3 Things I Learned at a Writing Retreat

“Rustic cabins with all the conveniences of home,” the email gushed. “Miles of pristine forest trails to explore, and spectacular sunsets over the lake.” There were photos of blissed-out writers doing tai chi in the grass, getting massages, or writing intently on sunlit porches. “You take care of everyone else,” the email nodded sagely. “Isn’t it time to do something for YOU?”

I handed over my credit card number in five minutes flat. A few days later I was out the door, bound for Lake Something-or-Other for a weekend of writing, communing with nature, and supporting other women writers.

Here’s what I learned:

Number One: I can live without wifi, but I really need a heads up if there’s not going to be electricity. And when you say “all the conveniences of home” I assume that includes flushing toilets. And a roof. Not to be picky — because I’ve slept in some very questionable youth hostels — but without an actual roof, it’s not a cabin, dude. It’s just a shack in the mud.

My writing lesson for Day One: tell the truth. I have to fight the urge to preen, exaggerate, or slant my writing to get more praise or applause. I’m not going to censor my true beliefs because some anonymous person out there might not relate. In the end, it’s just my words and me. Let them ring true, and I’ll never have to eat them.

Also — if you’ve got toilet paper in your backpack, share. It’s just the right thing to do.

Number Two: Poison ivy looks different in the summer. “It’s not always red,” I said repeatedly to our hiking guide — dressed in shorts and flip-flops — and the three women from Detroit who believed him instead of me. What did I know, standing there in my long pants and sturdy shoes and sun hat? It’s not like I’ve hiked the Camino or the Oregon Coast Trail or anything.

My writing lesson for Day Two: follow my own instincts, even if I walk alone for a while. If the “experts” are telling me to walk through the poison ivy, wave at them. Stay on my own path, and catch up with them later. Not everyone is going to appreciate my opinion — or my writing. And that’s okay. Hey, for all I know, Mr. Flip Flop is going to write a best-seller someday called What Not to Do in the Woods.

Also — if you’ve got anti-itch cream in your backpack, share. It’s just the right thing to do.

Number Three: Eating raw chicken is bad for the chicken, bad for the environment, and really bad for my writing. Sure, it sounded like a great idea to pack up some raw meat in ice, trek all day in 94 degree heat, then grill it up over an open fire. Maybe have a nice bottle of wine. But I packed my trail mix and my fishing pole, too. Just in case.

My writing lesson for Day Three: learn to fish.  If I don’t want my writing to go rancid on the journey, I have to be willing to fish for fresh words and ideas along the way.

Also — if you’ve got anti-diarrheal meds in your backpack, share. It’s just the right thing to do.