I went to a writing retreat in New Mexico about 6 years ago. It was my first real writing getaway. I had this vision of how working with other writers would be…
It wasn’t anything like what I had envisioned.
What I realized is that writing retreats or group writing sessions aren’t my thing. I had a great time and got a lot done, met some fantastic people, but it’s just not me and I wonder how many other people out there would like a different kind of experience.
Here’s why writing groups and retreats don’t work for me. They most often are not about writing, they are about people trying to fix the broken parts of themselves, but they don’t know how to do that, or want to get real therapeutic help, so they go to writing. Which is admirable. I do believe writing can heal you and help you, but it’s not the only thing that can do that. A good therapist can too, but you have to be willing to go and to do the work. That’s the key thing – it’s the same with writing, you have to be willing to do the work. To show up, TO WRITE! No one will do it for you.
For me when I have a chance to get away to write. I want to write. I can do therapy another time.
In my humble opinion writing workshops are another excuse for not actually sitting down to write. I don’t have time, I don’t have money, I can’t because of – whatever the reason is – it all comes down to YOU JUST DON’T WANT TO. So, you attend a writing workshop to get your writing fix.
Writing is a solitary practice for the most part. Why do we think that making it into a not solitary thing in a workshop will help? It’s what’s in your head that goes onto the page, not what’s in someone else’s head. I just want to write already.
Writing retreats are also full of NEW AGE type people, the ones who use 10 – 20 elegant and delicious words to describe something that could be described in five. You know the type. They arrive in flowy, ethereal clothing and breathe deep, say namaste often and believe that every person who writes should also be Buddhist, do yoga and meditate. There can be a one-upmanship about these folks, which has no basis in new age thinking, but it happens a lot. It’s another sign that maybe a good therapist can help.
Writing workshops also have writing exercises, in this particular session the exercise was to close your eyes and hold hands (yes with everyone in the room) and say what you are experiencing. There were around 40 people in the room and each person said something – “I feel nervous.” “I feel anxious.” “I feel at peace.” “I feel honored.” and then – one – one of the new agey women in purple and teal flowy, silky clothing – “I feel light coming through.” She held two hands over her lower stomach. “I FEEL LIGHT SHINING OUT OF MY VAGINA! I feel my womb expanding with the universe.” She yelled, softening her voice at the end.
No more writing workshops for me!
I burst into laughter. I know that was totally not okay, but I could not help it. Some might say my aversion and insensitivity to it, likely means it’s what I really need in my life, but I’m okay with my choice to not be the person with light shining out of my vagina.
I’m new age in my own way. I’ve read plenty of new age-ish books and old age books that say very similar things. The older things, like myth and some Joseph Campbell and Marion Woodman make you work a little for the knowledge. I like those because it’s almost as if it’s a secret – wanting to be unraveled.
Consciousness and enlightenment are not new age ideas.
Writing workshops go hand in hand with new age books, there is no book on the planet that will give you enlightenment or consciousness, it’s what you DO with the knowledge from the book that brings you consciousness. With writing it’s what you actually sit down and WRITE!
If I have to label myself, I’d say I’m REAL AGE. I’m becoming more aware of everything around me, but in a way that mimics how people have always done it, a vision quest, a hardship, digging yourself out of the dark, and appreciating the good times in life. Mixing the old age with the new age. REAL AGE.
Writing workshops can also feel like a rip off. I personally have not come out of them with much more than I went in with, there is no accountability. People don’t usually proclaim if you do this writing workshop and don’t like we’ll refund your money. There is no taking into account the different writing levels and experiences. It’s more like – pay me $300 and I’ll take you through some exercises that may or may not help you and then I’ll critique some of your work, which also may or may not help you, then you go away, unless you’d like to take another workshop.
GET TO THE WRITING ALREADY! WRITE!
Maybe I’ve just been attending the wrong workshops?
So, while writing this I got it my head that I should develop a series of work sessions that work for me and maybe they’ll work for other people like me. Work sessions based on doing the work and being accountable to the work. Creating a space for REAL AGE information. Things that cut to the chase, but still leave you with a sense of unraveling secrets. A no holds barred session where you write on your own. JUST WRITE.
So that’s what I’m going to do.
I began writing this post a few days ago and today read this interesting article in the Times about how talk therapy is on the wane and writing workshops are on the rise. http://ow.ly/a3cKM
Who am I to be critical of a Times article? I’m going to anyway. What I think is missing from the article is something important. Some people do need therapy and some writing teachers need therapy and should do that before they start writing or teaching, or they should do both. You can mess people up if you don’t know what you are doing when you are trying to walk the line on therapy versus not therapy.
We should all learn that we don’t need permission to articulate our feelings and thoughts – a good therapist will help you with that. I’m not sure a writing teacher can do that.
What would you like to see as part of a NO HOLDS BARRED ACCOUNTABILITY WRITING SESSION SERIES?