Lessons from a Writer's Retreat


It's no secret that I'm writing a book. Perhaps I should have kept it a secret. I've heard that some writers do that. But I didn't. I opened my mouth and I told people, and now—for better or for worse—I have to write it. And for better or worse, I have to finish it. I've written 16 loose and repetitive chapters that are chock-full of cliches and stereotypes and really bad grammar. (And typos. Oh the typos.) But they are there, waiting to be made better, and that is good news. A writer can ask for nothing more than a bad page written. So, for my Christmas present this year, I didn't ask for a new jacket or the latest gadget. I asked Santa (aka, Patrick) for a chance to get away and write. He said yes, and here I am.

I discovered this little place after my friends, photographer  Brad and Jen Butcher spent a week here on a "staff retreat" for their two-person, husband-and-wife business. So I followed in their footsteps.

Now, I am no fool. I've done writers' retreats before. I don't believe that hiding away in the woods will make my words any more brilliant than they might be if they were written at a Starbucks or in my 10 x 8 guest room. But I do believe that here, I have the luxury of late-night hours and solitude and classical music and a fire place. So, what am I learning in the treehouse?

On Leadership and Solitude.

Today I spent most of my time reading and re-reading a speech William Deresiewicz delivered in 2009  to the plebe class at West Point. His transcribed 12-page speech is a look into leadership and solitude, and why one is a prerequisite for the other. Here's just one morsel. I hope it convinces you to read the entire thing, front to back, twice.

Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people's ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod or watching something on YouTube.

... It seems to me that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube–and just so you don't think this is a generational thing, TV and radio and magazines and even newspapers too—are ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way.

So what am I learning?

1. Stop running away from yourself and the troubling questions.

2. Start reading ancient things, and think about what they make you think about.

3. Believe that what you discover could be new. Believe it could be worth sharing. And then lead others in that new direction.

Here goes something.