What Are You Afraid Of? How a Writing Retreat Saved Me

By Joan Gelfand

At one point in my career, I was convinced that my writing life was over. If it hadn’t been for a writing retreat, I would not have finished my next two books.

When I quit my corporate job to write full-time, I worked at home. I showed up at my desk at 9 AM just as I had for my job. I wrote my second novel, three poetry collections and a book of short stories.

And then, one autumn, the wind went out of my well-honed, self-disciplined, super productive sails. I lost my mojo. I felt isolated and uninspired. I found myself lolling, writing emails until well after 10 AM. I was easily distracted. Was it time to investigate another career?

While I was struggling with this question, I signed up for a 10-day writer’s retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico. I had never participated in an organized retreat, but I knew I had at least a few projects that were floundering.

Every day after breakfast we eight writers retired to our private rooms to write. And write I did. I wrote new poems and started a new book. The floodgates opened. In the afternoon we met to discuss our work, listen to a teaching by our instructor and share work.

What had changed? It wasn’t until the end of the retreat that I figured out that being around other writers invigorated me. I was motivated again. Many writers have historically needed the company of others to stay productive. Virginia Woolf lived in a house with other artists and writers, and today, the Grotto, a San Francisco institution, houses writers in all genres.

When I returned home to San Francisco, I realized that I too needed to start working around other people. I joined EcoSystms, a co-working space downtown. Although the folks there are not all writers, simply being around other people in a professional environment made all the difference.


About Joan Gelfand:

The author of You Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s of Successful Authors (Mango Press, 2018) and three volumes of poetry, Joan has also written an award-winning chapbook of short fiction and a novel set in a Silicon Valley startup.
The recipient of numerous awards, nominations and honors, Joan’s work appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, Kalliope, The Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, the Toronto Review, Marsh Hawk Review, Levure Litteraire,  Chicken Soup for the Soul and over 100 anthologies, lit mags and journals.

Joan coaches writers on their publication journey by Skype and Zoom.  http://joangelfand.com

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