might surprise you.  And what might not:  there’s a lot of writing involved. Writing grounds us, and a personal regime like this begs you to put pen to paper, and heart to words.  A personal writing retreat might just be exactly what you need, whether or not you are a writer.

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Daily: (when possible)
1) Sleep in. And I mean late. Like til 10:00. You’ll likely wake up around 7:00, but challenge yourself to stay in bed for a few more hours in a sort of wakeful trance. Eyes closed. Mindful of your breathing. Letting the thoughts come in, but not land unless they feel natural and part of the pure flow that is your true nature. Breathe into them. It’s okay if you fall asleep. You’ll probably work with those thoughts in your dream state and wake up with a clean, whole, gumption of some sort. Take this gumption and write about it. I swear, this morning meditation is where all the good ideas are.  (Of course you may have something called a “day job” or children…but at least take a day a week if at all possible, and give this morning meditation a whirl.   Consider it an essential part of your personal retreat regime.)
2) Still in bed…once those ideas come, and don’t force them, take in a deep breath, write the first line in your mind, (but not the second—trust that it will come and you’ll want to be at your writing desk when it does), grab your bathrobe, and go directly to your desk.
3) DO NOT CHECK YOUR EMAIL. Not for one itty bitty second. Or God forbid, Facebook. Do not poison what must be pure, and what you have just hatched by your morning meditation.
4) Write the first line.
5) Then go make a smoothie. I have a Nutra-bullet, and I love it. I have on hand: frozen organic fruit like mango, blueberries, peaches, pineapples, coconut milk, flax seeds, fresh baby greens, and a banana. The banana makes it. It’s a green drink that tastes like heaven. Keep that one line working in you as you make your smoothie. I timed myself this morning: it took six minutes. No good idea will disappear in six minutes. You absolutely must nourish yourself.
6) With smoothie in hand, (and maybe tea or coffee as well), go back to your desk. Then give yourself two hours. At least. Two hours at your desk, writing. I repeat…do NOT go on the internet. Not for one nano-second. Even to research something for whatever it is you are writing. You do not want to end up buying boots when you are supposed to be working that meditation-hatched gumption into form!
7) Noon-ish. Now take a break. Make lunch. Sit somewhere and let go of the thoughts. Notice the world around you. Sit outside if you can. Watch birds. If your head is busy, start counting the birds you see to keep the thoughts from taking over. I’ve counted a lot of birds. Amazing what you notice when you break life down to winged things.
8) Now take a walk. This is the best way to let everything you have experienced today work through you. Something always happens when I take a walk. Allow something to happen. Maybe you come up with a new idea. Maybe you decide that what you wrote this morning is really just a warm up for something else that is more white hot inside you.
9) On your walk, if you really get cooking, try this: Interview yourself, as if you are on a national morning show like the Today Show. Ask yourself driving questions about the thing you wrote this morning. Things like: “What is your piece about?” “What’s at stake for your characters?” “What made you want to write it?” “What’s in it for the reader?” “What’s in it for you?”  Answer your questions using honed responses like you’d hear on TV. These are your talking points. Once you get them, go home as fast as you can and write them down. Or, in anticipation of this, bring along a notebook or a pad of paper. I don’t like to do that because it puts pressure on what could just be a perfectly good walk that doesn’t need to get all white hot. More of a processing walk. But mine usually run white hot. (Dirty secret: I have been interviewing myself for the Today Show since I was a little girl. That means I’ve been interviewed by Jane Pauley hundreds of times!)
10) Now return to what you wrote and read through it keeping those talking points in mind. They will be your guide in the progression of this piece, wherever it may go.
11) Or maybe you nailed it in two hours this morning and it’s ready to put on your blog, or pitch to a magazine or newspaper. But if you’re like 99.9% of the rest of us writers, you likely have more work to do. And that’s good news. Because you can control the work and just about nothing else about the writing life. With the exception of the last 10 ablutions.
NOW…plug in, do your laundry, pay your bills, go to the grocery store…
Bonus ablutions:
12) If you want to write more and you have the time, go for it! But set yourself up for completion by starting small with those two pure hours.
13) Print out what you wrote at the end of the day, draw a bath, and read it out loud to yourself with a good pen. Mark it up.
14) Start the next day the same way, only now you can meditate on the piece you started and take it further.
15) Begin by plugging in your edits from the night before and you…are…IN!
16) Have fun! In the words of Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”

17) Rinse repeat…

Bleeding, then, can have a method to its madness. And creating a “room of your own” right where you live is entirely possible.

If you would like to take a break this fall and live the writer’s life in the woods of Montana, find community, find your voice, and maybe even find yourself…check out this video and info, and email the Haven Writing Retreat Team asap to set up a phone call!

September 6-10 (FULL)
September 20-24 (a few spaces left)
October 4-8 (FULL)
October 18-22 (a few spaces left)

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The Color of Wonder: Stop Expecting. Start Receiving.

loveI remember the first time it happened.  I was five and we were at Disneyworld and there it was:  Cinderella’s castle, right in front of me! The towering glistening lavender place where dreams were made.  I broke free from my parents’ hands, and I ran into what was sure to be the most enchanted, world of wonder ever!  The Magic Kingdom was going to deliver me my first slice of real magic.  But wait!  What’s this tunnel?  I’m on the other side of the castle!  Where are the crystal chandeliers and the marble ballrooms and the gold ceilings and the mice-turned-coachmen?  The whole thing was a Disney-spun ruse!  If castles were fake, then maybe princesses were too.  But what about dreams?  Was Jiminy Cricket full of it?

The next time it happened was in New York City.  Broadway!  I was ten and my parents were taking me to Annie.  I’d memorized every word of it.  Annie was a dreamer.  She believed in infinite possibility– that she…she was special enough to have all her dreams come true.  Seeing her live would mean that I could believe that too.  And the voice of those dreams:  Andrea McCardle.  She was my hero.  I was going to be Annie one day.  Somehow.  I wanted to be the deliverer of that supreme message.  Andrea had a cold that day.  Understudy.  But I did see Patti Lupone in Evita.  I didn’t cry for Argentina.  I was too young to get it.  I wanted to dream about Tomorrow with a raspy redhead.  But more and more, dreaming seemed like a gamble.  And judging by the bit parts I got in the community theater shows, maybe being a Broadway actress wasn’t quite it.

Then in 1983, I went to see the movie Flashdance.  That angsty dancer in leg-warmers was me!  (Proverbially speaking– pigeon-toed kids with scoliosis probably wouldn’t have flash-dancing in their future.)  But the rest of it?  Yes, please!  I would live in a loft like that and do whatever it took, weld even, to go after my dream.  So what if dreaming was a gamble?  It was worth it.  I just wasn’t sure yet what dream I should dream, and I knew that I had better figure it out fast.  When these words came, they slayed me:  “If you lose your dream, you’re dead.”  Not me.  That wasn’t going to happen.  Whatever it was, I was going to dream a big one, even if the castles were fake and heroes got colds and you had to live in Pittsburgh.  I was not going to die that death.  But if not acting…then what?  I started to dig deeply into spirituality.  Seemed that the Divine would have some answers.

In 1987, I took trains through a Yugoslavia on the brink of revolution, to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.  I was obsessed with ceramic tiles and I was told that exact color blue existed nowhere but there…and that it was one of the most sacred, inspiring places on earth.  I ascended those steps, ready to cover my head and slip off my shoes to behold this ancient sacred blue and yes, dreamy, place.  The mosque was closed.  Renovation.  We didn’t have the internet so who knew anything prior to anything back then?  I was crushed.  Was I looking in all the wrong places?  I spent the afternoon sitting on the ground next to the mosque, writing in my journal, and what came out appeared a lot like what you’d find in the pages of a novel about a young woman with undreamed dreams.  I looked up into the minarets, not unlike Cinderella’s castle, and thought:  Maybe I could write books.  Yes.  Books.  I’d found it.  And it wasn’t blue or red.  It was the color of Wonder in the written word.

The same year, I went to the Sistine Chapel to see the Creation of Adam.  I wanted to see what God’s finger looked like when He pointed to humanity and breathed it to life, still more soul than flesh.  That surely must be what it took to be a writer—on both sides of those fingers– the constant act of co-creating with the Divine.  That’s what I would spend my life trying to accomplish.  I would wander in this wonder, and I would use words to do it.  There it was again:  ristrutturazione.  Renovation.  Scaffolding.  Over one panel.  That one.  But I bought a postcard of God’s finger almost touching Adam’s.  Still have it.  It lives under my keyboard, where I write.  It’s getting a little ratty, but it still breathes life into my muse, I like to think.

Skip ahead a few more years, and along came the children.  I did everything I could to pass this wonder gene to them, in whatever form I could.  Disney had failed me, so I figured nature was a good place to start.  Our life in Montana served up wonder over and over and they received it, so we took it on the road.  We went camping in Patagonia, Arizona, to see the Elegant Trogon bird.  Each of us with our day packs and binoculars, and me with my Sibleys, we stalked through the forests slowly, all day.  Saw a lot of people looking for the Elegant Trogon bird.  But no Elegant Trogons.  The next year, we went to Belize to see Howler monkeys, looked up at breakfast and there were eight Elegant Trogons perched in the tree above us.  We didn’t see Howler monkeys.  But we heard them.  Family joke goes:   If you want birds, look for monkeys.  Works every time.  My kids were well on their wonder-ful way.  They knew that the expectation wasn’t the end game.  The wonder was.

But when it came to the girl at the Blue Mosque, things were getting dire.  She hadn’t had the kind of publishing success she’d coveted.  In short, she’d sung a lot of Tomorrows, and had learned all about crying for her inner Argentina.  Book after book.  Rejection after rejection.  And the postcard wasn’t working.  My muse was under renovation.  I was losing steam.  My dreams hurt, deeply, and wonder hurt worse:  Should I just give up?  Weren’t dreamers owed anything?  Were there not only no promises, but were dreams actually bad for us?  Did dreams need to die after all?  I wanted them to live!  I wanted to sing my song on the page and have it land in hearts and yes…take my bow!  Was Flashdance just another ruse?  In short, I was bereft.  But there was one moment when I felt that finger pointing at me, saying No.  Never.  Not you.6e5bfbb430043970037181278e86c52a

It was that same year in Belize, and I was in a little art gallery on Ambergris Key.  I walked around that art gallery thinking, Maybe I need a new image to put under my keyboard.  And then I looked down.  There was a print of what looked like a marble Greek goddess with wings, holding her skirts apart, revealing the words Breathe.  Believe.  Receive.  It’s all happening.  I bought the print.  Hung it on my wall by my bed, this time, so I could see it in plain light.  I looked at it every morning and every night for years, and I spoke those words aloud.  And I kept writing books.  I breathed.  I believed.  I received.  I received the joy of creating and let go of where my writing landed.  I received the breath and breathed it back and deemed that the ultimate life:  doing the work.  That was all I could control.  Whatever this “it” was that was “happening”…was a mystery, and the part I could understand was the part where I sat down and wrote.  And wrote and wrote.  But this time…surrendered.

And then…”it” all happened.  Five years later, that girl who wanted to be Annie, got her version of “it.”  But the “it” was very different than it was all those years ago.  The “it” was what I brought to my writing desk every day, even though now the publishing world brought that “it” to the hearts and minds of people around the world.  And for that “it” I will be eternally grateful.  But even if they hadn’t…I still have my “it.”  My dream is in the doing. That’s the color of wonder I paint with every day, and that’s what breathes my muse alive.

Just don’t tell that girl sitting at the Blue Mosque how long it will take.  Or she might stop.  But do tell her that she would have made a terrible Annie.  Some dreams are better left as just that.

Do you want to wander in your wonder with words?  I am now booking my fall 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!  Come to Montana and receive…

September 6-10 (still room)
September 20-24 (a few spaces left)
October 4-8 (FULL)
October 18-22 (still room)

 

 

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Mentoring Muses

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If you want to see pure passion in action, click here!

KATE’S GO FUND ME DRIVE IS A SMASHING SUCCESS!  THANKS TO ALL WHO CONTRIBUTED!  Now for Haven to hold her muse!

Do you ever meet a young person and think:

That’s me. Decades ago. I can see their heart and their passion and the very real struggle ahead of them. And I know an excellent cure!

And then you reflect on your life:

It took me until now to find it– it took me years and years of brutal searching and suffering. If only they would do this one thing NOW, instead of wait…  How can I save them that long slog? How can I watch them struggle when I know there’s a solution right in front of them? And why does it have to come down to money?

Years ago, I served as a local judge for a national student’s writing contest here in Whitefish, Montana. Year after year,  from elementary school to middle school, and finally high school…there was one writer whose work leapt off the page and into my heart. The authors’ names were kept secret, but I couldn’t help but open her entry, read a few sentences, and think, I bet that’s her again. I can hear her voice. It’s growing and getting better. Good for her! As much as I considered all of the entrants, she was the winner. She had to be. She was that good.

I yearned to mentor her, yet I had to remain anonymous. Still I’d go to the award ceremonies and privately cheer her on, just to see her in body, not only muse. She truly shone– a town golden girl. Eventually, I heard that she’d been one of the rare ones who’d gone off to the Ivies back East. They, I’m sure, courted and cajoled her, and I wondered if she’d forget about her writing once she got to the land of such spit and shine. I knew full well what that life inspires. I’d lived it. And I’d left it because I knew that if I stayed in that world, I’d never be true to my muse. And I’d probably never be successful by society’s standards, either. Still…I had to heed the call, and to do so, I headed west– found myself in the very town she’d eventually launch from. Mostly, I wondered if she’d forget her muse and her Montana and give herself to all of those brass rings.

And then one night this spring, I went to our local Whitefish Review launch to hear one of my favorite all time writers (and friend) David James Duncan speak, walked in to the venue, and there on a stool, reading with poise and passion…was…

Kate:
…I met author Laura Munson, officially, at Casey’s Bar in Whitefish, Montana several weeks ago. We were at a release party for The Whitefish Review, a reputable journal based in Whitefish. I’d been accepted for publication and was reading part of my story. After shakily sharing my words with the crowd, Laura embraced me. “I’ve read your work since the beginning,” she said. She’d been the secret judge of all of those writing contests, the ones I entered every year as a child. “Here you are.”

There I was. After the reading, Laura and I kept in touch. She shared her story. She validated mine. Her Haven retreats, nationally known and highly respected, emerge from her own story of the pursuit of words, one that feels similar to mine. Laura herself gave up the hallmarks of the east, the shininess of ambition, to come to Whitefish and write. Her retreats scrutinize what is powerful; they encourage conviction. They work mindfully and rigorously through the art of retreating within, and telling a story, and sharing one’s particular voice.

When she suggested that I attend her retreat in June, I felt honored. I felt once again, for the thousandth time, that curious emotion of surprise: “If I was still in New York….”  I said I would come.  But I had no idea how…

Laura:  

It was true.  Kate had stopped writing.  And then the shininess became un-shiny, and after enduring an abusive relationship, she bravely returned to her roots, this time in another small, vibrant Montana town.  I am thrilled to say that she is writing her first book about…you guessed it:  Montana.  Needless to say…I want her at Haven.  It is exactly what she needs.  I know it the way I knew her muse all those years ago.  Haven would be the very thing to set her up emotionally, psychologically, craft-wise, and project-wise to have the writing support, mentorship, and community that she deserves.  I am holding a space for her in June, but it comes down to cost.  The Haven Foundation has given her a substantial scholarship, and now she needs help raising the rest of her tuition.  No one likes to ask for money, and she is the last one to even consider it.  I have encouraged her to start a crowd-funding campaign on Go Fund Me.  Please…if you have ever looked a young person in the eyes and thought…I am she/he…consider donating whatever feels right, to her cause.  

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, (and Kate’s too),

Laura

To donate to Kate’s fund, click here!

To donate to future scholarship funds for Haven Writing Retreat attendees, contact Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

The Haven Writing Retreat 2017 Schedule:

June 7-11 (one space left)
June 21-25 (one space left)
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

For more info, and to set up a call with the Haven Team, click here!

Also, I’d like to use this page as a forum in the comments section:  if there is any young person you know who is raising funds for their dreams to come true, add them there, and hopefully we can be the village to help our next generation bloom into their wildest dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

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Learning How to Ask (and receive)

If you’ve wondered what is behind the scenes at a Haven Writing Retreat…watch this video:

What Haven is all about.  Click Here to watch video!

Click here to watch the video!

A word on learning how to ask for what you need… (as featured on Thrive Global)

You hear this message in different word arrangements from different wisdom spinners, including your grandmother:  what goes around comes around, succor life and it will succor you, practice right actionbe of service.  I come from Midwestern farm stock and I’ve been grandmothered into this message from the beginning, as stalwart and straight forward as a row of corn.  I watched my mother and father live by it, and I paid attention.  But it wasn’t until my fourth decade that I realized that it was actually driving the essence of who I am.

It happened one day, a very bad day, when my world was being met with rejection on every front—marriage, career, teens…  And I sat in my office staring at a blank screen, thinking, Why do I do this writing thing with such devotion and fervor, and for so many years?  Nobody asked me to do it.  It’s financially counter-intuitive.  And it’s damn hard!  And out of my fingers poured these words:  “I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others.”  There it was:  Service.  Service to others.  And service to myself.  Huh.  My career started approximately 24 hours later.

You see, that one line was the defining moment when I held the mirror up to my heart, my intention, my intuition, my passion—everything that drove me…and staked my claim on it all.  This is what I’m made of, and why I can continue my writing life, regardless of promises.  That was my service to self:  getting perfectly clear about what makes me tick.  And so it makes sense that in only five years, I was not just writing out of service from my little office in Montana, but actually sharing what had held my muse with hundreds of people in my neck of the woods.  People from all over the world, coming here, to work with me, and be of service to their muses.  And yes, consequently, to others, in community, and with all laud and honor to the written word.  The ripples of have been the most life-affirming endeavor I’ve known outside of motherhood.  And this branch of my career has stabilized my life and brought with it great richness, and opportunities.  But there were a few missing pieces in my business that required help.  Big help.  Help I had no idea how to ask for.  So I didn’t.

One thing that my grandmother would never have said to me, or modeled, or urged me to sew into my modus operandi, was ask and you shall receive That one was skipped over.  You didn’t ask.  You served.  And you didn’t serve to get anything back.  You served because that was the right thing to do.  Period.  Sure, giving the shirt off your back had its perks.  Someone might do something nice for you, and you’d receive that gracefully and with the appropriate card stock and your best cursive.  But ask?  Uh-uh.

So here’s what happened:  Anyone who has a business these days knows they should have a website, and what’s the most powerful tool on that website?  A really great professional video that nails what your business is all about.  Fawning, swooning, oozing testimonials don’t hurt.  But it’s the moving, speaking, feeling humans that tell the story of what it is that you do…that really seals the deal.  Everyone told me:  “You need a video.  A really good one.  Professional.  With drones and stuff.”  The problem was:  I lead very intimate, private, gatherings of seekers who do my retreats and workshops to leave the world of moving and shaking and being on the hot seat or in the fish bowl, very deliberately behind.  And bringing a videographer into the equation felt incongruent with the safe haven I promise.  In fact, it’s called Haven Writing Retreats.  I try to be only of service to my clients.  To ask nothing of them other than to put their hearts in their hands, check whatever currency they possess outside of their ability to be honest, kind, supportive, and wildly creative…at the door.  I don’t ask them to fill out evaluations at the end.  There’s no gift shop.  No T-shirt.  No mug.  No incentivized marketing scheme.  If anything, I’m chasing them out the door with writing prompts!  But man…it was true…a video would really help me get the word out, both as a service to those whose lives  could be changed by this experience, and to me too, as a business woman.  It’s a lot of work to find the right 100 people a year to come to Montana for this deep, reflective experience, and I knew that a powerful video would be a great tool to build those bridges.  But ethically…I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

And then something happened that has changed my faith in the world.  I was sitting at the dinner table with my February 2017 Haven group.  It was my advanced Haven II program for alums of the retreat, (for which you don’t have to be a writer to attend), who are now dedicated to finishing books, soon, and with the support of my Haven method and the group.  It was the last night.  We’d dug deep, we were all as tired as we were alive with new breath and new beating hearts.  They were talking so eloquently about their experience, and about the future, a reunion, how they were going to fight for it all, especially each other’s books.  And they were saying things like “How can we help you, Laura?”  

Haven Writing Retreats

Click here for more info and to set up a call to talk about your creative journey…

Even though I fought it, tears broke from my eyes and slid down my cheeks, and I hoped they wouldn’t see it in the candlelight.  But they did.  I confessed.  But I did not ask.  I spoke to my needs.  “I need Haven.  For my own writing.  And I can’t find anything like it anywhere.”  And then these words slipped out:  “And I need a way for people to know just what this program is all about.”

The next day, there came a surprise.  The women had talked.  “We’ve all agreed that you need a professional video.  We’re filming it tomorrow morning instead of you taking us out for breakfast.  We’ll eat before.  We’re giving testimonials.  You’re getting interviewed.  It’s our gift.” 

Everything in me wanted to say noI can’t.  Thank you…but…

“And we also want you to come to our reunion.  Not as the teacher.  But as one of us.  We’ll teach each other using the Haven method.  And you’ll get to receive what you’ve created!” 

I looked into each of their eyes to see if there was any reserve from any of them.  They were all beaming and nodding.  And suddenly I was too. 

Haven Writing RetreatsIn a symphony I could never have orchestrated, one of the attendees made a phone call, and the next morning she showed up with two videographers who’d driven two and a half hours in a snowstorm.  They set up professional lights and cameras on tripods.  All I had to do was straighten a few pillows and put a little make up on.  And the rest of them arrived, smiling and beaming.  I could go on and on about the blessing of that day.  The gratitude circle that one of them suggested—the way each of them honored each other, one by one, sharing words of thanks.  How they each offered testimonials and discussed what makes Haven so special.  I have never been more speechless, more touched, more grateful.

Thanks to these loving women!

Thanks to these loving women!

And here’s the thing:  I didn’t have to ask.  Instead, I watched service whip around the woods of Montana and land in the palms of my grateful hands.  Thank you to everyone who has shared their Haven experience over the years with others, and especially to these incredible angels at my table.  Ripple on! 

Please watch the video at the top of this post, and if you like what you see, please share with anyone you know who is looking for their voice, loves the written word, who has a book project in them, or simply needs to reclaim the heart of who they are…in the woods of Montana.  Sometimes…you do need to ask.  I’m trying to learn how.

Now Booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats

June 7-11 (a few spots left)
June 21-25 (one spot left)
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

Film credits to Thomas Kurdy and his Ndigena video production

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Full Nest

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Listen to the sounds of my Montana marsh

Every spring when the birds come back I feel so grateful, and also, a little bewildered.  Are we really that worthy?  How can they leave Belize or Costa Rica and do quick fly overs in New Mexico and Arizona and want to brave the jagged frozen Rockies and the turbulence and the cold to come back to Montana?  How can they look down over white-out and say, “There.  That’s where I’ll land.  That’s where I’ll make my home and my family and teach them everything—absolutely everything.  And then send them off.  And then empty my nest of even me and leave again…back down to the desert and to the jungle and to the sea.  Only to do it again.”

Just when I’m thinking that I can’t stand it one more day—my life in infinite shades of grey, ice shrapnel defining my every winter step….they come back, casting their votes on this place I call home without migration.  They need this place of echoes and countenance I guess, to do the work of their lives.  As they’re heading north, I’m telling myself I need what they’ve had– color and light and for my body to be winged and nimble…and not braced against the air outside my front door.  I’m tired of my daily buck up—the forced flinging open of my front door every morning to feel Montana’s fresh slap—you’re alive and you can take it.   So that I can be grateful then, for the retreat back to the warm woodstove breath of my house.  Even in spring.  It won’t be a warm outside welcome for months.  Not Belize warm.  A Canada goose stands on the ice of the pond in the meadow.  A mountain bluebird on my hoar-frost encased mailbox.  I look at the chickadees and ravens and magpies and flickers—are we really worthy of all their faith?

I have watched.  For twenty-five years I have watched.  I know them by their faces, their nests and feathers and flocking.  I know their symphony, and sometimes Stravinsky cacophony that is the world outside my door beginning in March.  Oh that cunning allegro, oh that fine mezzo again, oh that tricky staccato followed by that day-is-done decrescendo.  But I have never really learned who is singing what.  I don’t know why.  It’s similar to the way I go through an art museum:  take it in first.  Then step forward to read the plaque.  What’s in a name, if you don’t feel your way to it first?  It was the same way with trees and wildflowers when I moved to Montana.  I needed to feel the wholeness of it all and know it by season.  Know that when the dandelions are out, that the bears are coming to the avalanche chutes.  Know that when the calypso orchids are blooming, it will be time to celebrate my first born’s birthday.

But yesterday, it was time to know the symphony by its players.  It overcame me like a long lived itch that I suddenly needed to relieve.  I don’t know exactly why and maybe it doesn’t matter.  Maybe because I’m finishing a novel I’ve been writing for two years and I already miss its characters.  Maybe it’s because a year from now, my youngest child will be planning his college migration.  For whatever reason, yesterday, I sequestered myself to my bed and cranked open the window as wide as it would go.  And I listened to the marsh below, piece meal.  Song by song.  All day.  Picking out their riffs and going on the internet to birding websites to hear the songs from the singers I suspected.

Who knew that a little thing like a nuthatch made that roadrunner’s meeep meeep?  I’d thought it must be a furry creature all these years, slicing through the forest’s music.  And that upward aria I’ve heard for so long, usually at dusk?  A little thrush I’ve never laid eyes on but who surely lives in my back yard, faithfully and hopefully:  the Swainson’s thrush.  I knew the bossy red-winged blackbirds, of course, because how can you miss them?  And the ubiquitous robin’s song.  You have to be paying no attention at all to miss those.  And the chickadee’s my tree, this time of year.  But the one I really wanted to know, was what I’ve always thought must be our western version of the mockingbird—that schizophrenic song that doesn’t know quite what it wants to say.  And yet it says it over and over.  I scoured the internet and my bird books trying to find what bird was behind this rote sentence in too many genres.  I’ve always wanted to tell it to settle on one.  I like the poetry at the end, personally, not the throat-clearing at the beginning, or the screeching in the middle.  I figured it had to be something rare.  Something elusive.  Maybe even exotic that I’d missed in all my wandering in the woods, looking up, paying attention.

Finally, at the end of the day I thought, What about a sparrow?  A regular old sparrow.  What song do they sing?  And you guessed it.  That one.

My son came in and said, “What are you doing?”

“Learning my bird songs finally.  Did you know that the most simple birds make the most unique songs?  And the smallest make the loudest.  And the biggest birds, sometimes the faintest.”

“I’m going skiing.  It’s the last day the mountain is open.”

“We need to make that list of colleges to look at, you know.  Soon.”

“I know.”

Then my daughter wrote me a text from her college dorm room in California.  “I’m going camping for my birthday.  You know I swam with a blue whale over spring break in Baja.  I don’t think I told you.”

And I wrote her back, “I’m so proud of you.  I hope you know that.”

And I thought…maybe it’s time to learn them all…so I can say a proper good bye.  Because they come back, you know.  They come back.

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

June 7-11 (a few spaces left)

June 21-25 (a few spaces left)

September 6-10, 20-24

October 4-8, 18-22

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New Year’s Hope: Winged Victory

So Now What?

So now what?

Not very long ago, I was told that I would lose my life as I was used to living it.  “Fasten your seatbelt,” someone said—someone who’d recently been through a divorce, lost her house, her children half the time, her dignity.  Her face had the map of near-catastrophe to show for it.  As I looked down the unconscionable barrel of divorce, another recent divorcee said, “Out of the two of you, I put my money on the pony that is you.”  I looked at her dumbfounded.  I had never been the bread winner.  I was the hearth keeper and full-time mother.  That was the agreement from the beginning and for twenty years, and I had put all of my security and dreams into the life we had created, the house, the land, the marriage, the co-parenting.  So, I was fetal with fear, trying to figure out how to get out of bed and have the courage for tea, never mind total reinvention worthy of a good bet.

According to statistics, my parting husband, the mediator, and most everyone I knew, I was going to have to down-size.  The house was in foreclosure, I didn’t have health insurance, savings, a job, or any income whatsoever.  How was this possible for a smart, savvy, well-educated, well-raised, feminist mother?  That’s what I asked myself on a rolling tape that tsunami-d over me until I was barely holding the weeds at the bottom of the ocean of fear, and worst of all, shame.

Another divorcee said, “I promise you…in one year’s time…your life will be better than you could ever imagine it.  I promise.”  I hate when people act like they have a crystal ball.  But I held on to that promise, because I wasn’t sure what else to hold on to except the fact that my kids were thriving and my motherhood was too.  That’s all that mattered to me.  Getting out of bed, facing the day, getting through it with some level of grace, and being there to be the mother that I had always been, even when they weren’t with me, even when half of their lives was totally outside of my control.

In those impossible moments, their bedrooms empty, no homemade dinners to serve, no sleepy morning breakfast heart-to-hearts, no lunches to make and wrap with little loving notes…I surrendered myself to the foundation I had given them and the fact that they’d eaten enough organic food to counter-balance whatever they now were being served—they could survive on fruit cups and Jello and supermarket rotisserie chicken, and whatever else was now their reality…couldn’t they?  In those grueling dark nights of the soul, I took heart.  One year from now.  Better.  How was this possible?

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What wings?

What could make life better?  I was told I had to start looking at condos in town.  I would lose the land that held my little family and all our sledding parties, birthday parties, Christmas caroling and luminaria, a million walks with six dogs, raptors riding thermals over our heads as we picked splinters and told jokes, played cards by candlelight, coyotes echoing it all back to us in the night.  A condo in Montana?  I couldn’t think of anything more counter-intuitive for the life I had set up, curated, procured, and which gave me infusions every day, as a once wife, always mother, and woman who needs her muse to run naked in the woods.

I have always been stubborn and when I lack the practical common sense behind my convictions, there is a question that I ask and it has guided me well since I was a little girl:  What can I create?

So sitting there in my house one day, crying in fear and desperation, I asked myself:  What can I create?  How can I keep my house, my land, my children’s lives from unravelling any more than they already have?  This was never something I imagined for them, or for any of us.  How can I make this work?  What do I know how to do? 

At that point I’d published a New York Times and international bestseller, and as always was working away on more book projects, but even so, the writing process takes time, and the publishing world is complex.  The long and short of it was that I was in deep financial trouble with no immediate practical way out that I could see.  I’ll spare you the gory details.  And myself too.  Here’s where the hope lives and why I’m sharing this with you:  On that day, I put my fear and shame to the side and opened my mind to the world of possibility.  If my friend said she’d put her money on the pony that she said was me, and my other friend promised that my life would be markedly better in a year…what could I see for myself?  What did I know how to do that could be fairly and significantly monetized?  But not find me selling out my dreams, my writing, my total dedication to my true purpose.  My sole true purpose was mothering and writing, wasn’t it?  What else was congruent with who I am?

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Open your heart, mind, arms…and jump!  Trust in your wings!

Well…I knew how to write.  I knew how to sit myself down and write no matter what was going on in my life, and always had.  It had gotten me through hard times and it had resulted in published work that landed in people’s hearts.  I could speak about perseverance and dealing with rejection and the practical application of philosophies I’d learned along the way in the realm of emotional freedom and empowerment.  I could be transparent, vulnerable, heart-in-the-hand honest and loving.  I was natural at leadership and well-seasoned in the dynamics of intimate groups and how to keep them safe and healthy.  I could create and hold the space for people to find their way to these life-lines which had been my guide for years.  And I could come up with very relatable and inspiring exercises to help people learn what I’d learned– to help people give themselves permission to find their unique voice and express it, using the power of the written word.  And as if in Shakespearean choir…a few other friends with crystal balls had whispered Writing Retreat in my ear for months.  I hadn’t really listened until that moment when I knew I could not live by fear any longer if I was ever going to get to the other side.

Without a whole lot more rumination, (I’ve found that fearlessness works best that way), I put it on Facebook:  Anyone want to go on a writing retreat in Montana with me?  In two hours, twenty-four people signed up, and Haven Writing Retreats was born.  Five years and four hundred people later, if there was a race to be betted on, and a winner’s circle and wreath of roses around my neck…and a lucky person who gambled on the longshot, I can say with humble-pride that maybe some people deserve their crystal balls.  I can say that I am grateful for their confidence when I didn’t have it for myself, never mind my future.  And I can say that it is absolutely possible that you can take exactly who you are and turn it into a business, a career, and even financial stability.

Winged Victory!

Winged Victory!

Whether you’re a single mother going through a divorce, or recently fired from your job, or in re-invention without a view into your future at all…ask yourself this powerful question:  What can I create?  It may be right under your nose.  And it may be some of the most important work of your life.

And even if you’re not, even if you have all the security in the world in the people, places, and abundance of your life…never take it for granted.  Don’t live in fear of the rug being ripped out from underneath you.  But do know what your passions are and live them with all your might.  I’m glad then, that my passions were in a row when the rug got ripped out from under me, even if my ducks weren’t.  Passions are mine-able.  Anyone can be an alchemist, if they have something powerful to work with.  And the most powerful matter I know…is the truth of who you are, the special way you have of showing up in the world, where you find the ease of true power and purpose, and give yourself permission to live it, use it, be it.

The field of possibility...

The field of possibility…

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Happy 2017 from my family to you!

So as we enter 2017, to all of us who are toiling to see brightness in our future, or a future at all…take heart.  If I could have seen that day in my world of hurt, what this Holiday season looked like, I wouldn’t have been able to believe my eyes.  I would have seen a mother and her children in Paris, eating macarons in a beautiful boutique hotel, old and new friends feasting over long dinners of delectable food, laughter and love, toasting and fond reminiscing.  Smiles that beamed as bright as the Eiffel Tower at midnight, and as deeply and wisely as the Mona Lisa’s, and as mystically as the Gregorian chants in a candle-lit Notre Dame.  I would have seen a mother and her young adult children– a trio so powerfully woven as they walked the medieval streets of Bruges, Belgium holding hot chocolate and Gluhwein, basking in the Dutch countryside, caves and chateaux where earls and knights once lived, writing wishes for each other on slips of paper for 2017.  And I would have seen them in a holy pause for a week in Amsterdam in a 17th century little house around the corner from the Westerkerk that kept Anne Frank’s hope alive, chiming every fifteen minutes as if to remind us that we are here, and we are together and we are not just thriving.  We are happy.

P.S.  And I kept our house…and am deeply into three books, hopefully coming to your bookshelf sooner than later…

A Slice of Haven Writing Retreats: 

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreat 2017 (ranked in the top 3 writing retreats in the US!)

You do NOT have to be a writer to come…just a seeker…looking for your VOICE!

February 22-26 (one spot left)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Questions Can Help You Find Your Voice

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We have just a few more spaces left on our 2016 Haven Writing Retreat calendar!

September 21-25 (one space left)
October 5-9 (spaces left)
October 19-23 (spaces left)

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

What does it really mean to find your voice?  I use this word “voice” all the time when I talk about writing.  Often I get met with looks of confusion or even terror.  “I don’t have a voice,” so many people say.  “Someone already said it better than I ever could, anyway.”

To me, that’s like being mad at God and saying that God doesn’t exist in the same breath.  If you’re mad at God, then you must think God exists.  If you simultaneously say that you don’t have a voice and that it isn’t unique, then you believe your voice exists!  And that’s where the writing comes in.

In my formative years, I had what my teachers called verbal diarrhea.  What’s the symbolism of the fish in “Old Man in the Sea?”  Oh oh oh!  Pick me!  Pick me!  I was THAT kid whose arm was raised so long that she had to prop it up with the other hand at the elbow until her fingers tingled, and still they only called on me when all the quiet people had been given a shot.  I screamed my lungs out at lacrosse and soccer and hockey games.  I was the president of the choir.  I spoke at chapel services.  I was in every musical, usually the brazen alto hussy.  Adelaide in Guys and Dolls is still one of the shining moments of my life.  In other words, all the world was a stage.  And that was before answering machines.  If there were answering machines in those days, I would have been cut off every time.  Beep.  Redial.  “Part Two…so anyway…”

And then, junior year in high school, I went mute.  I got vocal nodules.  I couldn’t talk without a severe rasp.  I couldn’t sing at all.  And I certainly couldn’t cheer.  The doctors told me that I could undergo an operation to remove the nodules, or I had to stop talking, including whispering, for three months.  Smack dab in the middle of my glory days.
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No talking?  Who was I without talking?  If I didn’t answer hard questions in the classroom, was I smart?  If I didn’t cheer at the game, did I have school spirit?  If I didn’t stay up late night with friends solving the problems of the universe, was I loving and loyal and deep?  If I didn’t join the throngs that converged between classes, in the dining hall, in assemblies and social gatherings with my stab at quick wit or charm or whatever it was that I was trying to prove in the weight of words…then who was I?

Everything changed that year.  In the classroom, my hand remained on my pen, taking copious notes where I would otherwise be thinking about what I was going to say next.  In conversation, I did the same.  I listened.  At sports games, I learned how to whistle loudly.  And to communicate what I had to say, I carried around a notebook.  High school girls talk fast, and writing takes a while.  So I learned to only chime in when I really had something important to add to the conversation.

But I felt left out.  So I fashioned a tool that changed my life.  I started asking questions.  Questions were the way to go.  People had opinions and answers and I loved writing them down and turning them into essays for the school newspaper, like Erma Bombeck.  I wanted to be Erma Bombeck.  But how was she so sharp and funny and real and deep?  How did she have that unique Erma Bombeck voice?  It dawned on me that it had to grow from a deep curiosity.  She had questions, and she wrote into the answers.  Questions held the key.  It would be years before I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet:  “…love the questions themselves…”

A question, especially a powerful one, begs an answer.  And no answer is ever the same.  It’s only as good as the person of whom you ask the question.  Of course we all fear that we are ripping off something that we heard someone else say, or parroting the collective bombast.  But even if we try with all our puny might to opine the way Uncle Henry did last Thanksgiving…we really can’t.  I see it over and over at my writing retreats.  I put out a writing prompt, and ten minds go in ten directions.  Sometimes there are parallels, but even those are unique to the author.  It’s just not possible for me to think or speak or write like you, or vice the verse.

So how do you find your voice?  Maybe go mute.  Or mute-ish for a few days.  Make a conscious effort to take a beat before you speak.  If you’re not a big talker, let yourself off the hook and just listen.  The world will go on without our commentary.  We’re not going to lose our job or a loved one over a few lost words.  Tell them you’re on vocal rest, if you must.  Don’t tell them why.  And use this time very intentionally to write down your observations.  Then, turn them into powerful questions that you answer on the page for your eyes only.  Notice what you have to say and how you have to say it, without any pressure.  You might be surprised.  Now bring this back into your interactions with people (and if you’re a writer, in your work), and see if you feel more empowered.  See what your voice sounds like now.

Take away:  if you think you don’t have a voice, start with a powerful question.  (Notice that I began this essay with one.)  Answer it for yourself, in a journal, or on a walk when no one’s listening.  You have a voice.  No one can say what you have to say in the way that only you can say it.  Your job is to give yourself permission to believe that this is so.
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5 Tips for Powerful Writing

Teaching Haven Writing Worshop

Teaching Haven Writing Worshop

Haven Writing Retreat 2016 Schedule:

June 8-12 (STILL ROOM!)
June 22-26 (FULL WITH WAIT LIST)
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

If you want to write more powerfully no matter whether it’s the next great novel or memoir, or simply emails to friends, family and colleagues, journal entries,  speeches or presentations for work, or even your holiday card letter…here are some words that might help, inspired by Girl Friday Productions– one stop shopping for writers of all levels. I have personally used their services and all Haven Writing Retreat alums get a special Haven rate!  I wish I’d had them at my table a long time ago…  Here are their great questions, and my responses.  Hope they help!

  1. You wrote a widely read memoir (as well as an essay that went viral) about a very difficult period in your life. What is it like for you to have the public know so much about your personal life? And what advice do you offer to writers who are confronting something deeply personal or even traumatic in their own work?

With memoir, the inherent difficulty is that we’re exposing ourselves, and likely others, and it’s usually driven by a difficult time in our lives; otherwise we wouldn’t have a story to tell. Here’s what we as memoir writers must hold fast to our hearts: why we’re doing it in the first place. We must be intentional about why we write. My statement of intention is: I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch-black corner, to provide relief for myself and others. And I believe that if we shine a light on ourselves in memoir, claiming responsibility for our experience and trying to parse it rather than pointing the finger, then we can pretty much write about anything. We have to write past fear of exposure, and it helps to understand that by sharing our story, we are writing out of service to ourselves and others. If, at the very least, telling our story helps people to know they’re not alone.

  1. You’ve written both memoir and fiction. What are the biggest challenges of each? What is most satisfying about each?

I think the biggest challenge of memoir is crafting it into a story. The harsh reality is that just because we go through something profound for us that we want to chronicle in a memoir . . . it doesn’t mean that other people care about it like we do. Memoirists can lose sight of this. The story needs to unfold like a novel, even though it’s nonfiction. Whether it’s nonfiction or fiction, however, the structure is critical, and not necessarily linear in its delivery.

I find that it helps to create an outline, even if the book takes on a different form in the end. You have to know where you’re going and why, what’s at stake, and what the central conflict is and make sure there’s some sort of resolve at the end. Ultimately, though, in all forms of writing, it’s about what’s behind the words, what’s in between them, and what’s in their wake.

  1. What makes a good writing environment for you? What are your writing habits, and what makes you keep coming back to the page again and again?

I have been writing for three decades every day, not because I’m highly disciplined, but because I’m obsessed. It’s not much more elegant than that. My writing is a movable feast. I’ve written on the backs of cocktail napkins when I bartended, in the margins of newspapers on commutes, in my journal, on various screens and devices. I make time to write every day no matter what, and the time frame varies. Even if it’s for a short amount of time and even if it’s for my eyes only. It’s a matter of asking myself what shall I write, what do I care about, what confuses me, what do I need to understand? And then I write my way into the answer.

  1. You lead writing retreats that focus on giving writers at all stages of their practice an accepting place to do their work and connect with other writers. What do you think makes a good writing community? What can imperil one?

There are all sorts of writing communities. The main thing is that every writer finds one. I did it alone for too many years, either because I was too stubborn or too scared. Then I started Haven, and I realized what was missing in my writing life. Support! Kindreds! Willing and helpful feedback! Writing is hard work in every way. The truth is: no one asked us to be writers. It’s actually rather inconvenient for our loved ones and colleagues. And that makes it even more critical that we find our kindreds. In my work with Haven, I’ve chiseled too many people out of negative writing experiences in workshops, classes, writing groups, and even MFA programs. I believe in academia, but I don’t believe that you need academia to be a strong writer. You need awareness, stamina, and support. So be choosy when you sign up for any sort of group writing adventure. If anyone is promising you five easy steps to getting published or setting themselves up to be a guru . . . run for the hills!

  1. For writers who aren’t able to come to something like a Haven retreat, what is your advice for creating a productive and supportive environment in which to pursue their writing dreams?

Let’s face it: we’re not going to do anything consistently, especially something hard, unless there’s a payoff. I treat my writing practice like I’m a little girl getting away with something, like I’ve faked sick from school and am at home in bed. In fact, I often write in bed. In other words, I make it comfortable for myself to go into subjects that are often very uncomfortable. I delight in my writing practice. I value the role it plays in my life. My best advice for writers is to find your most natural voice on the page. Don’t try to force it. Find the flow that already comes out of you, even if it’s like a tiny stream rather than a roaring river. That means you might not write every day. So what? Find a writing practice that works for you based on your true self—your habits, your personality, your responsibilities, your real life. And commit to it. Start small, like with working out. Three times a week from 10:00 a.m. to noon, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday? Saturday morning? Twenty minutes before you get out of bed? Make it work based on who you truly are, not who you think you should be or how other people do it. And no matter what, find delight in it. Writing has the power to transform your life. It’s something that you can control. And all it takes is a pen, a piece of paper, and an open heart.

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Inspiration from Haven Writing Retreats

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Why You Should Hire an Editor: (or why the teacher must be a student)

Teaching Haven Writing Workshop

Teaching Haven Writing Workshop

Now booking our Haven Writing Retreats Montana 2016 calendar!

June 8-12 (booking fast)
June 22-26 (booking fast)
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

One of the greatest moments of my life as a teacher and retreat leader happened this fall in my living room. It was my first Haven Writing Workshop, (the advanced Haven Retreat program), intensely focused on craft, structure, and what it takes to get a book birthed. The class (including me) was having a collective ah-hah moment, and an attendee turned to me and said, “It’s great learning from a learner.”

It knocked me off center for a moment, as if I’d done something wrong. Quickly I realized it was a grand compliment and couldn’t be more true:  As a teacher, I don’t set myself up to be the authority. I feel more like a messenger. Going to the front lines, getting information for the folks back in the village so that they can fortify the troops and secure the infrastructure.  And that’s all well and fine, unless you forget sometimes that you’re a villager too.  And villagers need each other.  Or maybe a better way of thinking of it is more migratory.  Take a flock of geese, for instance.  The leader leads until it gets tired, and then it takes its place back in the V, regaining its strength and navigational abilities.  Last year, it was time for me to be that goose.

I have a lot of books on the back burner.  Books I’ve written over the years, revised, and that in one form or another, got lost along the way.  Misfit books which I’d like to see land in people’s hearts, but just aren’t ready.  This winter, I printed out a few of them and read them as if I was a reader, not their author.  And with the perspective that distance invites, I could see big fractures that needed triage.  I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. I’d written them so long ago, I’d lost their pulse, and yet I felt that they were not totally DOA.

A friend told me to hire a free lance editor.  ”I AM a free lance editor,” I told her, “via my writing retreats.”  Until that moment, I’d never ever thought of hiring someone to help me with my work. I have always been a solo act as a writer. Didn’t get an MFA. Have never been a big fan of writing conferences, though I’ve attended a few and they were helpful. I’ve just cut my teeth on life and written every day, no matter what. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in being in community with writers, swapping stories and giving support. I believe in claiming your writing and living it with all your heart, speaking to yourself in the mirror while you’re brushing your teeth:  ”I am a writer. I am a writer.” Spit, rinse, go live it.

When I’ve written my way to the end of a project to the best of my ability, I ask a few select people to read it.  Pay attention to what they have to say.  (or not).  And then I go back to work.  This has been my process for almost three decades.  And it’s birthed a lot of material.  Some of it good.  Some of it not. But a handful of those babies want to be real live book babies, and while I’ve got current projects that I’m busy working on that I love…I’d still like those babies to breathe in this planet’s ozone.

So…when three published authors came on my Haven Writing Retreat in Montana this year and all shared that they’d hired free lance writers over the years in their pursuit of the published book…I paid attention.  ”You don’t have to be a solo act,” they assured me.  ”You can get help. You pay for therapy, or a gym membership, or a new pair of winter boots, after all.”

I got curious. I had heard of this amazing group of people in Seattle who are pretty much elves for writers. You name it:  social media, book proposal, editing, agenting, marketing/PR etc.  I quickly got in touch with Girl Friday Productions, and worked with their head editor, Christina Henry de Tessan on a project that I’d put on the back burner and wanted to re-visit. It was like the best Christmas present ever, elf-approved and delivered. Finally, I was able to see what was in that book’s way. Finally I didn’t feel so lost in the dark night of book-birthing purgatory. I could see what the characters needed, and more important, what this author needed in the way of brain rearrangement in order to climb back in with night vision. Finally…I had a doula!  ( A doula with a head-lamp!)  I recommend that any writer who needs a re-boot, or help on any level of writing and/or publishing, check into this phenomenal group of writerly elves.  You will not be sorry!

Lesson learned:  We don’t have to do it alone.   After all, my favorite quote from one of my favorite writers is:  I write in a solitude born of community.– Terry Tempest Williams

The teacher needs to be the student, indeed.

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Here are some words from Girl Friday Productions‘ head editor, Christina Henry de Tessan on why you might want to consider hiring a free lance editor:

Demystifying the Big Bad Editor and Her Red Pen

Working with an editor for the first time can feel daunting. After all, this might be the first time you put your manuscript in a stranger’s hands. Best case, you may feel like a real professional investing in your own career development (which is great!), but more often, you might find yourself fretting over the prospect of getting difficult feedback or panicking about whether your work is good enough. Either way, here are five things to keep in mind as you take this big, brave next step.

Editors love books. Every editor I’ve ever worked with loves what they do. We understand that it’s a privilege to get to collaborate with writers at this stage in the process and have tremendous respect for those who bravely submit their writing for professional feedback. So many of the editors I work with left jobs in the publishing industry and went freelance precisely because they wanted to spend more time working directly with authors and their manuscripts. It is immensely satisfying to help a writer enhance her strengths and polish a narrative so that it gets its message across to readers more effectively. Whether it’s figuring out how make a thriller more taut and suspenseful or helping an author who is very close to the subject find the most effective way to craft her memoir, we love nurturing the best possible story into being.

A freelance developmental editor is not the same as an acquisitions editor. We are not the gatekeepers determining whether or not a book will be purchased by the publishing house we work for. We are here to share our knowledge of the industry and the marketplace to give your manuscript the best chance of making that happen. Consider us your industry expert, cheerleader, and sounding board all rolled into one. We will do everything we can to help you communicate your message or story to the world as effectively—and brilliantly!—as possible. So don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions or get on the phone and brainstorm with your editor. That’s what we’re here for.

You don’t have to do everything we tell you to do. Honestly, we don’t expect you to. An editor is first and foremost your most valuable early reader. Yes, we have all kinds of editorial skill and genre knowledge, but ultimately we will probably be your closest reader. And as such, if something confuses us, sticks out, or makes us trip, then there probably is a little problem that needs your attention. That said, while we like to think we have the perfect solution every time, we don’t. There are often several potential solutions to a problem. If your editor’s suggestions don’t resonate with you, trust your instincts and propose an alternative that feels right. A good editor isn’t going to change your voice or make your book less “yours”. A good editor is going to help you fulfill the promise of your manuscript.

You are not alone if you feel nervous or vulnerable. It’s a big step, and it’s ok to feel a bit apprehensive. In fact, I wrote an entire post on how to handle your editorial letter for Girl Friday’s blog. A good way to settle your nerves is to schedule a call with your editor and explain how you’re feeling and ask any questions you have about their approach. If you’d rather receive feedback in the letter than have your manuscript marked up, let them know that. If you want very targeted feedback in the text, then say so. If you have questions about what they’ll be looking for, ask them.

Finally, take a moment to be proud of yourself. This is a big step, but we always learn when we invest in our own professional development. Working with a professional editor will not only give you new insights into your current manuscript but also provide you with tips and suggestions on how to improve your writing going forward, what the industry looks like, and a better understanding of the conventions and expectations of your genre. So don’t forget to stop and appreciate this milestone.

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Haven Winter Blog Series #9– Announcing Winner!

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So proud of my Haven Writing Retreats Alums and their powerful essays. Permission to be creative, indeed!

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALEXIS PUTNAM!

This is the last of our Haven Winter Blog Series.  I hope you have enjoyed it.  I don’t believe in competition, but I do believe in supporting people for fine work.  This is the post that my Haven team has chosen as the “winner.”  Yet all the Haven alums who have bravely submitted their response to how they give themselves permission to be creative…are “winners.”  Thank you for sharing, thank you for reading, and may the rest of your winter be full of creativity.  From our muse to yours, Laura  

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

February 24-28 (full with wait list)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

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It is July. I stand in the kitchen, crying.

“You say you want to write, well write something! Why do you need to go on some retreat? Seems like the first step is to just put some words down…” My husband sounds both pissy and confused.

The words are logical, but miss the point, and it ignites a fire in me. Through the window I see the sun blazing away out in the backyard, and I’m surprised by the power of my anger, and the strength of my conviction.

“I do! I try! But I need help…” More tears flow, accompanied by a recounting of my view of the past several years. And why I think I should go on the Haven Writing Retreat in Whitefish, Montana. I need space and support to discover a path forward, and to recover the substance of my writing self – my voice.

I brush crumbs off of the cold, smooth counter with my hand and struggle to explain. To convey that the only thing left of my writing dream at this point is the jewel of knowing. Knowing that I need to write. 3 kids, a near-death experience, and years of sleep-deprivation and stay-at-home mothering have just about eaten me alive. And if all I have to go on is this gift of certainty, it is absolutely imperative that I follow it.

My husband is not actually a jerk. He may not fully understand, but he can see that I’m desperate. The truth is, we can’t afford the retreat, and the timing doesn’t make sense.

But these things – bold stands to nurture our deepest selves – are rarely simple or easy. Every story is complicated. So, though it’s a stretch, we resolve to make it work.

And 3 months later, I’m on a plane to Kalispell to find my voice.

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Haven is not what I expected, but it turns out to be everything I need. The four days and nights blur into one another – a circling, rhythmic process that builds and swells.

Here, I am nourished, challenged, awakened, connected, raw, open, terrified, exhilarated.

I laugh and cry and stretch and learn and sit in stillness and silence to face my loudest fears.

I find a single thread that will become my voice, and follow it as it grows stronger, truer, and more substantial. Soon it will carry all my weight.

I am given a path, and a plan to carve out time and space to write – even in the busyness and noise and engulfing nature of motherhood.

I begin to hope.

***Forward

I’m back to my real life now. And back to making that same choice – to honor, protect, and nurture my writing self – in different ways.

These days it’s not a plane ticket to Montana, it’s grabbing a notebook and earplugs, and throwing myself onto the page – ungracefully, maybe, but with certainty.

It’s 20 minutes in the morning to unload my heart and clear my cloudy brain.

It’s 3 hours on Thursdays when the kids are farmed out in 3 directions – and I’m free.

It’s negotiating on Friday night for when (not if) those 2-3 additional hours of writing time will fit into our weekend.

It’s knowing – and willing myself to feel and believe – that committing to this writing is not taking away from those I love. This commitment gives me life. It gives me hope, and makes me more myself. Which, in turn, makes me a better mother, wife, and friend.

Sometimes, making this choice looks like learning to be okay with compromises.

Perhaps it’s okay to throw all the kids in the backyard for half an hour, forbidden from entering the house?

Perhaps it’s okay to allow a few viewings of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (or worse), in this formerly TV-free house?

IMG_0544Or to serve less-healthy dinners a few nights a week to save an hour or two of cooking time?

Experimenting with alternative ways to buy time doesn’t always feel great. I’m still learning. Still haggling with myself. Testing the limits in different directions to see which sacrifices and which trade-offs feel acceptable or sustainable.

Tonight I am not writing. But since that part of me has been resurrected, it’s always running in the background, grounding me. So instead of feeling stuck, lost and echoey inside, and unsure of my direction or purpose, I can embrace all of the not-writing parts of my life more deeply.

I can feel my 2 1/2 year old resting limp against my chest without being burdened. I can breathe deep, feel his soft hair on my face, and acknowledge that he’ll never be this small again, without worrying and wondering what I’ll be left with when he’s grown and gone. Because writing is here to stay.

Alexis Putnam

***Help bring a young writer to Haven Writing Retreats and have me Skyped into your Book Group!  Secure this perk by clicking here!  Only available to five Book Groups…

2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule:
February 24-28 (full with wait list)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23



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