Every summer for the past four years, my family has packed up our little car, and sometimes a dog, and made our way to the mountains for the Wayward Writers Retreat.
It sounds a little fancy doesn’t it? For many, adding the word retreat to anything conjures images of long soaks in mineral springs, yoga, and rock mazes, but this retreat doesn’t really include any of those things, and it really only includes a little writing and one public reading. So what else do we do? Well, we drink wine and margaritas and we talk about writing, and writers, and books, our projects, the ones that are driving us crazy, and the ones we’ve finished that we’re proud of – published or not.
The first Wayward Writer’s retreat took place in 2012. It was Margaret Garcia’s idea to bring together as many writers as possible who met online in Ariel Gore’s Literary Kitchen – dubbed the Wayward Writers. It should have been a little nerve wracking that first year, the prospect of meeting a bunch of people in person that I had only met online. It was like a three-day long, polyamorous internet date. It could go right, but it could also go very, very wrong, and I’d be five hours from home, having subjected my whole family. The funny thing is that I never really thought of it that way at all. I only felt a bit nervous the first year meeting everyone in the seconds before found our way to Margaret’s house in Greenville, but before packing the family in the car, I hadn’t really considered any negative possibilities because I have faith in writers, especially women writers. Those of us who showed up that first year had been writing together in the Literary Kitchen for a year or more, commenting on each other’s work, getting to know one another by reading the others’ work, often memoir, and through the comments – Ariel Gore’s wise and kind style of leading, teaching, and critiquing was our guide.
I’ve never been to any other writer’s retreat. They’ve always been too expensive, or too white, or too far away, or I didn’t want to leave my then younger child for so many days in a row unless I had to work because separations were so hard for him then.
Maybe I would have published sooner if I had gone to a retreat, but there’s no guarantee, andI hadn’t published anything yet the first year of the annual Wayward Writer’s Retreat in 2012 – none of the other Waywards had published much yet either, but they all seemed a bit more experienced and accomplished, some with chapbooks, blogs, and connections. I didn’t mind because I was working feverishly to finish my first memoir to concentrate much on publishing, plus I knew that these women would teach me a lot about where I could place my work and how to do it. One thing we all had in common was the yearning for a book deal, ideally, an agent and a book deal, but in this age of publishing we were learning agents were getting harder and harder to come by, but that there were also other routes – even self-publishing, though extra labor-intensive, was a viable and increasingly attractive potential option. I considered self-publishing my first, still unpublished memoir, Pretty Bold For a Mexican Girl: Growing up Chicana in a Hick Town, the memoir that I finished in the Literary Kitchen manuscript workshop, but then realizing that I had another memoir in me, one with a built-in audience, I focused instead on finishing, The Spitboy Rule: Tale of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band. I took the knowledge and the confidence from writing the first one and wrote another and got a publisher. I’ve published quite a bit in anthologies and literary journals too since that first Wayward Writer’s Retreat, many of which I’ve learned about from my Wayward Writer hermanas. I followed in Margaret’s footsteps and made the 2013 SF cast of Listen To Your Mother and had the great fortune, this year, of winding up in the anthology.
Now, I don’t have to go another writer’s retreat unless I want to, or until I apply and get a big scholarship for a retreat in some secluded locale with my own room and my meals prepared. Still, I know I’d miss Margaret, and Julian, and Paloma, and Diego, and Jenny, and Rebeca, Linda, and Rocky, and Lisbeth, even the others who have only made it up once, and I’d miss making two dozen tortillas by hand while my husband grills marinated steak brought from our local Mexican market, and doing things like riding a high-speed carousel in the woods. Most of all, I’d miss sitting around watching our kids play in the creek while we ponder if any of them will remain friends in the future, or joke about if they’ll need to form a kids of writers support groups.
This retreat where we camp out in Margaret’s yard and take turns cooking, checking on the children, and opening bottles of wine, I quickly learned is where a year’s worth of collective knowledge is gathered, combined, and shared. Never mind that it doesn’t come with word count promises, or cozy cottages, or fancy sponsors, or swag bags — just writers who cheer one another on, share resources and parenting stories, writers who collaborate, and writers who love to sit up with a glass of wine and talk about writing late into the night.