Tag Archives: how to write a memoir

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.

prints***

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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Haven Winter Blog Series #8:

bedroom_windowHelp send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way 

so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

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

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

 

Post #1

I scan the gate area for the perfect spot.  My two year old is hiked up on my right hip. The carry on strap digs into my shoulder and my other two daughters are hanging on their dad, who is also loaded down with suitcases and bags. I point to a spot with a look.

We crowd in with our pile of bags beside a lone traveller, a woman writing in a notebook on her lap.  My husband takes the girls for snacks.  I love to watch people, and now’s my chance and sitting right here is a lady of great interest.

I try to act nonchalant as I peek at this writer.  She has her feet curled under her like a cat in front of the fireplace all cozy and safe.   She is intense and focused and I am fascinated. How does she do it amid the clamour of a busy airport? I fight the urge to lean over and tell her “I, too, am a writer!” and continue pretending to not watch her.

Is it true what I want to say to her?  Am I a writer or am I just pretending?  She doesn’t seem to have any distractions or excuses.  I have plenty of both.

My distractions return with pretzels, juice boxes and gummy bears.  I smile at my girls and steal glances at the writer. She flips to a clean sheet of white. Soon it is transformed into loops and lines of black ink.  I am in awe.  I envy her.  I envy her ability to block out all these interesting folks moving in and out of chairs with laptops, iPhones, Kindles, newspapers folded under arm and rolling tiny wheeled suitcases.

My daughters are at the windows pointing “Mommy, look at that plane!  Is ours going to be that big?!”  I smile and nod, remembering what we are here for.  My writing friend continues scrawling – her streaming ink flow doesn’t even flinch at my daughter’s squeals. I want to be this lady.  I want use spare moments to capture the spinning thoughts and stories inside me. I used to write on a daily basis, before I had a family, when I was twenty one, unjaded, eager to experience, tromping around the world with my backpack and my best friend, not to write the great novel, but simply because it was a part of who I am.  Writing is how I process the world.  It is my attempt to document the incredible moments in my life and my way of finding my true self and speaking to the truths deep in my soul.  I have been writing my stories since I learned how to use a pencil. That is, until I started all the grown up stuff of marriage, a mortgage and bringing a small tribe of girls into the world.  As the airport writer gathers up her things to leave, I make a silent vow: I promise to write.  Write in a journal.  Write that story burning inside that needs to get out. Write for me. I dig into the bottom of my travel purse and pull out a notebook and pen.

I keep a journal of our family adventures now.  I watch people and write scenes and characters inspired by strangers that I observe at the beach, in campgrounds, in airports, at gas stations.  These entries will help develop characters in the fictional story I am slowly writing.  I am a busy mom but I notice things; I find moments to write, waiting outside the dance studio for my daughters, when the little one is napping, or when the kids watch their favorite Disney movie for the millionth time, I sneak away to the kitchen table even if only for ten minutes.  I have learned to use the little bits of time because I don’t have chunks of time to give to myself at this point with a young, on the go family.  That doesn’t mean I have to give up on myself and my dreams.

The writer in the airport helped me realize that waiting until “someday” isn’t serving my creative dreams; it isn’t showing up for me. Not long after that trip I stumbled across an ad for Haven Writing Retreats in Montana with author, Laura Munson.  I knew this was the opportunity to show up for myself.   I attended Haven in September 2014, and it is the best I have given to my creative self.  It has been an enduring gift of connectivity with other Haven Alum, the writing souls who support and embrace each other’s talents and passions. My Haven experience continues to inspire my daily writing life.  Now that notebook at the bottom of my purse has creased pages with scribbled passages….just the way it ought to be.

- Michelle Irwin

Post #2

heather 2

heather 1

On Creativity

creativity

the precipice on which my life either unfurls into infinite possibility or coagulates into mediocre anonymity.

For much of my life, I held strong to the pervasive myth that people either are or are not creative, and as luck would have it, I just wasn’t creative. Bummer.

I took art classes every week in grade school. I played piano from 6 yrs. old through college. Put any piece of music or image in front of me, and I could play it or draw it. Ask me to sit down and improvise, and my heart constricted in my throat and I froze—“I can’t, I’m not creative.”

The weird thing is, my favorite part of art class growing up was abstract watercolor painting. I made stained glass and wrote poetry. I don’t remember a specific event or particularly embarrassing moment that shifted my relationship with creativity from pure joy to pure terror of being negatively judged. One minute I was carefree and imaginative; the next, paralyzed and guarded. I stopped painting. I stopped playing piano. I stopped writing. It was safer to be “not creative” than to be vulnerable.

I see this shift happening with my daughter, and it breaks my heart. She’s 9 years old. She’s supposed to be dreaming up fanciful adventures, not losing sleep over school projects because she’s scared her classmates are going to make fun of her. Because she believes she’s not creative.

After I misplaced half my life hiding in the shadows, I set out on a quest to resuscitate my long-defunct creativity. I signed up for Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection art journaling e-course. Just the idea of joining it made me feel like a fraud. I wasn’t an artist or a journaler. I wasn’t creative.

Despite my inner critic, or perhaps in spite of, I took that first tentative step out of the shadows. One of the tools I learned was writing out actual, physical permission slips, giving myself permission to show up authentically in the world. To admit that I’m not perfect, and not let that stop me from doing things that bring me joy. To stop comparing my creativity to others. To make art if I want to, in any form, other people’s opinions be damned.

One day, I wrote out a “someday” bucket list: it included absurdly unrealistic things like “attend a Haven writing retreat” and “perform with Broad Comedy” and “give a TEDx talk”. When I wrote this list, I was terrified to be seen. I hadn’t written anything remotely akin to “creative writing” in over a decade. I couldn’t even read someone else’s poem at an open mic night, much less one of my own.

True to the Universe’s roguish sense of humor, it conspired to make all of these happen in epic ways. The girl who was petrified with stage fright found herself front and center acting, singing and playing guitar. I didn’t know how to play guitar…I learned fast. I was invited to perform a spoken-word poem as the closing talk at TEDxBozeman. And I’m on my way to Haven II in January, working on two books.

I could have said no to what could easily have been a disastrous guitar-playing debacle. I could have made excuses about why I couldn’t afford Haven. Yet I couldn’t have. There was something gnawing at me, luring me to step outside of my comfort zone.

For me, it came down to giving myself permission to be vulnerable. That elusive, “I’ll feel better about myself if I write it down but I know these things are so totally unrealistic and out of reach” someday list literally changed my life.

Now that I know what it’s like to give myself permission to show up authentically, especially when it includes feeling vulnerable and taking risks, I can’t imagine going through life any other way.

Here’s the deal. If nothing changes, nothing changes. I can choose to believe the story I’m telling myself about not being creative. Or I can ignore my inner critic and practice owning my imperfection and be inspired by creativity.

Every day I get to choose how I want to show up, and whether creativity will play a part. Truthfully, some days it doesn’t. Most days, it’s non-negotiable. It doesn’t have to be an extravaganza, and it takes many forms. It comes as poetry or handmade journals. Taking jazz (improv) piano lessons even though it scares the crap out of me. It can be as simple as writing a haiku for my daughter’s lunch.

What matters is that I remember that creativity is magic. Once we no longer see magic in the world, we lose the ability to fully experience life.

I am no longer willing to accept mediocre anonymity. I choose infinite possibility.

Heather Higinbotham

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

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Haven Winter Blog Series #7: “Inner Critic vs. Inner Encourager”

Help send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way 

so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

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

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23
Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.57.34 PM

Post #1

I didn’t tell her where we were going – or why. She wouldn’t believe me and would begin once again, her rant that has echoed in my ears for a very long time. I packed my bags when she wasn’t paying attention.  Throwing in a favorite wrap she would be comfortable in and our favorite pjs, slippers and boots, we were ready. I bought a beautiful journal dedicated to this new adventure, kissed my kids and grandkids goodbye and headed to the airport.

She was quiet. I could tell she was frightened.

How did this happen? Here we sat – her still very quiet – in a room full of strangers. Her presence was ominous – my mind replayed her last words over again and again in my mind. “Who do you think you are?”  “Why do you think you can do this?” “You can’t!” “You don’t belong with these people!”

That was the first time I had ever uttered the words, “I think I should write a book.” She went ballistic all over me and scared me so bad, I laid my pen down and walked away.

Her silence frightened me.

I didn’t tell her how frightened I was too.

Her silent, me becoming brave, somewhere deep inside me I found the courage to sign up to read something I had written about my mother’s journey into death. I don’t think this little, still silent voice had the courage to interrupt.

Finishing my story, I dared look up. Ten sets of eyes looked at me and one by one as they spoke, they gave me a gift unlike anything anyone has ever put in a box, wrapped up with a bow on top and handed me.

They gave voice to my muse – instilling her with a confidence and assurance that we should continue processing our life through stories. She quit the negative comments – she was born again with a spirit empowered with belief in us. She awoke connected to my soul and refuses to let me lay my pen down – for long.

When we both get tired, as a team we pick up our pen and continue writing. I like to connect dots, comparing it to laying a trail of breadcrumbs like Hansel and Gretel did. When I feel empty or discouraged, I follow that trail leading me to inspiration and words. Staying connected to people and walking into their stories with them inspire me. Listening to the world around me – by physical interaction and by sitting quietly in the spaces where I can pray, read and listen to life around me – is a critical component of processing for me.

I am continually amazed where in the world we are when the words come. Maybe we are on a plane surrounded by strangers, we might have just had a conversation with a complete stranger and the stories take life on the page.

We might be walking through an airport or a remote village far into the cane fields of northern India or the classrooms of our students in Honduras when the inspiration comes or recently on a mountain side in Israel, at the foot of the Western Wall and on the Sea of Galilee.  It is my prayer I will be the inspiration to others around me like others on this planet have inspired me.

Often, it happens in places where I don’t even speak the language.

Does life have a universal language? Is it of hope? Is it of grievous tragedies? Is it of injustice? In hunger or illness? Or smiles or hugs? And the tears – of many tears shared.

I have learned it is a combination of all of these. Our stories overlap in ways that need no translation – they just need to be told.

There is nothing more humbling than finding yourself in a bear hug as this woman on the other side of the world has thrown her arms around you, crying, smiling and speaking in tongues unknown to these ears. Her beautiful brown hands hold your face as you have connected as you shared your story through a translator.  We are more alike in our hearts than we would ever have known.

Before going in search of the story. Before waking the muse and becoming inseparable friends. Before courage and bravery.

Before the gift others gave me as they told me to keep telling the stories – it is hard for me to imagine a world without my stories now.

So my muse and I go out into the world. We retreat from the world. The best part of all is how we found peace with each other and how we travel this life of this woman called Janet who found her courage and voice in a place far, far from Covington, Louisiana in a placed called Whitefish, Montana.

- Janet Hines www.janethines.com


Post #2  

I show up for my creative self by putting pen to paper, by easing the pain with words. When my waking reality is too difficult to comprehend or hold myself safe within, I give way to the caretaker of my soul; The part of me that holds safe the longing for things past, the doubt of a bright future and the belief that either of those things are my forever story. I have not always known my creative self although if this conversation was with her I am sure she would tell you she has been there all along. The girl that saved herself in a terrible marriage: how many nights spent writing all those hopes and frustrations down when the babies were sleeping. The days spent in a massage parlor….creativity was there then when I lived inside the day dreams that took me away from the physical realities that were occurring, hell creativity was there when I made those men believe that I was having fun. In all of the darkness there was always the light of my own self expression, I walk down the corridor and the hallways with the girl who saved herself from the trauma that was occurring around her by writing down the ideas that she had for the tomorrows that she believed would never come. “Reflections of a tomorrow land” that was one of the titles that got me through sitting in a cell reflecting on how that happens to a little girl from the “right side” of the tracks….pen and paper, they went with me on that journey. I have shown up for my creative self by letting her have those days, through the tears, when she could not get the words and the feelings out fast enough to keep the snot from water marking them beyond recognition on the page. Yet still I kept writing, with each word numbness held at bay, with each thought, blood starting to ease to a dull thud instead of the deafening pounding, with each word created on paper self- love returning, belief that at least the words of this woman deserved to exist and by default if those words deserved life, then so too did this broken human. As I read through the journals of that girl who never planned for a future, who never expected to see the other side of thirty, I realize that she has had a constant companion and without knowing she has fed, watered and cared for that companion by letting her express herself when the girl could not find her voice. This year the girl, now a woman, and that companion went on a journey. Unchartered territory was discovered not in the wilds of Alaska as she had once imagined but in the remote wilderness of a safe space called Haven. I chose to show up in full reflection for my creative self and offer her the life that she had been holding safe for so long. I chose to give us the chance to trust the creativity that saved us to lead us from the darkness to the light. Let the battle royal begin woman and I will show up with pen and paper to defend your honor until the day we die.

- Josefina Barbero

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

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Haven Winter Blog Series #6: “Giving Yourself Permission”

Help send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way 

so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

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

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Post #1

Here I Am

“You have permission to be you, speak your mind, tell your truth!”

Said the voice in my head.

“Who’s that?” I wonder

Setting me up, telling me lies, urging me to be a fool

again and again.

“Please listen, it’s me, your real self, your best you, your soul’s voice.”

I hear the faintest whisper

“Who?” I grasp at the thought

With false hope, resigned to a story that’s not mine

time after time.

“You make the rules, you’re ready to shine, it’s your time!”

She shouts at the sky.

I remember you, I pause

My joy, my passion, my cause…I see you there

Twirling your hair, biting your nails, discovering your worth.

“Yes! That’s it! Come on now my love, be out loud, you’re enough!”

She says with some fire.

“Will you take my hand?” I beg

It’s so hard to be brave, make my way, share my gifts with this world

Risk my heart and be sure.

“Of course I will! Let’s go, now Feng Shui your soul, make us believe,”
She beams as we jump together and soar

“Here I am!” I exclaim

I have something to say, something to give, something to share

I dare to be more!

 “Now you’re on track, aligned and on purpose!”

She pushes from behind
“I’m going, I’m going,” I resist

And the words flow from my core through my wrist to the pen

Here I am!

Here I am.

- Laura Probert www.LauraProbert.com  & facebook.com/KickAssWarriorGoddess

Post #2

Permission to Be Juicy

How do I give myself permission to live life creatively, have a voice, tell my stories and set them free? In other words, how do I show up for my creative self expression on a consistent basis.

It all began with Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy—SARK—and the advice I read in her book “Succulent Wild Woman.” In the shape of the letters and vibrant colors printed in this book

I soaked up her advice: “Bathe Naked by Moonlight”; “Paint Your Soul”; “Let Your Creative Spirit Rush – Flow – Tumble…Out of You.”

A friend gave me this book when I was in need of something fun and crazy and giving myself permission to live in the embrace of a warm bath with mango fizzies and Boccelli crooning love songs in Italian.

“That’s nice,” you might say. “But what does it mean when you feel blocked?”

In my aerie in the back room of a B and B I owned in Annapolis, I read that book every night. Then I scribbled fragments of gratitude in green ink while pink cups of magnolia blossoms danced on the ends of elephant-gray Us of their branches. I pressed a pencil between blue lines in the same room when freezing rain in diagonal pewter streaks blurred browned blossoms who dared to bloom too soon and winter recaptured spring

It is to that determination, that woman of fourteen years ago, I turn whenever I feel as though my imagination is parched and any creative ideas I thought I captured in my gossamer net of magical evocative words seem to blow away.

Why that woman? Because her (my) marriage was crumbling. My hopes for a dream time of being a princess or famous personage of an old city of brick sidewalks and eras of gracious living were shrinking in doubt and fear about  my own ability to survive inside of or outside of a relationship of decades. While I was watching my partner bore inside of himself on his own voyage of darkness, the bamboo leaves in the garden next door whispered in the snow and  a hawk waited on my fence for me to notice him and the night air delivered spice-scented sleep on salted breezes. Odd muses perhaps, but real.

My “what ifs?” pale in comparison to the notes I wrote myself every night before turning out the light—notes of something, anything for which I could express my gratitude. “Dear Carolyn,” I would write, “today I watched blue crabs swimming up to the surface of the bay by the city dock. The air smelled like sea.” Or “Today, after the rain, heart-shaped puddles lined my walk on the way down to meet a friend for coffee.

If I could write then, as the many faces of despair surfaced like black and white photographs appearing after negatives are exposed to paper and then washed in developer, I can find words now.

“But what if you can’t find the woman in the back room of the inn now?” you might ask.

Then I look for her outside my window in the rose-gold Alpen glow after a winter sunset. Or open a window and listen to aspen leaves quivering like green castanets. Or, stare at Orion while soaking in my hot tub and pray for just one word. I often feel dull when I can’t come up with anything new for “moon” beyond “ the moon is a pearl button.” But then one word leads to another and another and after my skin shrivels and all the moisture is sucked out of it by warm water, I dry off, grab a robe and pick up a pen and notebook. “Moon” I might write and then keep doodling and noodling while I play old songs in my head and wish for a fairy to tap me on my feet with her wand and shazam! I could think of something no one has ever thought of before for “moon.”

If the moon is full, I “breast” the moon first and let its light—reflected light—glance off my skin as though I’m wearing nothing but voluptuous pearls.

“Eat mangoes naked. Lick the juice off your arms.”(SARK) I did that once. (Note-try this in a bathtub.)

Maybe a fairy did tap me on my feet—at my birth. Perhaps she gave me an extra dose of some exotic spice. A spice that shakes itself all over me when I feel like my creative self is hiding in a bear den and will bite me if I try to pull her out.

Am I consistent? No.

While it is true that no one on a regular basis is saying “hey, that poem you wrote was great!” I still believe in fairies. Something whispers “Write!” Therefore, I do.

- Carolyn Hopper

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

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Haven Winter Blog Series #5: “Finding Your Creativity”

Help send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click hereIMG_4412

Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way 

so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

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

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Post #1

 

ella

A Feather Tipped in Glitter

I have been saving a particular picture of white feathers with their tips dipped in silver glitter as inspiration for my holiday decorations. I could envision their creation long before I had them dangling from a simple piece of string. I strung them as garland outside the entrance to my yoga studio. I decorate the studio on a regular basis and keep my eye out for creative ideas to set the scene for a beautiful yoga experience. I like to change the scenery to impart a feeling of care in the space. I want a fresh palate of texture to inspire and invite the idea of possibility and permission for something new or different.  When I opened the yoga studio, two years ago, I was not expecting ownership or teaching to be so influential and instrumental in developing my creative expression.

My relationship with creative expression and teaching yoga has been a steep learning curve.  I consciously create classes and teach them in full fear. The physician in me wants to teach physically sound yoga classes and the creator in me wants to teach classes that are touching and profound. I tell myself to accept that new skills take time. It is not and will not be perfect, ever.

Laura Munson, bestselling author and founder of Haven writing retreats, once shared that there are two kinds of writers.  There are those that plan and those that write by the seat of their pants.  I am the latter.  Apparently, I decorate, write and teach yoga the same way. I find an idea and I go with it.  It is the creative consideration that inspires me.  Whether a blank page or an empty yoga studio, I love having the space for an idea to emerge and come into being.

Unlike decorating and writing, teaching yoga has an element of here and now. Teaching requires flexibility of structure and immediate adaptability.  It requires that I decide, execute and be in relationship with my work in full view in real time. It provides me with immediate feedback. Teaching feels like there is a lot on the line. It matters to me that people connect to themselves in a deeper way. Creating a special effect with glitter and feathers feels like a small order compared to the tall task of creating sanctuary in the minds and bodies of human beings.

By nature of teaching weekly classes I am in a constant creative mode. I have developed a healthier level of comfort with trusting creative ideas.  I can more easily see the way a concept could be presented in an important way. When I am open to letting something grab my attention, I can potentially bring it to life. When an idea sparks my inner creative imagination I begin to formulate and consider where I can take it.  I let myself imagine.

My creativity is often inspired by what is already close to me.  It lies in daily conversations, pictures, activities and single, quiet thoughts.  I was recently studying the yoga word, Svadhyaya. It means self-study or self-inquiry. I caught myself thinking, “What do I stand for?”  What came to me was mountain pose. It is the yoga pose of standing.  I began to consider all of the ways we use the word stand; stand up, stand tall, stand for, stand out, stand back, stand a chance, stand corrected and so on and so forth. All of a sudden, standing had new possibilities. I could imagine my students standing for five minutes with permission to explore their minds and hearts in relationship to these words and concepts as a way of self-inquiry.  I created a class around a word, a concept and a pose. I could imagine students standing against a wall, standing alone, standing back to back with someone else, and lying down as if they were standing horizontally. With a familiar word I created a new format to teach a yoga and creative writing class. I had something to offer and place for it to go.

Perhaps yoga is teaching me to take a stand for my own creative expression. It is teaching me to trust my “fly by the seat of my pants” nature.  I am learning to accept my desire to be creative as an honoring of my souls desire to express and create change. Teaching has given me permission to let go of fear and be led by what inspires and matters to me. It has encouraged me to embrace being seen, here and now, like a feather tipped in glitter.

- Erika Putnam, founder of Yoga 430
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Post #2

Creativity

I must confess, my perception of creativity has changed and grown as I have gained experience, wisdom –ah yes, we can say it – collected years!

Creativity was always something spoken about, taught, shown, and encouraged while I was growing up.  My mother studied sculpture with Waylande Gregory.  His art studio was tucked behind our neighborhood on the Watchung Mountains in New Jersey.  It was a marvelous place to explore and learn that a lump of earth could become a beautiful piece of art.

My mother also sewed our clothes, and stitched beautiful crewel embroidery.  So there was always fabric, thread and yarn to play and make things with.  There was also paper, paints, pencils, anything in arms reach you could think of to use in a diorama for school, or to decorate a doll house.  It surprised and baffled me when I would go to others children’s homes to visit – these items were not there. Or at least not in sight.

Even in college I was painting or drawing, between learning to study to become a teacher.  When I opened The Giving Tree Day Care having items to explore and create things with was first on my list.

Happily both of my daughters draw, enjoy museums and will stop to look at how the light plays on tree leaves.  Creativity is not just something you do with your hands – you first explore and appreciate and question with your eyes.  Then it becomes a part of you, like your own heartbeat.

Now after beholding the beauty of Montana, the faces of Haven, of watching letters:  words explode from my thoughts and park on the page.  
The creativity in my life has changed from paints and brushes, and now grows stronger when writing.  I make a conscious effort to create every day.  Most of the time it is organizing ideas on morning pages.  Some of my blog posts and even a few poems  started while evaluating these ideas and concepts.  After I returned from Haven in September 2012, I created the Touched By Words blog, that I post each month, which allows me to see where the creative process can take me.  Beginning my first novel has given me much more than I ever thought was possible. From providing a gag for my inner critic.  To introducing me to some of the most amazing people.  Authors from all walks of life, in all different genres and all with this amazing warmth and charity to share whatever they have, and whatever they know.  Which allows me to learn more about myself and practice the process to create even more beautiful pieces of written art.  With proper sentence structure, formatting, the mechanics of the art– with words.

In my home, you will see my mother’s sculptures and her beautiful Japanese silk embroidery.  You will also see a writing nook tucked in a dormer, surrounded by paintings, drawings and my children’s art work when they were young.  You will find five desks on three floors that invite you to come sit and explore for your self. Each is different, but contain a few of the same things: scented candles, a variety of colored pens, a plant, art, poetry books, empty pages waiting to be filled.  You will find a yard with a stone dragon sleeping, several Cairn stacked after I returned from Haven, that welcome you to this space near a hammock, close to a bench behind tall azalea bushes or under a canopy.  Where a flat stone serves as an outdoor desk.

Until I began to write this piece, I honestly never took a tally of how many places we have in our home that beckons one to come, sit and create.  Yet I’ve known all my life how important it is to give yourself permission to be free and unafraid to explore and try.  No matter what it is – doodling, painting, coloring with crayons – or for me, right now, to write.  Anything I want, as much as I want, to create something kept private, or to share it with the world.  It is whatever YOU decide to do, but just like taking in oxygen, you have to automatically give yourself the chance to make it happen.  Stop holding your breath and breathe!  I’m worth this and so are you!  Make daily writing a non-guilty pleasure!

So I invite you, urge you, suggest, shout and sing to you! Give yourself permission to find your voice, write, draw, put to music, whatever it is you choose to tell your stories with and allow them to take flight.  You may just surprise yourself and find joy.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace,

- Patricia Young Pattyyoungblog.wordpress.com

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

 

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Haven Winter Blog Series #4: “Influential People”

Send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way 

so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

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

 February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

The Past is the Future and Time Goes On

When I was young, I stumbled onto one of the three channels on the television and discovered a showing of “Modern Times.”  It was Charlie Chaplin’s greatest work (in my opinion then and now).  It was also the only time the legendary “Little Tramp” got the girl.

In a famous scene, he was caught in the machinery and spit out at the end. How did he get through all that gearing machinations of the modern world and still survive with optimism?

Yet, in the end he did it.

“Buck up!  Things can always get better!!”  Sunset and fade to black. I made the closing theme my own;  “Smile, through your tears and smile…”

It showed, through the arts, a thirteen-year-old girl, could learn to smile!

My father wanted me to live his life over and become the accountant he wished had become.

If there is a room in hell for me, it will have spreadsheets and tax returns. It was a battle that governed most of my childhood.

I’ve gone through the same set of gears Chaplain did.  Many have. But through that, I became a creative soul.  I am proud of the fight I waged to maintain my inner peace.

Chaplain had his comedic counterpart.  Eric Stuart Campbell was 6’5′” and weighed ten stone.  They met stomping the vaudeville boards and made quite the cinematic team.  I gobbled up every bit of film footage I could find, though much of it has been lost to time.

Campbell was a gentle giant and a great foil for Chaplain. They were a worldwide famous team.  His life was tragic.  At the peak of his success, his wife died after a dinner in Hollywood from a sudden heart attack in 1917.  On the way to arrange the funeral later the next day, his daughter was hit by a car and seriously injured. Three months later he married a gold digger. Those of us who have been wounded know what it is to be punch drunk and still trying to play normal.

He died in a drunken car wreck in 1917.  There is very little of his film work left due to the limited technology and storage techniques.

I give myself permission from a long lost fellow Celt, Mr. Campbell, to share my voice.  But empowered, no longer tortured by other’s expectations.

“Chaplin’s Goliath” taught me we live on in many different forms. We can matter after we depart. We are a link in the chain. Thus, I show up every day.  It is my soul chow. I want to live on in a creative way.  I want my words and thoughts and stories matter to someone I have yet to meet. Maybe it is someone who will meet me after I am gone. THAT matters to me as a creative soul; one who wants to make something out of nothing that MATTERS. What I create will somehow become a link in the chain.

Maybe someone will read some of my words decades from now.  Maybe my words will not be read. THAT does not matter.  I need to put it out there and release to the possibilities of now and the future.  Come what may.

And that is what inspires me.  It inspires me to share and be vulnerable.  It inspires me to put my “stuff” out there.  That somehow, somewhere, remotely, my link in the chain will matter.  My words and my voice will be read, reviewed, perhaps remembered.  Perhaps they will even be quoted. I leave my print.

THAT is where my heart is nurtured.   It is where my soul explores and gets inspiration.

But, what of Eric of the Campbell, of Donoon, clan Campbell of Scotland?  Long dead and oft forgotten, ashes forgotten and lost until 1978? His ashes were discovered and interred in Forest Lawn in Hollywood.

And that is what Eric Campbell, who died in 1917, gave to me. He remains here yet.   As a writer and a seeker that is a magical gift.

Our words, and actions and antics count.  Our history counts.  Our story counts. It validates us that WE count, in whatever way the world needs.

The gentle giant lives on. My words thoughts will live on. In some way or another they will be passed on as my grandfathers and uncles quotes will be passed on through me.   As Eric Campbell, therefore go I.  He gave me the gift of eternity.

That is what gives me permission and inspiration.  Maybe, even in this virtual world, my words will be read and matter

I will be part of the tapestry.

It is important to be one of the threads.

- Mary Sigmond  iamonmypath.blogspot.com

Post #2 

IMG_0041Unlikely Inspiration

I’ve lived a left brained life, structure, logic, facts and analysis. That is, until six years ago when I purchased the last copy of a hard covered memoir with a horseshoe on the front.

I read it while on the beach.  Grains of sand and drops of sunscreen graced the pages, as did the author’s words upon my soul.  My journey from left to right brain began. I traveled from rigid, linear thinking, toward creativity and imagination.  I began writing and blogging. This new found shift propelled me to believe I should attend a writing retreat.   September of 2012 I traveled to Montana to do so.

In hindsight, what was I doing? I’d never taken a writing class, attended a workshop or been part of a writing group. I’m a financial controller. My life was filled with numbers.  As my love affair with them waned the pull towards written language strengthened.

I was encouraged to create a writing practice, I didn’t.  I wrote when I could, or moved to.  Two years later, wanting to reconnect with that part of me which resided in fallow; I attended another Haven retreat.  It filled me, and left me empty.  I saw what I could be, not what I was.  I was a half stepping it in the writing world.

Sedona, Arizona called to me in May.   I needed time in this unencumbered space where performance is not expected. Each moment is fully lived.  Rainbows emerge without rain, angel clouds suddenly appear and heart shaped rocks are abundant.

The next to last day of the trip while traveling down the rain slicked red rocks I encountered a wayward heart.  She was a member of the trip team. We had just finished a meditation. It was a personal and emotional one for me centered on Motherhood.  As we converged Rebecca asked me a simple question.

“How many children do you have?”

I answered. I have two.  I gave their names and a synopsis of where they are in life.

In return I asked, “How many children do you have?”

Her pace slowed.  She took a breath, time stilled. “I have one, but I had two.”

With those words I knew who she was.  I realized, for many years we traveled in the same circles, but had never met.  Her son had taken his taken his life a year earlier.

My heart seized.  Words escaped me.  After a few steps all I could muster was “I’m sorry.”

Later that night, at a group event we spoke.  She shared she has been encouraged to write her story.  She’s not ready to travel there.  I introduced her to a Facebook friend who’s finishing a memoir about her son Matt. He passed of an addiction related suicide.  Her hand brushed upon mine, “My son’s name was Matt and he passed from an addiction related suicide”.

The next morning the group met to witness the sunrise. While most of us were in awe of the unfolding beauty, Rebecca was hidden behind her wide rimmed sunglasses. Her arms were folded across her stomach.  I thought if she holds on tight enough her emotions won’t spill from her.

I couldn’t let her go. I friended her on Facebook and began writing to her daily.  She responded.  I shared thoughts, feelings and stories in the hope of reengaging this beautiful woman into life.  In the moments she grabbed on, I smiled.

Every day I found something to write to her about. It may be my perception of what I saw.  The challenges I faced, or my family stories.  She’d respond.  One day she shared her fear of traveling to the place where her son took his last breath.  It was a difficult place to write through, but together we did.

A nagging voice chirped inside of me. I asked my friend, “If my daily writings get too much, please tell me.”

She responded “I love what you have to say. It is a gift.  Keep sharing.”

One rare night while together I revisited the topic, I asked,   “Promise you’ll tell me if you tire of my daily musings.”

She inhaled, “Silver, if I ever say that word you know that’s enough.”

“Silver, okay, got it.” I replied

“Yeah, because what you send me is the gold.”

Several years ago I responded to a blog post that asked, would you write if there was only one person who read your words.  I sat with this for a while.  My answer was yes. If my thoughts and words moved one person, that is all that matters.

Who would have known I’d end up creating a writing practice that does just this.  Each night I share with my friend all that is on my heart. She absorbs it.  As writers, isn’t that all we need?

- Kathy O’Neill

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

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