writing

Life lessons from hosting a writer’s retreat

I know that not everyone has the desire to host a writer’s retreat, but if you have any desire to take a big risk, the skills and lessons are the same. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I’m making an effort to go into more details about what I’m doing and still keep it relatable.

In mid-January, I hosted my second writer’s retreat in the Catskills. This is one of my favorite parts of the year. I love being around other writers 24/7, sharing ideas, supporting each other, and getting motivated by the clicking of their keyboards. As enjoyable as these retreats are, the preparation for them can be a stressful practice in patience and faith.

If you are planning to take on a new challenge, here are some lessons I’ve learned from organizing this retreat:

  1. Commit Commit Commit
    This is the most important rule for any risk you take. If you try to do something new and out of your comfort zone, there are going to be challenges. There will come a time when quitting seems like the most obvious and sane choice. The only way to succeed is to decide that there is no quitting: you will do whatever it takes. Surprisingly, everything gets easier once you take the option of quitting off the table.
    Once I found the venue I liked for my retreat, I had to pay the dreaded deposit. This is super scary to do when you have no one signed up, but you can’t get people to sign up if there’s no venue. Once I sent out the deposit, I decided that I wouldn’t back down no matter what.
  2. Strike while the iron is hot
    For some reason, I thought it made sense to book my writer’s retreat one month after my writer’s conference. The conference takes about 200 hours to plan and market. It’s thoroughly exhausting. A week before the conference, I realized that I had no one signed up for the retreat, and the final payment was due in two weeks. I was in jeopardy of losing my deposit.
    My husband suggested I give a promotional discount for the retreat during the conference and let everyone know that it would expire by the end of the day. This seemed beyond ridiculous to me. My guests were already shelling out their hard-earned money for my conference. It felt greedy to ask for more money.
    That’s when I was forced to confront a harmful belief I had. I was thinking my guests were doing me a huge favor, rather than recognizing that I was giving them an incredible gift: my conferences and retreats are inspiring, informative and an incredible value. Once I accepted that fact, it was easy to announce the promotional offer and capitalize on the excitement and motivation I had already worked so hard to create at the conference.
    And guess what? Five people signed up that day!
    This is all to say, figure out when you can maximize your efforts and don’t let any doubts get in your way.
  3. Relax and enjoy the ride
    At a certain point you have to believe that all your planning will pay off and that it’s okay to enjoy yourself. I believe one of the reasons why my events are so powerful is because I am a writer and I give other writers exactly what I would want. If I can’t enjoy my own events, why the heck am I doing it? Passion projects are going to wipe you out. They will use up every last reserve of energy and will. If you can’t stop and enjoy the moment, I promise you won’t be able to sustain the passion.

Is there anything else you would add to the list? Was this helpful? Leave a comment ’cause I’d love to hear from you. Also, if you’re interested in joining the next retreat, send an email to Tracy [at] writerswork [dot] org, or apply here. I am starting to plan a week-long retreat for this summer in Long Island, and it would be a huge boost to know that people are interested in it.

*** Pictures provided by Josh Conrad. Josh has a blog where he’s tackling 25 interesting dares this year. You should definitely check out his blog and see what he had to say about the retreat! ***

You are the solution

Two years ago I was browsing the internet trying to find a solution. I had hit a wall with my writing. I needed to meet other writers who knew what I was going through. I needed to meet agents and editors who could help advance my career. I needed to get inspired and motivated. A writers conference was exactly what I needed.

After researching several writer’s conferences, I realized a loan was actually what I needed. Most of them were upwards of $500. Plus, when I read the reviews people complained that the conferences were too crowded and the guests left feeling overwhelmed and even more anonymous.

That’s when it hit me.

I already had a lot of connections with the publishing world and I already knew lots of writers. What was to stop me from creating the exact conference I wanted to attend? Nothing!

So often we look for solutions outside of ourselves, ignoring our own resources and abilities. We forget that everything out there, everything that is well established and perhaps intimidating, started out as some person’s crazy idea. The only difference between a crazy idea and an established event is action and time.

Cut to the present moment. I am now gearing up for my third conference for writers. It’s small-scale (under 50 people), affordable ( $115-$160), and, most importantly, inspiring. I created exactly what I needed and I’m helping other writers in the process.

I’m not going to lie it’s been extremely difficult. I spend hours contacting potential speakers, putting together the perfect schedule, researching venues, promoting the event, preparing all the materials, and hosting. I spend countless hours on each conference and I’m still not breaking even. BUT it’s worth it when I get messages like this from former guests:

IMG_3217“This was the BEST writing workshop ever! It learned so much!”
“A fabulous, relaxing, well-organized event for inspiring, connecting and educating aspiring authors.”
“A meeting of writers and aspiring writers with meaningful speakers and opportunities to mingle and network. I felt invigorated and inspired by the day.”

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is give what you need to others. Never underestimate the tools you already have!

***If you are a writer in the NYC area, I’d love to see you at my next conference on Saturday, June 27. Use this link for 10% off! Please share this with any writers you know. For more info, check out my website.***

Extra Extra work

Since organizing writers’ conferences and writing a novel don’t pay the bills (yet), I’ve taken on work as a background artist for television. Artist is a strong word in this context. I get hired to be one of those people who walk behind the main actors to make the scene look more realistic, or I sit at a table and quietly repeat, “watermelon cantaloupe,” so a scene looks vibrant with happy cafe-patrons. I’m basically a human prop.

Me as a guest at an Indian baby naming party for Royal Pains.

Me as a guest at an Indian baby naming party for Royal Pains.

So far I’ve been an onlooker at a murder scene for Unforgettable, a reporter for Person of Interest, a scared pedestrian for a new pilot with Debra Messing, a party guest for Royal Pains, an audience member for a test show for Suze Ormand, and a few other nondescript pedestrian roles. I’ve never actually seen any of these shows, which keeps me from getting too star-struck; however, I did get to charge my phone next to one of my favorite actors from The Wire, so that was pretty fun.

The best part of the job is when they do your hair and make up. For a few minutes I feel like a pampered celebrity…until the director calls out, “Where’s goblet girl?” Yes, that was my name for 6 hours because my job was to hold a goblet of champagne which the cameraman used as a marker for the far left side of the scene.

The other perk is seeing some beautiful parts of New York I’ve never seen before. I got to film in a stunning old bank in Wall Street, a stunning old castle on the water, and at a stunning view of the Brooklyn Bridge (where Mike proposed to me). My main goal was to get away from my computer and meet some interesting people while making some money, so I’ve definitely accomplished that. The pay is pitiful, but then again I am getting paid to stand around. When I’m done with my work, I’m able to come back to my writing with absolutely no stress from the work day. It’s working out pretty nicely for now.

Here are two side notes I’ve picked up from doing this work. If you’re a single woman, I have never met so many great single guys as the crew on a film set. Overall they’re hard-working, down to earth, good-humored people. They have crazy hours because a film shoot can run for 18 hours straight, which might explain why so many of them are single. Also, I have so much more appreciation for actors. To shoot one minute of television it takes almost ten hours of filming. The actors have to say the same lines a hundred times and sound fresh and energized each time.

My 300th Post

When I started this blog I wasn’t sure if I could come up with 10 posts, and now I am writing my 300! In honor of the big 3-0-0, I’m reposting three of my favorite post.

  1. My trip to Nicaragua. This post reminded me of how small the world is. I wrote about the volunteer project I did in a little town named Bajo De Los Ramirez (we were the first tourists to ever visit this remote town). Incredibly, someone left me a comment saying that she had been to the same town years later and they still talked about us. Sometimes when I blog it feels like I’m just throwing words out into the wind, but this serendipitous connection made it feel like I was blogging for a reason.
  2. Don’t hold on to old raisins. I was amazed at the amount of positive response I got from this post where I shared a belief that contradicted common advice.
  3. And of course, the post which started it all. After rereading my first post I can’t believe how much it still rings true for me. 300 posts later, I have a business up and running and it’s making me happy. Just more proof that when you know what you want it’s much easier to get it.

Follow up on 750

A few weeks ago I wrote about a great technique that helped me get through writer’s block.

  • Make an attainable goal of writing 750 words every day. If you’re not a writer you can set a goal of spending 30 minutes on whatever your creative endeavor is.
  • It doesn’t matter what you’re working on. The important thing is that you get into the habit of doing it.
  • Now the key is to find a buddy to email everyday when you’re done. Don’t email your writing, just the word “done” to let them know that you’re sticking to it.

This feeling of accountability was really helpful for me because I like having a deadline. I found that it was easier for me to blog than to work on my creative writing because blogging is public, and my creative writing is private. People would notice if I stop blogging, but no one would notice if I stopped working on a short story.

Most people do not have it in them to be their own boss. We need assignments, deadlines, and reviews. But with creative work, you need to be the talent and the management.

Since I started this process I have written over 70 pages. At first it was extremely challenging to write 750 words (approximately 3 pages), but now I’m so used to blocking out that time each day that I end up writing over 2000 words a day on average now. I’m working on two projects and both of them were intimidating concepts, but I figured I might as well get started on them, because I had to write about something.

I’m so glad I started using this technique, and I hope it can serve you as well 🙂 If you don’t have a friend to do this with, you can use this website.

The magic of 750

If you were to hack into my email account you’d find something very strange. For the past three weeks my fiance has been sending me a blank email with the subject line: done. I respond with the word ditto. You would have no idea that this simple exchange has helped me to write over 20 pages about Albert Einstein and has helped Mike create music.

Three weeks ago Mike and I were kvetching about how hard it is to motivate ourselves to be creatively productive – even though that’s the one thing we really want to do. We realized that one of the challenges is that it really doesn’t matter if we don’t produce. The world won’t stop turning, no one’s going to yell at us, and we’re not going to get an F on our report card. The only one who cares is ourselves, and when we don’t work on our creative endeavors it leads to guilt, and then doubt, and then we sit and wonder if we really want to be writers/ composers/ artists at all. It’s too hard to rely on intrinsic motivation. What we needed was some gentle external motivation.

That’s when I remembered an article I read in O magazine months ago. A writer made a pact with her friend that she would write 750 words a day, and when she was done, she would email her friend the word: done. She didn’t share the writing, just the simple fact that it was done. I didn’t think highly of the process when I read the article, but when Mike and I were trying to think of a way to motivate each other this came to mind.

Mike, who wants to compose music, said he would spend at least 30 minutes a day on it. I said I would write at least 750 words. We promised that we would each send each other an email when we were done.

I cannot tell you how much this has helped me. I had a very ambitious idea for a story, and I was too intimidated to start it. The first morning I checked my email and saw Mike’s done, I gritted my teeth and started writing. I had no idea what to write so I started writing about the character in my head. It’s been like this every day. When I get his email I reluctantly open my word document, but after about 200 words I’m totally engrossed. I usually end up writing far more than 750 words, but I still feel just as accomplished when I do the bare minimum – those are the days that I really didn’t feel like writing, so it means even more to me that I actually did it.

It’s a very small unit of work, but when done consistently it builds up quickly. The great thing about this tip is that you can do it with anyone since you’re really not asking them to do anything except receive an email from you once a day. If you start doing this, let me know how it goes!

Shitty first drafts.

Last night I met with my friends in the Artist’s Way group. We meet every other week and discuss chapters of Julie Cameron’s book and encourage each other’s path to “creative recovery.” Occasionally we share our own writing and get feedback. I shared a piece that I’ve been working on for two years now. I’ve changed the plot, the characters, the narration style, and pretty much everything else you can change except the original idea. I even posted a tiny portion of it on the HeSo Project eleven months ago (although I was referring to a different writers group at that time and the writing has changed significantly since then).

 

About two months ago, I started drafting the newest version of the story. I wasn’t sure where it would go, but I decided to share it with the group anyway. They might have thought they were giving me harsh feedback, but I found it so helpful. After that I worked for weeks taking in the suggestions I liked, and wrote a piece that I’m really proud of.

 

I was so touched last night when one of the women in the group said, “You changed my idea of what it means to revise something. Your first piece was good,” then she held up my new writing, “but this is great.”

 

English: Former basketball player Michael Jordan

English: Former basketball player Michael Jordan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

She went on to tell us she had always thought that to revise something meant admitting defeat – good writers have to get it right the first time, or else they are not real writers.

 

When I first start writing something I always remind myself that I am writing, what Anne Lamott calls, “a shitty first draft.” It’s completely liberating to know that it’s ok if it sucks. It can only get better!

 

If you’re starting new, give yourself the allowance to suck and the time to get better. Michael Jordan didn’t dunk his first ball.

 

 

 

My One Year Anniversary of Blogging!

 

Wow it seems like yesterday when Mike was suggesting I should start a blog, and I agreed to try it for a month (just to get him to stop suggesting it). I’ve never been able to keep a journal or diary for longer than a week so I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve kept up with the HeSo Project for a year!

I know you’re dying to reread all my posts from the last year, but you’re super busy. So I’ve done the hard work and picked out 10 of my favorite posts for you peruse:

Commitment:

I wrote this in my second month of blogging when I was considering giving it up. I’m glad I was honest about how hard it was to continue writing because all my favorite posts were written after this post and it helps me remember that there are always hurdles in the beginning.

The Power of Vulnerability:

I watched this video about 10 times. It was so motivating.

A Lesson from my Dad:

Simple yet so true.

Top 10 Most Amazing Places #8: Nicaragua

This was an example of how blogs make the world a smaller place. After writing this post someone contacted me to let me know she had just visited the same village I wrote about and the people there still talk about us!

Three Reasons Why my Body is Smarter than my Brain:

I’m still running every other day, and I’m still reminding myself of these rules.

Disposable Creativity:

I meet with a group of women twice a month to reflect on the Artist’s Way process. It’s truly a fantastic guide for anyone who wants more out of life.

All You Ever Need to Know:

This is perhaps my favorite post of all. I wish everyone would try this.

The Roller Coaster of Making a Prototype:

I love looking back on my entrepreneurship days. I was so motivated – I even motivate myself.

Blessings in disguise:

Rereading this post reminded me of how crazy I was to ever think about buying a house.

The Challenge Day:

I forgot what an incredible program this was.

And as an encore:

Flamenco Changed my Life

 

The virtues of a group

Four years ago some of my friends and I started a writer’s group. We met every week and shared samples of our writing. We’d offer feedback and encouragement. It was one of the highlights of my week.

There’s something that happens when you share something as personal as your rough drafts. You’re basically saying, “this is the best I can do for the moment. Please be gentle. Please don’t hate it (me).” And in this process of sharing we became really close.

Writing can be lonely and isolating. One of the reasons I like blogging is that I get instant feedback, and connection (even if it’s just a cyber connection). But my personal writing is, well, personal, and I don’t want to share with the world just yet. That’s why it’s so great to have a writer’s group that you trust and respect that will help you coax your writing out of the laptop.

The four of us have been through 2 weddings (soon to be 3). A birth, a break up, firings, hirings, 6 new apartments, and all the other ups and downs of life. We set up our own writer’s retreat. We send each other articles when we think it’s applicable to our writing. We notify each other of grants and great opportunities. We recommend and share books.

Having a common passion for literature brought us together and made us better friends. I’m so glad Sojourner, Stacey, and Kelley are in my life. Although we haven’t met for a few months (we got side tracked by a wedding and a new baby), I know that I have a community of women who will give me the support and encouragement I need -whether it’s for my writing or for my life.

I hope you all have, or will create, a similar group. It doesn’t have to be writing. I’ve always wanted to join a quilting circle, for instance. At least in New York, it seems like friends always get together to eat or drink. It’s nice to have a different reason to get together- one that nurtures your interests.