By Thandiwe McCarthy
On August 18th, 2023, I decided to attend my first writer’s retreat. The Writers Federation of New Brunswick was putting on a two-day retreat at the Villa Madonna in Rothesay. I thought this was a great time to get away from all the event planning and community politics and find out where I was as a writer. My goal was to toss my phone in my room and just spend as many hours as possible writing, talking about writing, and reading. Here’s a few things I took away from my two-night stay.
Sometimes I find it hard to admit I’m a writer. Not just because I’m new to the practice, but also the fuzziness of the definition. Is a writer someone who keeps a gratitude journal? Do they need to sell books? Publish in magazines? Win literary awards? As a Spoken Word poet who writes nonfiction essays and has self-published a novel, I am often at a loss for the single title that echoes back.
Seems there are half a dozen yard sticks that measure when we are granted permission to yell out that we are writers. Thankfully all those haunting questions of identity were put to rest in just two evenings of conversations with my peers. Sharing stories of literary success and creative struggle did more than help me approach the blank page. It helped me be comfortable with the task at hand, regardless of what it was called. Of course, I still needed the motivation to write something.
I truly believe that writing is the anxiety Olympics. Every paragraph, sentence, and word are constantly competing for that perfect gold medal. But not just what we write, even our writing practices must be defended against friends, family, hunger, and boredom. Yet here again I was helped by spending forty-eight hours with other writers.
Several times a day in the common room we had a Word War. A 20-minute timer would start, and half a dozen people would write as many words as possible. There was something magic about hearing nothing but the mechanical pencils scratch, the ballpoint pens glide and the laptop keys being struck all with the shared goal. I could feel the weight of our collective focus. It really helped me. Then at the end we go around and share how many words each of us wrote. It felt like getting a jumpstart to my creative engine. And I credit those fun activities with boosting my writing drive almost a month after the retreat. Truly the best way to get over a writer’s block is collectively. But writing books won’t help you sell them.
Business. Ugh. I know the exact price to ship out one of my books by Canada post is $4.31. For some reason if I use the envelopes with bubble wrap inside, then that price will double because it then becomes priced as a parcel instead of a letter.
This is to say if your vision of being a successful writer has anything to do with money, you’re going to have to learn the industry. And there is no better way to learn about book business than being locked into a haunted mansion for two nights with a dozen writers. I got to hear about how much reviews matter to authors, the dangers of large bookstores, the benefits of consignment deals. There was a whole nuanced conversation about the three great lessons for all writers.
- 1. Being a bestselling book doesn’t mean it is the most read.
- 2. The books everyone actually read won’t mean they are well written.
- 3. The best written books don’t guarantee sales.
There are levels to the writer game you can only perceive by talking to other writers who’ve published dozens, sold thousands, and read hundreds of books.
Over the course of this two-night retreat I learned so much. I feel more confident calling myself a writer. Inspired by Word Wars I’ve innovated my writing practice to keep things fresh. And I’m looking forward to experiencing the selling at a book table (I’m doing it this October!).
I really believe no matter what stage you are at in your writing, you will benefit from investing in the next WFNB writers retreat. Bring your favorite pens, journals, books, and let yourself experience the joy of being a writer. Be inspired to take your creativity into whatever direction you want. And I promise you they’ll be someone equally as excited to help you out. Plus, you don’t have to cook, there is yoga, unlimited coffee, and all the writers can read work in a supportive environment. I know I’ll be going back, if only just to spend time with people who share a deep love writing.
Love and Respect