Blog, July 2013
Mormon Writers' Retreat
So I need to tell about a retreat I was lucky enough to attend a few weeks ago.
First, let me acknowledge that I am aware of that other retreat—I think it's called Mormon Artist Retreat—that various writers, visual artists, filmmakers, playwrights, etc., have been invited to attend over the past ten years or so. I heard about it, though I get the feeling it's kind of a hush-hush thing. Hmmm—why do I get that feeling? Perhaps because it is by invitation only, and it's difficult to tell what the criteria are for the invitation, other than a measure of proven success "out there" in the world. And I freely confess that as a Mormon writer who gets great joy out of being in conversation with other Mormon writers about what we're doing (my favorite part of AML meetings is the hallway conversations) I have been envious of these invitations, even though I have no idea what goes on at those retreats and I recognize that it's possible that the conversations there wouldn't interest me at all. Maybe I'm just envious because an invitation to it is an acknowledgement that you are Someone, or at least that you have done Something. Whatever.
So, I'm envious of the conversations that I imagine that they're having, or the conversations I would want to be having if I were there. But I know I'm not going to get invited to that thing perhaps ever, and definitely not until I publish a book or something big like that.
Therefore, when I heard that my friend James Goldberg wanted to have his own retreat, I was all over that. Because I know James. Better, he knows me, and knows that my heart is TOTALLY into what he wants to do, which is foster more conversation among people who are writing AS MORMONS IN PARTICULAR. Which, I think, is different from what that other retreat is doing, and much more interesting to me. My friendship with James, or my feeling that I know him perhaps better than I actually do, exists because I feel that he is someone who cares as much as I do about this particular topic. (I met James through AML.) Anyway, I was really excited about his ideas and loved the chance of jumping into this.
So we went up to the cabin. We got there on Thursday afternoon and left mid-day Saturday. There were only six of us, which was a great size for discussions. James has already summed up what happened, and what we participants thought of it all here, so I won't repeat it all. Instead, I'll just tell about three things I gained from the experience.
1. "Oh yeah, THIS is why I'm writing in the first place." It was my interest in Mormon letters that got me writing seriously from the beginning. It's easy to forget this while I'm in school, because school is all about making a splash in the Big World. Write things that are universal. Get published in the lit. mags. And school has been good for me in that way—helping me realize that I CAN address people different from me. I've been expanding my subjects into other aspects of human life than just religion, and that's good for me. I also do really believe that if I can get the specifics right, even of living a Mormon life, and the work is good, it will appeal to a broader audience. But I didn't realize until this retreat how tired I'm getting of trying to please that Great Out There, and how I have lost the original heart of my writing, which was a desire to speak to and about my fellow Mormons. I have a few fans, and they are LDS. I don't write to please them in particular, but when I write to please myself, I naturally please those who are most like me. And that's OK. More than that, it's WORTHWHILE. These are people WORTH WRITING FOR. And the work I care about most is work that I write with them in mind. (As proof: my sense that something was missing when I experienced some success with my YA novel, which my heart WASN'T IN.)
2. "Where've you been all my life?" I have been depriving myself of conversation. I thrive when I can talk about writing with others who care, particularly writing as a Mormon. If it's so helpful, how can I make sure I get more of it in my life? Supposedly, the grad carrels are a good place for this kind of thing at school, but it hasn't been happening for me there. Possibly because of my age difference—even if it doesn't make the younger students less interested in me, it makes me more shy around them. I've got to find a way to get conversations into my life more regularly. Some kind of writers group? I don’t know. I need to work on this.
3. "Write and write and write." I realized in conversation with another friend, Scott Parkin, that one thing that's been missing for me lately is a sense of idea flow. And the last time I really felt it was when I was doing NaNoWriMo. There's something about writing a LOT, regularly, that opens the door to more ideas. While I'm focusing on poetry, I've been missing that flow feeling, because poetry as a genre is so much more stop and start and sit and mull and revise, revise, revise. But when I'm dumping, dumping onto a screen regularly for a longer project (fiction or freewrites or whatever), later in the day when I'm not writing, things come to me. And I need more things coming to me to help me with my poetry. So I've set a goal to do more flow-writing (journaling, blog, fiction, whatever) to open those gates again.
In addition to the insights I gained above, James gave us some great ideas about how to come up with things and bring them into being as artistic pieces. But more than that, I appreciated the model James gave me of some ways to teach creative writing. I look forward to trying to teach creative writing in the upcoming year, and I'm glad I know someone like James to learn from.
I'm grateful to James for recognizing the need in the Mormon community for relationships, and the good that talking together can do. I look forward to seeing what he'll do in the future with this.