Writing Workshops, Retreats, Mentoring

Inkslingers Writing Retreat – 7 Days Write by Lake Simcoe

On Retreat

A Review

by Theresa Dekker

In 2011 I was looking for an affordable getaway where I could concentrate on my writing when I received a notice describing the Inkslingers weeklong writing retreat at Loretto Maryholme in Roches Point, Ontario. Only an hour’s drive from home, set on an idyllic country property, it offered me a sanctuary from distractions and excuses.

I arrived on a beautiful July Sunday afternoon and after unpacking in my private room took a walk to explore the grounds. From the various flower gardens to the unimpeded view of Lake Simcoe and then through a silent walk of the labyrinth I felt myself letting go of all the day-to-day clamour that had occupied my thoughts.

The group gathered for a delicious meal – the first of many prepared by Chef Deb Rankine – where we had a chance to meet fellow writers and talk about how the week would flow. Our hosts and facilitators, Sue Reynolds and James Dewar, set a comfortable relaxed tone from the first night. I headed off to bed ready to experience silent mornings.

What a blessing to wake whenever I wanted, pick my breakfast from the selection of choices in the kitchen and then head back to my room while all the thoughts and ideas I woke up with were still clamouring to be written. Of course, not everyone was an early morning writer so others in the group slept in, went for a walk or even took a swim.

Silence reigned until 12:30pm each day when the group would gather for a half hour to touch base on how the morning had progressed. For me, these silent mornings produced pages and pages of work in an area where I had never before ventured – memoir. No, it wasn’t easy but now I had the chance to write without restriction or deadline or excuse.

Each day after a fabulous lunch every writer was given the opportunity to hand in eight to ten pages for review by the facilitators. The afternoons stretched ahead, time to walk the grounds, go for a drive into Keswick or continue on with the writing that waited impatiently to take command of the keyboard. Often this time was a continuation of the morning silence. The breeze blew in off the lake, bird songs drifted in the window and the sun warmed the dock where many chose to take a swim. Often for the afternoon I remained hunched over my keyboard but when I yearned to let my mind drift I would head to the room that was set up for SoulCollage (more about this later).

As each day passed these tranquil afternoons raced by with ever increasing speed. It hardly seemed possible that I had only gone for a walk, spent some time in the labyrinth and sat for a while on the wooden swing before the dinner bell was tinkling its call. No one was ever late for a Chef Deb creation. Healthy and delicious food nurtured our bodies while the surroundings and company buoyed our spirits.

About seven o’clock we would all gather together while Sue and James read from the submitted pieces. It was optional, every writer’s choice, whether they wanted their work included but I always found there was something special that happened when I heard my words read out loud. After each piece we followed the AWA (Amherst and Artists) method of feedback. We gave back to each writer the things we found strong in the piece and the things that stayed with us. At the end of the readings the facilitators would hand back all submitted writing with their comments and suggestions. Voila, we each had a starting point for the next day if we wanted it.

For me this on the spot affirmation and sharing of my writing was difficult because of the subject matter. However, I found the group was supportive and understanding. Each writer took the same risks as they shared their fresh raw writing. I’ve written with many groups where we read the unedited pieces but it is when writers come to trust each other over an extended and concentrated time, like this retreat, that I have felt the most freedom to write what comes up.

Never one to hurry to bed I would spend the rest of my evenings with most of the group in the room set up for making SoulCollage cards. This was an optional activity, a largely intuitive and creative process that I use for introspection and contemplation. You can read about the process at www.soulcollage.com if you’re interested – that could take a whole article in and of itself. (Not everyone wanted to spend their evenings this way; there was plenty of opportunity for conversation as we shared whatever treat Chef Deb had left us for a late night snack.

The week flew by and I came away with many pieces that have become the basis of the memoir writing I am currently doing. On our last day each writer was allotted a half-hour session, a one-on-one with the facilitators. I know in my session we talked about what they saw as the strong points of my writing as well as what would make it stronger. We also discussed my aspirations for my writing and next steps. In addition, the facilitators were generous with their suggestions to my many questions around the other writing types I work on – fiction and poetry.

I left that day excited with the progress I had made in my writing and full of ideas for each of the writing projects I like to work on. It was an experience that showed me the atmosphere and routine that works best for me to produce solid writing. Though I am able to recreate the quiet mornings at home I still miss the communal writing. It is the shared energy when a group of writers are together, each immersed in their craft that has an invisible momentum that keeps me glued to my keyboard.

This was an experience I wanted to repeat. So when the next notice came to advertise an Inkslingers writing retreat I immediately signed up. And then for the next one. And for the one after that. Each retreat has had different participants with different writing goals but always I learn something new about my writing as I share the experience with my fellow writers.
Nowadays I scan my email in search of a new notice for the next retreat.

Theresa Dekker writes fiction, poetry and memoir. Her work has appeared in the anthologies Being Unquiet and Tuesday’s Child.