By Michelle Chalkey
Last weekend was a writer’s dream.
I arrived at this gorgeous multi-level house in Panora on a Friday afternoon with my friend Rachel. Seven of us from the Des Moines Writers Workshop rented the house, which overlooks Lake Panorama, for the entire weekend for a writing retreat. Of course, the house, the view, the scenery, everything was peaceful and beautiful, but the most blissful thing for me in the trip was the allotted time to write at all hours of the day without distraction.
And write I did.
It was a beautiful, sunny weekend with a slightly chilly wind, perfect for bundling up in blankets outside for as long as you could bear it. In the house, there were cozy little nooks and sun rooms and tons of private writing space, but it was also helpful when all seven of us sat around a table, set a timer for two hours, and wrote until our little fingers off. If you weren’t typing, someone else was. The constant sound of fingers hitting the keyboard was enough to make me want to keep going.
We would write, go for walks, and do our own thing during the day. At night we had dinner around the table, then drank wine and ate pie while talking about where we were at with our writing–struggles, accomplishments, realizations, etc. It was helpful for us to work through problems we were having in our stories and bounce ideas off other writers.
This group is full of talented and creative people, all with huge hearts who are eager and willing to help. I keep thinking how fortunate I am to have landed a spot with them. We’re all at different stages with our writing–one girl is even in the process of working with agents, which is so exciting!–but we all know how difficult the task at hand is, which keeps us connected no matter what level we’re at.
I was surprised and disappointed at first to see that my anxiety had followed me up to Lake Panorama. I was killing my word counts, officially getting farther than I ever have in the several novels I’ve started and quit since the fourth grade, but there was still this perfectionist in my head nagging at me that my writing wasn’t good enough.
It took a long walk outside by the peaceful lake to realize that duh, of course my writing sucked right then. You can’t write thousands of words in just a few hours without looking over it and expect it to be publishing ready. That’s not the goal for now. The goal is to get the words and all of my thoughts out about what is actually happening in my novel, then spend more time reshaping and perfecting it once all the roughness is out. That’s why they call it a first draft, right?
This was my dream weekend, and I couldn’t let anxiety and perfectionism ruin it for me. I calmed down, ate some chocolate, and was able to relax the rest of the weekend. While writing, of course.
The first Des Moines Writers’ Workshop Retreat helped me more than I could have hoped in both my writing and my mindset as a writer. We’re a special group that needs the support of other writers as much as we can get it. Yes, we realize how much we sound like we’re a group of addicts, but that’s what writing is for us. It’s an addiction that found us and never let go. Instead of resisting it, we find ways to get more of it and make it work for us.
I can’t wait until the next retreat!!