Imagine the joy I found hiding away from the world at a convent for three days and two nights sitting in my cell and writing.
I attended a retreat for writers organized by Women Writing for (a) Change over the weekend of April 27 through 29, and over a month later, I’m still reaping benefits. Based in Cincinnati, Women Writing for a Change is an organization whose mission is “to foster a healthy writing community where the words of women from all walks of life are nurtured, developed and celebrated.”
What impresses me most about Women Writing for (a) Change (WWf(a)C) is that the organization emphasizes not only the craft of the writing, but also focuses on the writer and her community. My experience with academic workshop groups is that nearly all of the energy is spent on how the pieces are written. Emphasis lies solely on craft and technique. WWf(a)C groups emphasize what is being written. Workshop groups traditionally avoid discussion of content, and the writer is encouraged to remain emotionally detached from her own writing as she hones her technique. While I believe that emotional detachment from content is necessary for most settings, I find it refreshing to share work in a place where workshop members listen to what you have to say as well as how you say it.
Workshop and critique circles are highly ritualized affairs complete with extensive rules, assigned roles, and suggested “spiritual practices.” Workshop groups are kept small. Each group of three or four has a timekeeper, a “vibes watcher,” and a facilitator. I usually worry too much about hogging attention and time, so the strict rules for time actually freed me to share more than I do ordinarily.
I am also much impressed with how the organization trains writers to take responsibility for the way writing is to be critiqued in small group. Writers are expected to state the type of feedback they receive before reading to the group. This is a powerful shift of focus from that of more academic groups. For example, a writer could ask for deep revision of a work nearing completion, but a writer might also ask for more global feedback as to the “heart” and “gut” of the reader. This practice not only protects writers who may be emotionally vulnerable to criticism, but it also protects experienced writers from hearing craft feedback from writers who are less experienced.
Much of the weekend was spent in writing, workshop, and critique, but there was also time for meditation, walking the grounds of the retreat center, and partying with the girls after hours. The organizers, including WWf(a)C’s founder Mary Pierce Brosmer, work hard to create powerful experiences for retreat participants.
In spite of its awkward acronym, this unique organization is a force for personal transformation in the lives of the many women who become involved in its courses, retreats, and what they proudly call their feminist leadership programs. Yes, you heard me right, feminist. These women are not afraid to use the f-word in polite—and sometimes not so polite—company. Neither are these women shy to use words like “sacred” and “spiritual.” As an old-school skeptic with leanings toward secular humanism, I tend to shy away from organizations whose members sit in circles in candlelight at the feet of their charismatic leader and pass talking-crystals. Yet, I find myself returning to this group for support, inspiration, community, and time to write.