E is for El Cheapo*
This Blogging from A to Z post is for all those writers out there.
For many years I had the good fortune to belong to a writing critique group led by the late Phyllis Taylor Pianka. Two Thursdays a month we would meet at Phyllis’s house to read our work and partake of delicious dessert. How I miss those nights! And how I miss Phyllis!
At one of our meetings, we discussed the benefits of writing conferences. I’d been to a couple–Squaw Valley is the best example I know of a conference that includes workshops. Cynthia, one of the writers in Phyllis’s group, emailed me later with the concept of a homegrown writing retreat. The idea was that it would be intimate and would cost nothing aside from groceries and wine.
She called it El Cheapo.
It was the birth of a fantastic event.
Here’s how El Cheapo goes. Twice a year Cynthia and I set aside two days and two nights for our El Cheapo retreat, sometimes at her house and sometimes at mine. The schedule is simple. We sit ourselves down in comfy chairs and write. We will usually write for a couple of hours until one of us says, “Do you have something to share?” Then we take turns reading for 10-15 minutes followed by a critique. The critiques explore what works, what is confusing, what needs more expansion, etc.
We break for meals and gossip and wine. (After all, in vino veritas. Yes?)
Should you consider holding an El Cheapo retreat? Here are three reasons (aside from the obvious financial) you should.
I really liked what Corinne O’Flynn wrote about the benefits of accountability partners. You can check out her post here. As Mary Heaton Vorse once said, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” In an El Cheapo retreat, you can look up from your work at any time and see your compatriot, which both keeps her in her chair and you in yours. Blocking out the time for writing is the biggest factor for me in producing work. If I’m alone, I hear the siren calls of the laundry, the dog, and, worst of all, the internet. All (or most, anyhow) distractions are silenced when I’m attending El Cheapo.
Have you ever had a writing idea, maybe something a little outrageous or something that veers wildly from your outline, and said to yourself, “Does this make any sense? Should I scrap this or continue in this new vein?”
Alice Sebold talked about her crazy idea for a teen ghost narrating her murder. She read some pages to a friend who told her to continue. That was the beginning of the bestseller The Lovely Bones.
At an El Cheapo retreat you can say to your accomplice, “Hey, what do you think of this idea?” Then you will be the recipient of instant feedback. Your writing buddy will tell you if your crazy idea is a good crazy or a bad crazy. She can also ask probing questions to help you flesh out your concept.
Writing is a lonely business. A homegrown retreat allows you to pursue your art with company. At El Cheapo, Cynthia and I work and critique, all the while knowing a meal and unwinding were a few hours away. Lunches and dinners provided time to socialize and gossip as well as encourage each other. We ate good food and drank nice wine and shared invigorating laughter.
I LOVE my El Cheapo writing retreats. I am the most productive I can ever be, and I cherish every minute.
How about you? Have you participated in a homegrown writing retreat? What worked or didn’t work for you?
*El Cheapo is actually in the dictionary. I checked.