On Saturday, I packed a backpack and headed about 40 minutes outside of Austin to Elgin, Texas, where New Republic Studios is located. I was going to my first ever Writer’s Retreat, and it was also the inaugural Writer’s Retreat hosted by the Austin Film Festival, where I’ve been volunteering for the last two years.
I have always wanted to go to some sort of writing retreat, and I was excited about this one because it was just a day event, so I could test the waters. When I registered, I got an email saying to just pack my writing supplies, lunch, and any snacks – everything else would be provided.
I feel like I always have so many ideas in my head for things to write, but I’m not very good at just sitting down and bringing it to fruition. This is a problem many writers face, especially if we’re doing other things to pay the bills (there’s no shame in that game) and/or if there’s no deadline or reason to write, other than to satisfy our minds. We are all guilty of putting ourselves and our needs last, right?
The thing is, one of the major projects on my mind involves my dad, and I’m still very emotional about it. I know that is a big reason I’ve been putting it off. I’m so emotional, in fact, that the entire WEEK leading up to the retreat, I felt anxiety and grief. I finally just had to keep telling myself that this retreat was for me, and if I went and didn’t feel comfortable working on that particular project, then I didn’t have to – I have so many other things I could work on. I also reminded myself that I was under no obligation to stay the entire time. If the retreat wasn’t beneficial to me, then I could leave.
So, I packed up my laptop, notepad, journal, pens, headphones, and lots of snacks, and headed on my way. The little road trip to Elgin was a treat in itself. I am a sucker for scenery, and some of these tattered curves seemed straight out of a Nicholas Sparks’ book – there were dusty roads, cattle, and rolling fields of bluebonnet. I even spotted a cardinal perched along the road!
When I got to New Republic Studios, I was impressed. I’ve been to movie and sound studios before, but this was such a neat setup. It’s right along the Colorado River, and has multiple studios for filming.
Upon checking in, we got a schedule for the day, and there was free cold brew coffee and snacks. A few different people welcomed us, and talked about the day, and how important it was that we were carving out this time to work on our craft.
Then, everyone sort of went their own way and got to work. Some people went to an optional improv hour, and others (including me) went to write. I chose a spot outside – it was such a beautiful day, and I feel like I don’t get outside enough.
I worked on my project about my dad for as long as I could, and I also worked on my blog some, but I spent hours just journaling. I started writing in my journal in October, when I felt like I couldn’t turn to my blog as an outlet, and I stopped writing in it about three days before my dad died. I think I was scared to even go there – but I filled many pages on Saturday!
I sat outside almost the entire day – moving to a shady spot in the afternoon. I’d packed a small blanket so I could sit in the grass, and that was nice.
However, one of the people who is affiliated with Austin Film Festival, was at an outdoor table for most of the day, and spent that entire time talking and laughing to a few other people. I don’t know if anyone else was bothered by this, but I definitely was. It’s really difficult for me to concentrate on my work when I can hear other conversations.
This was a Writer’s Retreat, not a talking retreat, and this was someone who had just given us a speech, “You are a writer, no one can write the story in the way you can.” And here he was being so loud that he even said, “Sorry if we’re being too loud,” but then continued to talk! How about not being sorry and simply being quiet?
I put in my headphones and listened to music for a little bit, but then I realized, what is the point of me sitting here with my headphones in? We all paid to be here, and I could sit anywhere with headphones in. So, I packed up and left about 30 minutes early. I’d gotten all I was going to get out of that day.
All in all, I really enjoyed myself. But I would encourage the Austin Film Festival staff to be more respectful to those of us who need a quieter environment.
I couldn’t help but think about how much it takes for some people to write. I have had this blog for more than 10 years, among other blogs I’ve had, and am always doing something that involves writing. And maybe I’m a rare breed, but I do feel like many writers will go out of their way to avoid actually sitting down to write.
This is something Stephen King talks about extensively in his memoir, that writing is something you just have to DO, even if it means locking yourself in a room and doing it, and it often doesn’t look like anything fun or glamorous.
I met so many people at the retreat who were scared to even call themselves writers – because they hadn’t been published or hadn’t had a movie made… it takes work! And even sometimes, the result might not be what you planned.
It certainly does help to have retreats and environments that support writing and creativity. But sometimes you’ve got to make those spaces for yourself, or you’ll never get it done.
After the day at the retreat, I felt relaxed, like my mind was a bit clearer. And that is something I haven’t felt in a really long time. I’m so thankful for that.