There’s nothing I enjoy more than writing.
But a close second is learning how to write better — and by a well-respected, New York Times bestselling author. It’s a writer-nerd dream!
I was fortunate enough to make the cut to attend the 10th annual Hanalei Writers Retreat this past weekend on Kaua‘i, a two-day intensive writing workshop led by Cheryl Strayed, whose memoir, “Wild,” topped the New York Times Bestseller list, was named a Best Nonfiction Book of 2012 pick by The Boston Globe and Entertainment Weekly, made the Best Books of the Year list by NPR, and was turned into a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern.
It was my first time to this retreat — and, to be honest, any kind of retreat where all you do is write. I know it’s not for everyone, but to me, it was a dream.
The schedule was simple: Show up at 9 a.m. on Saturday with a laptop or notebook — or, in my case, both — and maybe some snacks and get ready to work.
Now, I was an English major and have spent a lot of time in writers’ groups and fiction workshops. And while I was already wowed by the star power of Strayed, she turned out to be a phenomenal teacher, too, very generous and compassionate and instructional. She discussed the mechanics of memoir writing, from where our stories come from to being fearless with the truth.
“You have to transcend the civil, the polite, and write who you really are,” Strayed says. “You want to aspire to credibility, not likeability.”
We spent hours talking, learning and, of course, writing. Some worked on their own memoirs, others crafted new material for the class based on writing prompts. While the scenery was a bit distracting, the place was perfect for this — tranquil, picturesque, soul-filling.
For many of us, including Strayed, writing can be incredibly therapeutic. There have been many times when I’ve turned to my journal or laptop to work out complicated issues. There’s something powerful about actually, physically writing something down — and seeing your words (and thoughts and feelings) on paper. It becomes suddenly and alarmingly real.
I love writing for all these reasons. But it can be a very solitary process. We tend to write alone, often in dimly lit rooms or corners of trendy coffee shops. We don’t talk to anyone, we turn off our cell phones, sometimes we even block such time-sucking sites as Facebook and Amazon.
So it’s nice to be around other hermit-like writers, to share and commiserate and cheer each other on. It was a relief to hear I wasn’t alone in my fear of writing something utterly and shamefully crappy. And I loved hear Strayed’s own stories of procrastination and self-deprication.
Oh, and we get to spend a weekend in Hanalei on Kaua‘i? Sign me up!
I came back from the retreat refreshed and recharged and eager to start writing. (Lucky for me I write for a living!) And I did come back with this new perspective: It doesn’t really matter how good or talented you are, if you love it, do it. That’s all that matters.
Thanks, Cheryl. 🙂