As most of you who read this page know, I’ve had the privilege to Mentor the Fall version of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Writers Retreat held at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center in Piggott, Arkansas. I generally sing the praises of the writers, but thought I’d do something slightly different this time—not to suggest the writers shouldn’t have their praises sung: they created brilliant writings, as always.
Noticeably missing this year were Bob and Wanda Jones. Wanda, an exceptional poet, passed away just weeks ago after a long battle with cancer. She wrote a story last year about craving blood that still haunts me.
A retreat is a different monster than a workshop or a conference. In general, a retreat allows the writers to get away from the daily grind at home and focus solely on whatever it is they wish to write. Not all of them come with something in mind to write, but many do. Those who don’t, rely on the daily writing exercises to get their writing muscles going.
Each morning, I present the writers with some sort of writing exercise, generally with the idea of targeting some specific aspect of writing. One of the favorites at Arkansas is an exercise I do about dialogue, forcing the writers to listen to the different voices around the table and then attempt to convey personality and attitude simply by specific choice of words.
Last year I tried a “smell” exercise, trying to hone in on the five senses. I think smell is often overlooked in most writings. While it was a good idea, it didn’t work as I’d hoped.
This year, I tried a POV (Point of View) exercise in which I scattered the writers (there were 13 of them) around the Education Center and then had them watch a skit (brilliantly performed by Diana Sanders and Karen Trout!) which wound into several of the rooms in the center allowing them only glimpses at best and often not allowing them to hear parts of the conversation. One writer was placed outside the front door (it’s all glass) and had to try to discern what was happening by peeking inside.
At the end of the week, the exercises are collected into an anthology. The writers may also include other work they’ve created while at the retreat, but the exercises makes up the bulk of the material.
This year, I had a special treat in that Mom decided to attend. She’d mentioned it a couple of times before when I first started doing it and decided at the last minute she wanted to try it. Thankfully there was room for her (thanks, Diana!). It felt a little odd “critiquing” Mom. J
The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Writing Retreats are, I think, the model for retreats—and not just because I’m a mentor. In fact, there is a retreat in the summer which is mentored by someone else and I recommend it as well. But I think writers should at least try a retreat sometime during their writing career—just get away from all of life’s day-to-day worries and write.