Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Retreat! RETREAT!!!

Writing is, as I've said before, largely a solitary process.  At the end of the day, it is the writer, alone, in front of his keyboard, typing until his fingers cramp and eyes bleed.  Those who are not like us don't understand, can never understand, why it is that we shun the light or the company of our fellow humans.  But (and believe me, I am loathe to admit this), we do occasionally need human contact.  We do need the validation and camaraderie that comes with being amongst those of our kind, to step out of the "normal world" and into the crossfire of absurdity that only occurs when a room full of creative people are together with the goal of pushing each other to greatness.  And thus was born the concept of the "writer's retreat."

This past week, it was my honor to teach at Seton Hill University as an adjunct professor in their MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program.  I've been doing it for a while, and I always enjoy it, but this time was one of those times I particularly enjoyed because every June, the alumni of the program come together for the In Your Write Mind retreat.  Guest speakers in the industry, pitch sessions, workshops, all that is fine and dandy, and what the retreat is about.  But there is another thing that cannot be overstated in importance:  The participants themselves.  I admit, I'm a bit biased because many of the writers at the retreat are former students of mine, and I consider them no longer students, but colleagues and dear friends.  But the very presence, the interaction, is something all writers need.  In a way, it's validation.  We learn from each other, feed off each others' creative vibe, pick each others' brains, toss around ideas and recharge ourselves from the year's burnout of going through the daily grind.  It's one part support system, one part dysfunctional family.

I go to writing workshops all the time, and I have yet to find one that is as tight-knit as the In Your Write Mind retreat.

And while we're on the subject, I'd like to mention the root of the retreat, the WPF program itself.  You want to be a writer?  You want to write horror, or sci-fi, or romance, or YA, or any of a dozen other "genres" at which the literary community scoff?  Did you think you'd never get an MFA because your tastes run darker than those of the bearded academics who feel that authors like Barker and Lovecraft have no place in the learned world?  Guess what.  Seton Hill has the WPF program that awards an MFA on graduates, and there are two notable differences between this program and every other MFA that I've seen.  First off, students are not handed theory by people who have degrees but have never published, or who have published, but only in an academic or literary environment.  The teachers in the Seton Hill program are WORKING WRITERS.  I should know.  I am one.  Students are taught how to build a novel from the ground up in the genre of their choice by people who actually do that.  They're also paired with one of these writers so as to get real mentoring from one of them.  Go back and read that line again.  Do you realize what a wonderful opportunity that is?  Go look if you don't believe me.  Second, the goal of the program, the "thesis" if you will, is to complete a market-ready manuscript.  To date, five of my former "mentees" have sold their theses to publishers.  And I can't even count the number of novels that come from the program.

So here's my challenge to you:  If you want to be a writer, write your little shriveled heart out all year long, but make time to be around your fellow crazies.  Step into that crossfire of absurdity once in a while where the ideas fly and people actually want you to succeed.  You never know who you will meet.  This past weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Knost, whose book Writers Workshop of Horror I frequently assign to students.  The man is a bundle of laughs and good will.  I met agents, publishers, and, most importantly, other authors.  I met up with my old friends and we laugh about what a hardass I was to them.  It was a week needed, and I feel reborn.

If you don't believe in magic, go to a writers retreat and watch the sparks fly.  Watch the creative muse dance around our heads, and see the creations that come out of our collaborations.  Watch what happens when a group of writers get into a single room together and are left to their own devices.  And you will believe in magic.


  1. "If you want to be a writer, write your little shriveled heart out all year long, but make time to be around your fellow crazies. Step into that crossfire of absurdity once in a while where the ideas fly and people actually want you to succeed."

    How I LOVE that statement! As a WPF attendee who participated in my 3rd residency, I can honestly say the Seton Hill writer family is like none other. I've made friendships I never would have made otherwise. I've learned to step outside of my box and meet brilliant minds who are intelligent, funny and just a joy to be around.

    This post was well stated and I very much agree. I'll miss being away from everyone I've met, but I look forward to January when our classes congregate again and I'm excited at the prospect of the next June residency when I'll be a 5 and just six months from graduation.

    The real joy of Seton Hill's WPF program comes from knowing that even after graduation the family doesn't end. The Alumni of WPF will continue to embrace each graduate, mentor and professor. Through this program the writer always has a home and sisters/brothers to call "family."

    "Hazard Yet Forward", is the Seton Hill moto, but it does not imply that the brave walk alone. There is strength in numbers, a fortitude that transcends physical endurance and embraces the emotional, the mental and the creative spirit as well as the intellect. And as Scott said, there is magic which I visualize comes from pixie dust and the breath of angels, from demons and dryads and a host of imaginables...gestated by writers. Beautiful writers with fantastic minds. Family all.

  2. Applause! You remind us that SHU's MFA program is like a >sanctuary< for genre writers in the roiling, volatile tides of both academia and publisher's row. And just a darned good party, (esp. for the alums). Thank you for writing this tribute...anyone who's been there knows what you're talking about. It was a blast seeing you and everyone else last week, Scott.

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