I spend a week mid-January adjusting to the time change and unpacking from my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice while also packing for my month’s-end Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad, in sunny and warm Mexico. Somehow I feel more balanced in my emotionally draining writing, which demands the re-living and re-digesting of painful thoughts and memories, when I am living more intensely in the present as well. Writing in less familiar and differently inspirational surroundings feels like more intense living. It keeps me motivated to write, and to live.
This organised group writing retreat offers outdoor morning, nearly “hot yoga” classes, followed by writing classes and personalised coaching. Being instructed in the mechanics of storytelling is perhaps useful in the long-run; however, it reminds me too much of high school English class—and I was not a big fan of it then either. I park the information for future reference, but at this stage, I choose to concentrate on discovering where the organic telling of my story takes me. However, inspired by some feedback to a short piece of my writing, and supported with some clarifying instruction, I find that the piece I am working on during this retreat possibly lends itself to applying the technique of “showing”—through a dialogue between the characters—over the descriptive and explanatory “telling” technique that I, thus far, predominantly apply in my storytelling. It goes quite well.
This interesting experience also allows me to reflect on the notion of re-writes. I can see that my dialogue form will need a second look, at least to make it sound more like speaking than the complete sentences I currently have my characters expressing. No one speaks in complete sentences. All manner of speech is indeed imperfect. Spurred in part by this experience, I realise that my view of editorial re-writes of my story is evolving: I am more open to the idea that I will not get my story down perfectly the first time and that drafts will be necessary. I realise that this will be necessary, not only to improve the writing, but also in order to get it written at all. Aiming for perfection, particularly in one-go, tends to be paralysing.
Sometimes writing from my apartment, sometimes from the apartment’s rooftop, other times from oceanfront drink bars and restaurants, I look for opportunities to be inspired in an Artist Date kind of way. I am rewarded with at least two.
After one mid-day writing session, I take a short walk to the end of my street, to peruse the world-renowned, tiny hovel: Beer Bob’s Book Exchange, where I find several (book) gems. On my way back to my writing task, seeing my initial carved in ficus-tree in the street prompts me to take notice of an elderly woman on a second-story balcony. She is painting, clearly for the sake of pure enjoyment, not knowing her activity is being observed and is inspiring another person. I take a leaf from this tree of worldly wisdom for my book endeavour.
My second Artist Date reveals itself during my rooftop smoothie breakfast and writing session at sunrise. I notice the dew beaded across the table to keep me company, thinking myself alone. I take a picture of this one of nature’s beauties, and only when I look at the dew through the lens of my camera do I notice that I am joined for breakfast by a tiny red creature sipping from a dew drop. In that moment I am reminded that sometimes much is revealed when one changes the lens from which one looks at the world.
My evening meals, and some of my mid-day ones, too, I spend in the company of my fellow retreating writers. And the food is amazing: delicious, (mostly!) healthy, and oh, so colourful. I simply cannot get enough! My favourites become guacamole and salsa with corn chips, chased with a lemon laced Corona cerveza, particularly on a warm oceanfront patio, shared with my new friends.
Upon my return home, I keep the memories of being warm and of eating delicious Mexican dishes fueled by keeping my apartment warmer and by reproducing the luscious guacamole, salsa and taco experience from my trip.
In my French class later in the week, I share a short homework assignment that uses French vocabulary for “offering, accepting, and refusing”. Mine turns out to be a poetic piece, entitled “Les offres de la vie” (“Offers from Life”), which I come up with while lounging one day on the Mexican – Barra de Navidad beach.