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Haven Retreats in the top five! Come explore your unique voice with me in Montana!

2014 Haven Writing Retreats in gorgeous Whitefish, Montana
September 10-14 (one spot left)
September 24-28 (FULL)
October 8-12 (limited space)
October 22-26 (limited space)

email Laura for more info: laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

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Testimonial: Haven was more than I expected. I knew I’d get so much out of it. I got that and more. My intention in attending Haven was to free myself as a writer. Wow did it loosen the chains! I’m working on a book and am experiencing all the attendant self-doubt and stymie, having never written one before. I’d never even shared my writing before Haven. I’ve never in fact admitted to myself I am a writer. Through Haven I have a confidence I’ve never had, and renewed motivation, not to mention some insightful technical and industry guidance. I can now say with assurance, I am a writer, no matter if I’m published or if I just write for enjoyment. Above all, the one-on-one time with Laura was priceless. To have someone of Laura’s accomplishment and talent read my work and offer feedback was a rare and invaluable opportunity. It is a ‘must-do’ if you attend Haven. From structure, to voice, to engaging the reader, Laura helped me find my way. The insight she offered informs and energizes my writing even after Haven. The class exercises helped free my writing and encouraged me to actually share it with others. What a fantastic way to help you get out of your own way. Those group exercises were a safe and free zone to just play, as were the evening readings. Not everyone at Haven considers his or herself a writer, so there was a wonderful diversity of work and commentary in our group sessions. The different intentions, perspectives, and life experiences made the time together that much more powerful. Everyone brought and left with something different. As Laura once said to me, “Haven meets you where you need to be met.” She couldn’t have been more right. I don’t know how long Laura will continue to offer Haven and especially the one-on-one time, but I count myself lucky to have benefited from her total generosity of spirit, talent, counsel and passion. Thank you Laura! Thank you Haven!– Heidi Knippa, Austin, TX

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Walden– 2014-style.

IMG_0161Now booking our upcoming 2014 Haven Writing Retreats and since they were named in the top five writing retreats in the country, they are filling fast!  Give yourself this powerful gift…
September 10-14 (ALMOST FULL)
September 24-28 (ALMOST FULL)
October 8-12
October 22-26

For more information, email me at:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

I 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.

This house however, currently holds too many responsibilities for that kind of quiet sanctuary. There are too many plugged-in things that demand my attention. Bottom line is: right now, my life doesn’t lend itself to that kind of exodus. I signed up for this 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 sending my daughter off to college and a summer of my son’s baseball Allstars 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!

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 for a month, see if any of this regime could work for you in your current daily schedule in the way of weaving dreams into realities.  Some of my method might surprise you.

Laura’s Walden 2014 IMG_0014

Day One:and beyond…
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 writing practice.)
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?” 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.” Bleeding, then, can have a method to its madness.IMG_0164

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My Happily Ever After: what I’ve learned from writing something that a lot of people read.

author_photos_heath 008You never really know where life will lead you, but if you live with pure intention and feed what you love with all your might, consistently and honestly…you might find yourself in places you’d never dreamed you’d go. 

That happened to me in 2009 when I published the essay version of a memoir I’d written in the New York Times Modern Love column.  The entry point was a marital crisis, but the book and the essay were not really about marriage.  They were about being responsible for your own well-being no matter what’s going on in your life.  They were about focusing on what you can control and letting go of the rest.  And they were about powerfully choosing to not play emotional victim to the things that others say and do to you.

The book (This Is Not The Story You Think It Is) became a New York Times and international best-seller, and that essay went viral.  Today, five years later, the essay is having a resurgence all over the internet and in The Week magazine where thousands of people have made comments, and over 200,000 people have shared it.  That number is increasing by thousands every hour.  (At this moment of writing, it’s at 214K.  When I finish this post, if it is going the direction it’s been going, we could be at 22K, and I write fast!)  It has been the top read article for days on The Week, sparking blog posts and ribald conversation on social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter and beyond. 

Normally, I don’t follow this sort of stuff.  I’m a writer and a mother and those things take up most of my time.  I’ve learned that media often manipulates the meaning of my message and unfortunately a lot of the press I’ve gotten spins my essay/book to make it about how a woman saves her marriage.  But it’s not about that.  It’s about saving yourself.  Turns out, people aren’t easily open to that message.  People are used to playing emotional victim, and society re-enforces that.  I see things another way, and when you offer new solutions, people oftentimes not only don’t want to hear them, they go on attack mode.  I don’t have much room for that.  I wrote that essay and that book to help myself process a difficult time in my life, and I wrote it to help others do the same.  It has helped people all over the world and when I wonder whatever possessed me to be the main character in a book (I normally write fiction), I take heart in the knowledge that I have been true to my author’s statement:  I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others.  If I have helped one person out there, then it’s all worth it.  And I’ve heard from thousands of people who tell me my writing has done just that. 

I walked a line of integrity throughout the whole experience of book promotion, not exposing my family outside of their comfort zone, not naming names, and turning down major media when my gut told me that it wasn’t right.  And I mean MAJOR media.  My message never has been about staying in a relationship.  It’s about taking care of yourself and stepping outside of emotional suffering to do so.  Moment by moment.  Thought by thought.  Breath by breath.  Stepping into the most powerful question I know and that’s:  What can I create?  You don’t have to suffer, even under fierce rejection.  Even when your spouse says, “I don’t love you anymore.”  I’m here to tell you—this is the exact time to find the greatest emotional freedom of your life!  You don’t have to take that personally!  Nor do you have to take “You’re fired” personally.  Or “You’re a jerk” or “You didn’t win the prize.”  These are just words.  I’m not always good at it, but it’s a practice I’m dedicated to because it works.  It’s truth.  I own what there is to own, set boundaries for myself, and mind my own business.  It’s actually easy once we gain the self-awareness that it’s possible to choose our own happiness no matter what’s going on in our lives.  And that usually begins with getting in touch with our own self-talk.  Most of us speak to ourselves ten times worse than we’d speak to our enemies!

That’s new news to a lot of people and so now I find myself in the Wellness realm, speaking about the subject of non-suffering through self-awareness and creative self-expression at conferences and at my Haven Retreats, and I’m happily working on three books that have nothing to do with marriage.  I have moved on from that time in my life, and while the end of the essay and the book leave my marriage in a place of healing, that marriage needed to end, and it did.  Again, it was never about staying together.  It was about taking care of yourself in a time when society says that you should suffer greatly, fight, splay yourself supplicant.  I refused to do that.  I felt that it was his crisis, and my job was to focus on what I could control and let go of the rest, which included the outcome of my marriage.  I gave myself a stopping point.  And eventually we stopped.  And now we are divorced.  Amicably.  We are on to new chapters.  All the players are thriving.  And I’ve been given the opportunity to re-live the messages in my book/essay from a new angle.  They still apply and they are still lifelines.  And I can say that I know, without a doubt, that happiness is within.  I’ll leave it at that.

But in the light of this break-neck resurgence of that small essay I wrote what seems a lifetime ago, I am moved to respond to a few things that might help you wherever you are in your lives—in a crisis, post-crisis, free zone.  With the recent inundation of intimate, bleeding emails these last few days, for the most part about a painful marriage…thanking me for my essay on The Week, which indeed provided relief for people, and perhaps a new way of looking at life…I am moved to investigate this phenomena of the collective We. 

We are in pain. 

We are looking for hope. 

We are looking for empowering messages. 

We are looking for these things from every-day people. 

We want to know that We are not alone.

We want to re-invent our relationship with pain.

We want to know that to fight is not always the best way to win.

We want to know that the only real winning is in our ability to step outside of suffering and into emotional freedom.

We want to know that we can powerfully choose our emotions.

We want to know that no one can really make us mad or sad or feel guilty.  Or even happy.

We want to know that life is daily and that we don’t have to go to the top of the mountain to find enlightenment.  It’s right where we stand.  Even at our kitchen sink.

We want to feel connected to our loved ones, but sometimes the best way to connect is by stepping out of their way.

We have forgotten the power of deep breathing.  A long walk.  Candlelight.  A hot bath.  A singular flower in a vase on our nightstand.

We have forgotten that pain can be a terrific guide when we breathe into the groundlessness of it.

We have forgotten that life is about endless possibility.  And endless Yes.  And THAT’S where the real power lives.

Writing helps.  I have used my writing to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life since I was a child.  I did it in my published memoir and essay so many people have read, are re-reading, or  reading for the first time and sharing with their loved ones. 

It’s for precisely this reason that I started Haven Retreats which were recently listed in the top five in the country!  Now I help others dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page.  I invite you to write your way through the difficult times in your life.  You never know what might happen… 

One hour later.  219K shares.  We are 5,000 hungry for these messages and counting…

Note: As of June 4, 2014 there are now over 300,000 shares at The Week so it looks like we’re in this together!

Now booking Haven Retreats in gorgeous Whitefish, Montana. 

For more information email:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

2014

September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

2015

February 25-March 1
June 3-7
June 17-21
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25

 

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Blog Hop– Writers Writing

Over and over, I say that writing is my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life, and sometimes my way to life. I’ve always written. For the most part it’s because it helps me to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. I also write for a lot less elegant of a reason: I’m obsessed. I can’t not do it. I like to play around with words and push them to their limit of meaning, mix them up with words they don’t “go” with and feel their energy and flicker. I like to step directly into uncomfortable places on the page and make stuff up, climb into shoes I couldn’t in my “real life” and experience the empathic journey through an old woman with dementia, or a homeless teenager, or a man who lives in a small village in Africa. So in short, I’m an obsessed empathy junkie, with an addiction to words.

It’s always been this way. I’ve written all my life, and in my adult life I’ve completed fourteen novels—not all good, but a few of them publishable. I wrote when I had three jobs, when I had small children, when I finally had a book published and was in the thick of promotion, reeling with sudden fantasy accolades like the New York Times best-seller list and long-dreamed experiences like going on Good Morning America, NPR, and much much more. (This Is Not The Story You Think It Is– Amy Einhorn/Putnam 2010) But what I’ve learned in the trenches of “failure” and the altitude of “success” is that what really matters is doing the work. The writing. Writing is just what I do—it’s how I’m wired. I’m no good at getting to the gym or balancing my checkbook, but I know what it is to sit at the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is the writing life, and I’ve done it with all my might for a long time.

Turns out…this is an uncommon way to live. Not a lot of people know how to climb into that uncomfortable but enchanted playground and play, skin their knee, fall off the merry-go-round, pump so hard on the swing they swear their sneakers touch the sky. That’s why I started my Haven Writing Retreats a few years ago. I want to help people play the way I know how to play, for their own creative process, but also to help them process life. I’ve worked with hundreds of people, mostly in Montana where I live, but also across the US, and abroad. It is such an honor to help facilitate creative self-expression and to help people develop their unique writing voice, whether or not my attendees are “writers.” Everyone who comes to Haven shares one thing in common: they are seekers. I love being in the midst of ten minds and seeing where they go. It’s the best wine I have ever tasted. (And it’s absolutely ruined my ability to make small-talk in the grocery store, so if you see me in the green grocer section, I apologize in advance!)

I’m telling you all this because in the crazy world of curiosity and sharing that hatched and feeds the internet, there is something called a Blog Hop. It is a wonderful way for writers to support one another, share their own musings on writing, and shine a light on other writers. I have found writers to be incredibly generous and that’s a good thing, because the writing life can feel very very lonely.  To that end, one of my very first Haven attendees, Mary Novaria, asked me to participate, and I was thrilled to come along for the ride, as well as pass the torch to other Haven alums. (I’m fiercely devoted to anyone who comes to Haven to take a powerful stand for their creative self-expression and very honored that the Haven Retreat was just named (on April 22nd, only two years since its inception) one of the top five retreats in the US by Open Road Media!) These Haven writers are listed below, along with their photos, bios, and links and you can look forward to their answers to the following questions next Monday on their blogs. Please tune in and enjoy!

With my trusty pen!

With my trusty pen!

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Blog Hop Questions:
1) What am I working on/writing?
I am writing three books: a novel, of which I have a very solid first draft. A memoir about the mythic trenches of “failure” and the mythic altitude of “success.” Or, in plainer terms, about the oddities and hopeful grace found in kissing youth good-bye and (for the most part) embracing the new chapters of middle-age. And a book about the writing life which is full of stories of my personal journey, and practical information that I have gleaned from both living it, and teaching it at Haven Retreats.

2) How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?
People tell me all the time that they don’t have a unique writing Voice. That they’re searching for it. But what I get to see at Haven, is that we already have our “voice.” It’s about tuning in to where it flows most naturally, rather than grabbing it by the horns and wrestling it to the ground. It’s about getting in touch with your inner critic and telling her/him that it’s just a scared child and it’s time to go back to sleep. Mama’s in charge. It’s about trusting that it is actually impossible to experience a single moment with a group of people and all write about it the same way. Even if we tried. So the answer to this question is that no two writing “voices” are the same. It’s impossible. My voice is my voice. Yours is yours. And that is a beautiful thing.  I write novels, memoir, personal essay, short stories, sometimes a rare poem, articles, screenplay…so I’m not in one particular genre. (Think Sybil.)  But you can bet that every single thing I write comes from two things:  years and years of hard work and this central author’s statement of mine:  I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner, to provide relief for myself and others.  I’m not sure if that shows up in my work and thereby makes it “different” than other work in my genres, but I would like to think so.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I think I covered that in my intro. My Author’s Statement nails it.  When I’m wondering why I spend so much time doing this crazy, financially unreliable, socially embarrassing, and sometimes gut-wrenching thing called writing, dealing with so much rejection and an industry in transition…I refer to my Author’s Statement, and it helps set me back on course.  I wrote it one day when I felt pure despair.  Taped it to my computer.  And refer to it every day while I’m sitting here navel-gazing.

4) How does my writing process work?
First of all, I don’t believe in writer’s block. As a parent, it has been a core value to raise flexible people. I would say the same for the writer I’ve “raised” in myself. I do not need a certain kind of environment, device, screen, paper, pen (although I do covet the navy blue Pentel uniball, and everyone on my retreats gets one for free!  Bonus prize!!!).  I can write wherever, whenever. Hemingway said he couldn’t write in the cabin of an airplane. I do a lot of writing when I’m on airplanes and most of it is in my journal and reads like this: “Please don’t let us crash, please don’t let us crash, please don’t let us crash” so if my journals are ever published posthumously, everybody will think I am a total nut case, but writers are used to that public opinion of them, or should be if they’re not already. Because no one asked us to do this work. It’s considered masturbatory at best, and narcissistic drivel at the least, and for the most part, your family and friends are embarrassed that you do it in the first place, especially if you write a memoir. You do it for yourself, and maybe you do it for other people. And you get rejected. A lot. Mostly, you get rejected. So you better know WHY you are doing it. At Haven, we write an Author’s Statement which we share the last night. It’s a one liner about why we write, that I encourage people to bring home and put someplace very safe for them—their nightstand, their kitchen sink, their computer (if it is in fact safe and not a fire-breathing dragon). In other words, the writing life ain’t for sissies, so you better be able to open that vein and bleed no matter where you are. Everyone’s different. I usually write daily in the mid-morning to early afternoon and for a large part of the weekend. I average about five double-spaced pages a day.  (I’m not a word count person– I go by pages.)  On a really great day when I’m really cranking, I can get around eight double-spaced pages but that’s a lot.  I once wrote twenty-four double-spaced pages in one day and that was just way too many pages to be any good.  Always Times New Roman. 12 pt. Regular margins. Some of it’s compost. Some of it: keepers.

MEET NEXT WEEKS’ HAVEN BLOG HOPPERS:

Sukey Forbes: 1395938_10152011952349540_130556359_n
At the age of 12 a family friend gave me a black leather-bound artists sketchbook to use as a journal that I have to this day. It was the first of many that I have kept and in those books I explored the world of emotion and the landscape of my world through writing. Although inefficient in this day and age, there is a palpable connection for me between the formation of words with my own pen on the page and the ability to access the full spectrum of emotion. The pen and paper remain my best tool. When I need clarity I have found time and again that the best way for me to understand is to write.
My way of coming to terms with the vicissitudes of life has always been through writing.

In July my memoir of loss, “The Angel in My Pocket” will be released by Viking. It is a story of grief and resilience woven through a backdrop of 
family history. I have chosen to let the light back into life and learn from all that is placed in my path. My blogs for sukeyforbes.com and Huffington Post are filled with more than a dash of gallows humor in addition to reflections on grief and observation about life after loss.

I have found that on the blank page, with pen in hand, I can rage and rail, write circles around myself and yet one thing has always been true for me: If I keep writing, eventually the truth of the matter for me will emerge. The surprise I received through writing has been peace. With each small gain of insight and release of sorrow it travelled back up my pen, spiraled around my fingers, hands and arms and settled deep into my core.  I hope some of my writing resonates with you.

Lauren Lizardo: lauren
Lauren Lizardo doles out real talk about money + technology + heart + everything-in-between. She loves the practicalities as they relate to executing a dream. She’s also on a mission to divert the world’s obsession with efficiency and productivity to – in her opinion – sweeter, heart-centered things like simplicity and balance. A few years ago, she abandoned a promising career as something fancy and corporate to start her own consulting practice. She hasn’t looked back. She is especially grateful to say she is inspired by and in awe of all her clients. A lovely byproduct of her transition was the renewed excitement for and space to write and to create.

As such, Lauren recently attended Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreats in Whitefish, Montana. (Read her recent blog post about that awesome retreat here.) While there, new perspective and creativity were unleashed for not only her own writing practice but her other endeavors as well. She is now experimenting with new dimensions of her work and taking bigger risks. In short, she is becoming very good friends with her fear. Her story is unfolding over at laurenlizardo.com where she wrote a powerful piece about Haven.

Kim Jorgensen Gane:KimPortraitCrop8 (2)

Kim Jorgensen Gane is an author and award-winning essayist. She works as a freelance writer in communications and media near Michigan’s sunset coast where she lives with her husband, youngest son, a standard poodle and a gecko. She’s been every-mom, raising two generations of kids over twenty-seven years.

Kim’s website is GANEPossible.com, where she covers a variety of topics including parenting, infertility, wellness, empowerment, politics, and anything else that interests her. She is a Northwest Indiana cast member of Listen to Your Mother 2014. Her projects include an essay in the upcoming book, 51%: Women and the Future of Politics, and she is co-editor with Dana Talusani (fellow cast-member in LTYM Boulder, CO) for the #JudyBlumeProject, which is currently seeking submissions. By 2015 she expects to have a publisher and to release her memoir, My Grandfather’s Table, for her 50th birthday. Her novel in progress is, Bluebirds. Her first GANE Possible Publication will be released late spring of 2014. It is, Beating the Statistics: A Mother’s Quest to Heal Infertility and Halt AutismShe wrote a lovely piece about Haven here.

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Haven– Los Cabos– one “E” away from Heaven

bruno_3We hear the phrase “if you build it, they will come.” I take that to heart. I’ve built a lot of things in my life from scratch. Sometimes the soufflé doesn’t rise and the cookies burn. But sometimes my raw efforts meld into a delicious concoction, and last week in Los Cabos, Mexico, I swallowed it whole at the Hotel El Ganzo.

This hotel is dedicated to promoting the arts and artists, offering residencies, as well as being a fabulous boutique hotel gem in the more quiet part of San Jose del Cabo. (about 40 minutes from Cabo San Lucas)

I came early to have a personal writing retreat after a long Montana winter, and then lead a Haven retreat there with an intimate group of inspiring retreaters who swallowed the experience whole too. Ocean breezes coming through our modern, clean-lined classroom, lunches at the beach club and Container café with complimentary boat shuttle across the marina, a roof-deck infinity pool and bar, and our opening and closing ceremonies in a state-of-the art recording studio in the womb-like basement of the hotel.

It is rare to meet people who can combine top quality service with a commitment to promoting the Arts without it being underground/indie or exclusive, and El Ganzo delivered in spades. I’ve been leading retreats in all sorts of places in the last few years, mostly in Montana where I live. This was a truly rare Haven locale and whether or not you are interested in attending one of my retreats, I encourage you to build what your dreams want to build. And to believe that if you build “it,” “they” will indeed come.

Here’s a Q & A which might inspire you, replete with local, off-the-beaten-path info for your next trip to Baja:

Q: Welcome to El Ganzo, Laura! We are honored that you chose to lead your esteemed Haven Writing Retreats with us. Tell us how you found us.
A: I have been leading my Haven Retreats in the US, mostly in Montana where I live, and after working with hundreds of people in the rugged wilderness of the mountains, I wanted to take Haven to the ocean. And I wanted to do it at a place that would offer comfort as well as inspiration for people who are doing this powerful work. A local friend told me that El Ganzo offers a truly unique boutique hotel experience, and immediately in my research, I knew that with El Ganzo’s commitment to supporting the arts and artists, this would be the perfect place for Haven Mexico. I also was looking for a place that was relatively easy to get to, and even from my remote part of Montana, I still got here faster than it takes to get to New York!
Q: Tell us about the Haven Retreat experience.
A: Haven retreats are NOT for writers specifically. They are for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their creative self-expression. We have four intensive days of class, workshops, and activities that encourage people to go places they might never go in the realm of expression on the page. This sort of work causes deep personal transformation. I’ve seen Haven change lives over and over again!


Q: How has El Ganzo and this part of Cabo inspired you so far?
A: I’ve been to San Jose del Cabo before, and I love its vibe with its historical village, art galleries, great restaurants— from a small taco stand to fine dining, organic Farmer’s Market, Thursday night Art Walk, fishing culture, beautiful beaches. I like to stay off the tourist track and find more local things to do. In just the first few days here I’ve found deep inspiration both personally, and for my Haven retreats:
• I took a bike ride from El Ganzo to an incredible Sculpture Garden which inspired me to create a writing prompt to use on the Haven Retreat inspired by the surrealist Leonora Carrington.
• Went to the beach-front fishing pavilion where fishermen were bringing in the catch of the day, so fresh that the color of the Dorado still had some of its vibrant blue and yellow. I’ve always thought it such a powerful metaphor that as the Dorado is hunting, and/or fighting for its life, its color becomes more vibrant—almost electric, and then as it dies, it loses its color. To see the fish in the midst of this process inspired another writing prompt to use at Haven.
• Spent the morning at the local organic Farmer’s Market, reveling in the color of the produce—the tomatoes, squash blossoms, radishes, zucchini… We don’t have a lot of color in Montana in the winter, and this was a techno-color feast my eyes dearly needed. Sipping on Mango juice felt about as decadent as anything I can remember in recent history!
• Bought two pieces of art: one at the Farmer’s Market, a print of a 57 pound Dorado on a long swath of muslin, created by local artist Lyle Brunson …which seemed almost like a totem experience after my time at the fishing pier. (we will also use this fish print at Haven!) And at the Art Walk in San Jose, a painting of a woman surrounded by vines with a feather nest crowning her head. She is painted over the text from an ornithology book. It looks so much like my logo and what it feels to be a retreat facilitator, creating and holding the space for people to gain greater self-awareness by digging deeply into their self-expression on the page…that I’m calling her our Haven Patron Saint, Sister in Words. She will sit on our Haven classroom table for inspiration from now on.
• Enjoyed the velvety voice and soothing guitar of the local singer/song-writer Jaimie Martinez at the INCREDIBLE El Ganzo Sunday brunch! I bought all three of his CD’s and have been writing with his beautiful songs in the background. He’s like the Mexican Cat Stevens. Hung out in the El Ganzo basement state-of-the-art recording studio with its creator and curator, the musician Mark Rudin. We shared notes about how to ride the wave of creativity—they might take you places you never dreamed. Mark, a classically trained musician from California, and me, a writer from Montana…both of us, in addition to doing our own work, find ourselves in the powerful position of shepherding other people’s voices and styles. It’s work we both hold dear. You can enjoy this talented musician at El Ganzo on Thursday nights.  And met with the talented film-maker, Bruno Lopez Bancalari Regueiro from Mexico city who kindly shot a Haven video on premise.  (to be shared soon!)


Q: What you are doing is very unique, especially for a New York Times best-selling author. Tell us more about what it’s like to lead your Haven retreats, as a writer.
A: The writing life can be very insular. Writers, as with all artists, deal with a lot of rejection and it can be gut-wrenching. I’ve been writing for my entire adult life and I have lived in the trenches of “failure” and the altitude of “success” and I have learned that it’s all myth. The only real thing is the work. I know how to do my work. I like to say that writing is my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life and sometimes my way to life. I think that creative self-expression should be up there with diet and exercise as far as lifelines go…and I want to help other people find this lifeline. I’m on a mission to help shift the tortured artist paradigm, to the empowered creative person’s reality!
Q: We are looking forward to hosting your Haven retreats. They are perfect match for the El Ganzo mission. Thank you for finding us!
A: I couldn’t be more thrilled. The staff here is so generous, kind, present—all the things people on retreat need to nurture them as they embark on this intense journey of self. The work we do at Haven requires courage, vulnerability, honesty, open-heartedness and much more. It is sacred ground when a group of people who might never meet each other in their regular lives, gather to take this stand for themselves through their creativity. I am careful with this sacred ground, making sure it will provide the nurturing and inspiring climate for my retreat attendees. El Ganzo and the people who breathe it alive are perfect for Haven. Dare I say, one “E” away from heaven!
Q: How can people learn more about your writing, speaking, and retreats and specifically who are they for?
A: Go to my website: www.lauramunson.com! I’ll see you there!

Testimonial:
Haven was more than I expected. I knew I’d get so much out of it. I got that and more.

My intention in attending Haven was to free myself as a writer. Wow did it loosen the chains! I’m working on a book and am experiencing all the attendant self-doubt and stymie, having never written one before. I’d never even shared my writing before Haven. I’ve never in fact admitted to myself I am a writer. Through Haven I have a confidence I’ve never had, and renewed motivation, not to mention some insightful technical and industry guidance. I can now say with assurance, I am a writer, no matter if I’m published or if I just write for enjoyment.

Above all, the one-on-one time with Laura was priceless. To have someone of Laura’s accomplishment and talent read my work and offer feedback was a rare and invaluable opportunity. It is a ‘must-do’ if you attend Haven. From structure, to voice, to engaging the reader, Laura helped me find my way. The insight she offered informs and energizes my writing even after Haven.

The class exercises helped free my writing and encouraged me to actually share it with others. What a fantastic way to help you get out of your own way. Those group exercises were a safe and free zone to just play, as were the evening readings. Not everyone at Haven considers his or herself a writer, so there was a wonderful diversity of work and commentary in our group sessions. The different intentions, perspectives, and life experiences made the time together that much more powerful. Everyone brought and left with something different. As Laura once said to me, “Haven meets you where you need to be met.” She couldn’t have been more right.

I don’t know how long Laura will continue to offer Haven and especially the one-on-one time, but I count myself lucky to have benefited from her total generosity of spirit, talent, counsel and passion. Thank you Laura! Thank you Haven!– Heidi Knippa, Austin, TXIMG_0995

Top photo credit:  Bruno Lopez Bancalari Regueiro

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Haven Blog Series Winner

Thanks to all of you who have taken a stand for your creative self-expression on the page and come to Haven, whether in Montana or other inspiring places like our upcoming Cabo Haven in April!  And there’s still room on our fall retreats, but they are filling fast…

Thank you also to those of you who wrote about your Haven experience in my Winter Haven Blog series while I worked on my novel.  Haven was so honored to host your heart language.   Hopefully your words inspired others to take the brave step that you did and come to Haven!

The votes are in and the winner is:

Maria Rodgers O’Rourke.  May we always use the “pretty pages” whatever “pretty” is to us.  One thing I know for sure:  whenever and wherever we put pen to page…it is sacred ground.  Here is a re-post of her lovely piece:

Haven by Maria Rodgers O’Rourke

Here’s the story of when I lugged a stack of notebooks across the country in the dead of winter, headed to Whitefish, Montana and the Haven Retreat.

I brought two of them (black and white composition books) to our first writing session. Like a kid at a new school, I hugged them tightly and tried to look confident. I left a Smash journal, filled with artsy-decorated blank pages, in my room. The cheap notebooks were for my first drafts, I thought: I’ll transfer my edited versions to the Smash later.

In our writing sessions, Laura welcomed us and our stories with open arms. My body relaxed into the daily writing routine, healthy meals, comfortable rooms, and the snow-covered grounds. My creative self snuggled into this haven space and took some risks. One afternoon, our yoga teacher asked, “So how’s it going?” and patiently waited for our response. The room held a small group of us, strangers just days before, and I felt safe. My heart in my throat, I blurted out that my golden retriever was dying, and sobbed. We cried and shared our stories of loss, lifting the grief that I dragged from home like so many notebooks.

With such healing going on, by the third day my writing sessions were producing real gems. Rough and honest, the drafts revealed my voice, stretching out like a bird opening its wings. That day I added the as-yet-unused Smash journal to my stack. After breakfast, we settled into our meeting room, which was awash in Montana winter sunshine, each window a postcard of evergreens on snowy hillsides. Sipping her tea, a fellow Haven-er noticed my notebooks. I explained about drafts and revisions and critiques, but my words trailed off as these once-hidden thoughts came into the light. I felt silly, but she smiled and said, “So, your first drafts aren’t worthy of the pretty pages?”

She nailed it. Turns out I only needed one notebook. The first draft is where the inner critic succeeds in dismissing a clever idea, or discouraging the hopeful writer, or quieting a fledging voice. To get out of our own way and get that first draft on paper is a victory. And they are worthy of pretty pages. All my Haven Retreat first drafts, clippings, and photos are secure in the Smash journal. When my creative self needs it, I flip through the pages and feel Laura’s embrace. At Haven, every first draft is beautiful.

–Maria Rodgers O’Rourke is an author, blogger, and speaker, who is the voice of the Everyday Inspired podcast and a blogger for the Huffington Post.

If you want to come to a Haven Retreat but are feeling not-so-brave…you are NOT alone.  Most people who come struggle with taking this stand for themselves.  This honest testimonial from a recent retreater says it all…

“When I first heard Laura Munson speak about Haven on Hay House Radio I was immediately intrigued although hesitant. Was I good enough to attend such a retreat? Was my writing far enough along? Would I embarrass myself? After speaking with Laura on the phone, I made a commitment to attend, initially for the fall of 2013. I waffled with that date with my own insecurities and re-booked for February 2014. I do not think it humanly possible for someone to go back and forth as much as I did, “Should I go?” “Yes, let’s challenge myself.” “No, don’t go.”  Over and over.

Laura was incredibly patient and supportive especially after learning some of my personal challenges at home pulling me away from Haven.  My husband was very ill with dementia and to attend Haven was a big step and one way outside my comfort zone as a total introvert. My husband’s disease was killing me too and I knew I needed to take a giant step for my health. I wrote my way through our hardships as a tool for healing.

After reading Laura’s book and embracing her amazing ongoing support, I decided to attend– although I have to admit I left the house thinking I can always return home if I feel uncomfortable. How could I possibly be with 10 other people I did not know for 4 days?

I LOVED the Haven experience and can honestly say it was life-altering in a positive and amazing way. For all of us to be tucked way out on the incredible ranch, in very comfortable rooms and delicious and nourishing food, was beyond expectations. Social hour in front of the roaring fire with snow falling outdoors made for an intimate setting. The writing exercises and support were way beyond my wildest expectations.

Laura is an amazing writer, teacher, and facilitator. My 1:1 with her gave me clarity on structure and content for my book. Our group immediately formed a trusted and risk taking approach with Laura’s guidance.  I encourage everyone to attend Haven. The experience will be with me for a long time and I dream of attending another session.”

–Katherine Stevenson, Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

 

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Haven Winter # 9

What is inspiring you?  I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter:  what would happen if I took a stand for myself?

This is the last in a series of nine guest posts:   For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity.  I also know how important it is for writers to write.  To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share.  Read these words.  Consider this experience.  Play around in curiosity and wonder.  I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.

That’s what I’m doing.  Quietly.  For these weeks.  Please think about taking this time for your heart language.

 

The Power of Taking a StandJacquelyn Jackson

The Haven Retreat had ended just seven minutes earlier.  I could still feel the warmth of the goodbye hugs we shared after breakfast, a gentle Arizona sun at our backs.

At breakfast, I picked at an egg-white omelet while Laura read to the eight of us gathered for our last meal in the Tack Room at the Tubac Golf Resort, 20 miles north of the Mexican border. Laura talked about accepting what was and was not within her control.

“Our happiness,” she read from her book, “Our ability to love, to be in a place of harmony with ourselves and beyond – is not outside ourselves…it’s all here. In us. It always was.”

Tubac offers a haven of earth, air, fire and water: elemental grounding that made it easy to release anxiety and doubt. The sentry strength of the Santa Rita Mountains, rugged and ancient, protects the eastern border. Blue-sky-fluffy-white-clouds, straight out of central casting, demonstrate the artistry of spun air. Candles fired our way each day and water, so spare and revered in the Sonoran Desert, shimmers in man-made lakes and the nature-made Santa Cruz River meandering to the east.  This elemental beauty, laced with Laura’s words, beckoned us to take a stand for our deepest truths.

While we were invited to share our work only when comfortable, Laura mandated to those who arrived with a stuck-book inside a written one-sentence book statement.

I have researched and written extensively on the female body; I executive produced the documentary version of The Body Project, a book by Cornell Historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg.  My writing has focused on the impact of external female body obsessions on internal health and well-being.  The burning question I have pondered for years: How do we revere internal over external and more deeply respect and heed the body’s innate wisdom.

Despite, or maybe because of, my years of pondering some form of “body” book, I struggled to write one concise sentence. Rewriting, striking out, groaning and starting again, I finally wrote this:  My story of overcoming fear and finally and fully returning home to my body and voice.

After the retreat, I mulled my statement, especially “overcoming fear.”  I googled “women and fear” and a litany of collective fears spilled forth: aging, rape, violence, feminism, not being liked, loving too much, power, obesity, leaning in, success, failure. And these from other parts of the world: death for driving or revealing an ankle in public.

In 2011, my life was slimed with fear and anxiety.  On a bright blue January morning, I witnessed the mass murder of dear friends in Tucson when one insane man came gunning for Gabrielle Giffords.  I escaped death by seconds but did not escape watching the gunman kill and maim my friends. Eleven months later my beloved brother went from running 10K’s to dead in seven days. A brain tumor we did not know he had.

I was faced with two choices: survive the terror and feel my way back into my body, or give up.  I chose breath work, yoga and therapy. Writing the book statement helped me see, in one declarative sentence, the heart of my story. Fear, I realized, has been lodged in my body for many years. The acute fears of 2011 led me to unearth older fears that lingered deep inside. The act of excavation strengthened my body and voice.

And now it is three months after the Haven Retreat in Tubac, and one month into a new year, and the courage infused by the Haven Retreat has exploded in my world.  In this first month of 2014, I gave notice, landed a weekly column, sold our house, bought a new, smaller house and got a dog – Benny – a white fluffy mix who was found wandering the mean streets of Tucson. I still have not lost the 15 pounds I want to let go of but I am a bit cocky about the stand I am taking.

I doff my hat to Laura, whose X-ray vision sees within what we sometimes cannot see for ourselves. Her warmth and sincerity are like a gentle flame, luring us out of ourselves.  Her fierce spirit exerts a midwifery force, compelling the creative inside to birth itself into the world.

I am heading to Montana in June for one more slice of the Haven pie.  My advice: take a stand for who you are and what you know – the results are delicious.

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Amtrak Ode– The Train to Haven

1947-empire-builder
Every-so-often, there is a perfect confluence in life—even in the life of a writer. When childhood romanticism meets adult sentimentalism, when whimsy and bravery stand side-by-side, when the world of possibility opens and you can see clearly through a widened “peephole,” as Vonnegut calls our limited perception of the world. That happened this weekend when I learned that Amtrak is offering free “residencies” aboard their trains for writers. Woah. Instant tears flowed fast.

You see, I come from Chicago train people. And I live in a small mountain train town where the train is the one solid thing that connects my life here to whence I came. I’ve been here for twenty years, have built my home and raised children and written and basked in the beauty of all that northwest Montana gifts us season after season…but Chicago will always be my starting point.

When I told my father I was moving to Whitefish, Montana, he got tears in his eyes (it runs in the family). “What a beautiful part of the world. I used to take the Empire Builder there when I was a young man in the 1940s, calling on railroad customers. I loved watching the city turn to farmland, and the Great Plains, and then the Badlands, and then the Rockies. I used to look out the window and just dream.”
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Whenever I’m having a hard day, I go to the Whitefish Depot, like a Chicagoan goes to Lake Michigan, and watch the freight trains change tracks with names I grew up knowing thanks to my father: GATX, Santa Fe, Burlington Northern. From my childhood bedroom in suburban Chicago, I used to listen to the gentle chugging of the Milwaukee Railroad, comforted that there was someone else awake in the middle of the night. Sometimes when I see the gleaming silver Amtrak waiting at the station, I think: “I could hop on and go home.” It brings me that same comfort to know that I am still connected to “home” in this small town in the shadow of the great peaks of Glacier National Park.images

The last time I took my kids back to Chicago, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry. “I want to show you something,” I told them, ushering them to one of my childhood treasures. “It’s the train room! It’s a model of the route of the Empire Builder from here all the way to the west coast. My dad used to take me here. It’s the coolest model train ever built!” I said, remembering how I’d hold his hand as he traced the lights of Chicago across the country all the way to the ports of Seattle, marveling at all his days riding those rails as a businessman and journeyer.

“Mom, why are you crying?” they both said.

“It’s all just so beautiful. Taking your time. Going slow. Watching our wonderful world go by from the safety and comfort of a train car. Meeting people in the dining car, chatting about life, comparing notes about places to see. I love trains. This used to be the way everybody travelled. They would dress up for meals. They would socialize and revel in the landscape. I trust trains much more than I do airplanes. I always feel so grounded and happy when I pull into a train station after a long ride. When I land at airports, I feel disoriented. Sometimes speed and convenience are way over-rated!”

“Look, Mom,” my twelve year old squealed. “It’s our train station!”amtrak

And sure enough, there was a little model of the Whitefish depot. I’d spent hours in this room, gazing at the Empire Builder line with my father, but I didn’t remember that building. Surely I’d watched my father point his way through the Rocky Mountains to this tiny depot, built in the design of the great lodges of Glacier National Park by the visionary train baron, Louis W. Hill who brought the east to the Rockies in comfort and style. Surely I’d looked at that little depot and wondered what the wilds of a place like Montana would be like. Talk about full circle, watching my son stand there with his eyes blazing, feeling so proud of his home. Like a game of tag from my original home to his…all connected by the Empire Builder.
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A few years ago, I started leading retreats in our stunning part of the world. I realized that after leading the writing life with all my heart for almost three decades, my muse basking in the mountains of Montana, that it made good sense to share it with other kindred seekers. So I founded Haven Retreats. Hundreds of people have come to Montana to dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page, in search of greater self-awareness, whether or not they call themselves “writers.” Some do. Some don’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that opened “peephole,” and Montana knows how to inspire that in spades.

Yes, people come to Haven by plane, car, bus. But they also come by Amtrak’s Empire Builder. Louis W. Hill would be proud of these stalwart travelers who have been known to ride thirty hours here and thirty hours back post-retreat. And every time, those who ride the train rave about how the rhythm of the tracks and the views from the window put them in the perfect mind-frame to engage fully in our intensive four days together, tucked into the woods of Montana, and process their experience as they make their way back into their lives, re-fueled, inspired, empowered.

I can think of no better way to come to a Haven Retreat than through that little Whitefish train depot. With this new amazing offer from Amtrak for writers to ride for FREE, it truly is the perfect confluence: experience a personal writing “residency” on the train, enjoy a Haven Retreat in our beautiful part of the world just a matter of miles from the train station, and write your way back home!
I hope that if you are considering a Montana Haven Retreat, that you will also consider this golden offer from Amtrak!

A special thanks to Alexander Chee for stating his love for writing on trains and inspiring this incredible offer! And to Jessica Gross for making a “trial run!”
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From my father’s obit in the Chicago Tribune: 260060_10150205192746266_3265283_n

John C. Munson made a run at retiring when he turned 65. It lasted three days.

“He hated retirement,” said his wife of 48 years, Virginia. “His great passion was work, and ever since he was a little boy playing with his trains he has loved the railroad industry.”

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Haven Winter # 7

What is inspiring you?  I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter:  what would happen if I took a stand for myself?

This is the seventh in a series of guest posts:   For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity.  I also know how important it is for writers to write.  To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share.  Read these words.  Consider this experience.  Play around in curiosity and wonder.  I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.

That’s what I’m doing.  Quietly.  For these weeks.  Please think about taking this time for your heart language.

Haven by Maria Rodgers O’Rourke

Here’s the story of when I lugged a stack of notebooks across the country in the dead of winter, headed to Whitefish, Montana and the Haven Retreat.

I brought two of them (black and white composition books) to our first writing session. Like a kid at a new school, I hugged them tightly and tried to look confident. I left a Smash journal, filled with artsy-decorated blank pages, in my room. The cheap notebooks were for my first drafts, I thought: I’ll transfer my edited versions to the Smash later.

In our writing sessions, Laura welcomed us and our stories with open arms. My body relaxed into the daily writing routine, healthy meals, comfortable rooms, and the snow-covered grounds. My creative self snuggled into this haven space and took some risks. One afternoon, our yoga teacher asked, “So how’s it going?” and patiently waited for our response. The room held a small group of us, strangers just days before, and I felt safe. My heart in my throat, I blurted out that my golden retriever was dying, and sobbed. We cried and shared our stories of loss, lifting the grief that I dragged from home like so many notebooks.

With such healing going on, by the third day my writing sessions were producing real gems. Rough and honest, the drafts revealed my voice, stretching out like a bird opening its wings. That day I added the as-yet-unused Smash journal to my stack. After breakfast, we settled into our meeting room, which was awash in Montana winter sunshine, each window a postcard of evergreens on snowy hillsides. Sipping her tea, a fellow Haven-er noticed my notebooks. I explained about drafts and revisions and critiques, but my words trailed off as these once-hidden thoughts came into the light. I felt silly, but she smiled and said, “So, your first drafts aren’t worthy of the pretty pages?”

She nailed it. Turns out I only needed one notebook. The first draft is where the inner critic succeeds in dismissing a clever idea, or discouraging the hopeful writer, or quieting a fledging voice. To get out of our own way and get that first draft on paper is a victory. And they are worthy of pretty pages. All my Haven Retreat first drafts, clippings, and photos are secure in the Smash journal. When my creative self needs it, I flip through the pages and feel Laura’s embrace. At Haven, every first draft is beautiful.

Haven by Stephanie Maley

Writing was something I did for myself. Pages of self discovery, life experiences, and dreams, splattered flimsy journals. Now as a professional photographer, I knew I needed writing direction. Laura Munson’s words spoke to me in a personal way. After reading her book, “This Is Not The Story you Think It Is,” I felt connected. I knew I could learn from her. When she offered a writing retreat, I leapt at the chance to attend.

Short on trust and long on self doubt, I journeyed my way to Montana. Being at Haven was like bathing in warm light. From Laura’s squealing delight at meeting me, her faithful blog follower, until I boarded my plane for home, I felt loved and accepted. The attentive staff, vegan meals, snuggly down beds, and daily “love” mail from Laura, wrapped around me like a moth’s cocoon.

I took risks in this Haven. I shared secrets. Dressed in PJ’s, surrounded by my fellow retreatents and a hearty fire, I opened the pages of my heart. Words poured forth and bounced back with objective suggestions. Each of us reaching out to one another. My love of the power of words deepened. Story after story filled the smokey air. Raw, flesh- tearing, and humorous words kept us riveted.

Our group marches forward, together. We share our writings and seek advice from one another. Our private Facebook page keeps our connections strong. Some of us have been able to see each other beyond Montana. We cheer from the sidelines for each other and keep the Haven spirit alive. When my own writing progress stutters, I am reminded that I am still loved and accepted.

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Haven Winter Series # 6

What is inspiring you?  I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter:  what would happen if I took a stand for myself?

This is the sixth in a series of guest posts:   For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity.  I also know how important it is for writers to write.  To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share.  Read these words.  Consider this experience.  Play around in curiosity and wonder.  I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.

That’s what I’m doing.  Quietly.  For these weeks.  Please think about taking this time for your heart language.

Silencing the Head Noise by Lindsay Henry

Everything in my life felt cluttered:  My bedroom, my desk, my stack of Things to Do.

My mind.

My mind was constantly cluttered. Cluttered with thoughts. Ideas. Dreams—dreams of hardcover books with my byline telling tales buried deep within me.

When I learned my new favorite author Laura Munson hosted writing retreats in Montana, I decided to go. Maybe this will help me get out of my chaotic mind’s way, I thought. I wanted to take my writing seriously, to be amongst others like me, and, at 25-years-old, do something adventurous. Step out of the box. You know, really take the bull by the horns, carpe diem and all that.

It was the end of February when I breathed in Montana’s fresh air and stepped my boots onto melted snow, ready for this retreat. I set my eyes on Laura Munson and we embraced in a hug that felt more sisterly than first–time-meeting.

The next few days, I bonded with my fellow Haven retreaters over writing activities and green tea, conversation and quinoa. Laura was lovely, gently guiding us as we stepped out of our own ways to get thoughts on the page. The writing activities, the feedback, the friendship ….It was exactly what I needed.

On the second day, my brain was bursting with inspiration. Then I went into the yoga studio, and my mind was blown.

I signed up for yoga as one of our non-writing retreat activities. Joined by two other retreaters, we walked into the gorgeous yoga studio with glass windows overlooking the Montana landscape. A petite woman with a calm, kind face named Arlisa was our instructor.

Clothed in sweatpants and uncertainty, I stepped onto the studio hardwood floors, my socks sliding as I grabbed a yoga mat. My brain chatter was already going: “Don’t fall on the floors; don’t forget to finish that writing sample; are you going to read it to the group later? Maybe you shouldn’t; it’s not very good.”

As soon as Arlisa spoke, though, my brain quieted. I was surprised. After years of listening to my constant stream of chaotic thoughts, I welcomed the peace as we stretched.

Near the end of the session, Arlisa instructed us to lie on our backs. She spoke in a calm voice. “Picture a ball of light,” she said. “Send that ball of light throughout your entire body.”

Half-asleep, I lay still on my yoga mat. Suddenly, a small voice whispered, “You are seeking approval. Let it go.”

The voice wasn’t like my normal brain chatter. It wasn’t commanding or stern, nor matter-of-fact. This voice was kind and gentle. Familiar.

My heart’s voice.

Yoga allowed my chaotic mind to be silent long enough so my heart could speak up. And when she spoke, she spoke clearly.

I carry that lesson with me to this day. Despite the brain clutter and chaos, my heart has a voice, too. Since that day, I try not to forget to sit still and listen.

 

Upping the Ante by Mary Novaria

“UP THE ANTE ON EXPOSING YOURSELF” was scribbled across the back of page seven.  Oh, I felt plenty exposed already, having dared to share snippets of my fledgling memoir, the quintessential work in progress that was nowhere near finished and, in fact, was scarcely begun. But it’s hard to ignore a command given in all caps and Laura Munson had dared me to bare my soul. She may as well have asked me to go skinny-dipping off the dock. Could I possibly expose myself as audaciously as those geese that declare dawn each day at the ranch? Where, before the moon has even set, they honk and flap and skitter in a vee knowing full well it’s their job to rid the morning fog from the surface of the pond?

I fear exposure. What if I’m exposed as a fraud? Revealed as one who merely pretends to be a writer, but who isn’t one… not really? Beyond the writing, what if I’m exposed as someone who is, well, a rather flawed human?

My mother once asked how it was that I became so close to my best friend. “We got naked together,” I said, meaning we’d bared our souls, shared our secrets, confessed all—especially the not-so-nice things that are unworthy of a Hallmark card. We’d stripped down to the barebones truths and that gave our friendship an authenticity born of trust.

Exposing one’s self can be dirty business. Even if I could spin a fairytale like silk or cloak an adventure in a superhero’s cape, the fabric wears out eventually. Then, there I am with my remorse exposed and the ante upped in stories that are ugly and raw: I slapped my teenage daughter… I was embarrassed by my mother’s dementia… I binged and purged… The truth will be written in drops of blood, for to expose myself is to pierce my heart.

 

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