My Top Five Writing Retreats

Cedar Key, Florida
A Breath of Fresh Inspiration

The great outdoors inspires me as a writer, especially in a setting by a river or lake. Water trickling over rocks, breeze-swayed evergreens, birds serenading from treetops, and rainbow-hued flowers. The scent of earth perfuming the air.

My muse comes alive in God’s created paradise. Especially for a cave-dweller like me.

Coming from a resort management background, I’m blessed with insider information about great getaways. There are affordable places around the country, to fuel a writer’s creative juices. Where magical meets practical.

So lean in close, and I’ll whisper a few secrets about my top five writing retreats.

5) Mohican Adventures — Loudonville, Ohio
Amenities & Attractions: Cabins, RV campsites, small lake, Miniature Golf, Go-Karts, Canoe Trips, Horseback riding, wooded area and hiking trails, Wi-Fi (extra fees)
Special Notes: The rolling hills around Loudonville bear the mark of Amish influence. I feel like I’m in a by-gone era when I drive through centuries-old quaint towns. And yet, the resort offers modern convenience.

4) Ozark Outdoors Riverfront Resort — Leasburg, Missouri
Amenities & Attractions: Cabins, motels, condos, RV sites, wooded hiking trails, canoe, raft, kayak, and tube trips, Wi-Fi in designated areas.
Selling Points: I love the choice of three different rivers to roam. This immaculate resort is tucked into lush Ozark hills, twenty minutes from the closest town. Bald eagles often fly overhead, nesting atop trees and massive bluffs in the area.

3) Adventures Unlimited — Milton, Florida
Amenities & Attractions: Historic rental homes, riverside cabins, zip-line, canoe, kayak, and tube trips. Wi-Fi in designated areas.
Writer’s Attraction: How can I resist rooms with names like The American Poet’s, John James Audubon, William Faulkner, Dr. Seuss. Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Mitchell, and Mark Twain? Each unit in the Schoolhouse Inn boasts books and memorabilia for the author it represents. The rocking chairs and swing, on the southern wrap-around porch, allow me to write in a setting fit for the masters.

2) River & Trail Outfitters — Knoxville, Maryland
Amenities & Attractions: White-water rafting, kayaks, tubes, near the landmark village of Harper’s Ferry, WV and the C&O Canal trail, perfect for bikes or an energizing walk.
Creative Triggers: This place feeds my hunger for history and love for America. Located near the confluence of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, rich stories of our nation’s heritage wait around every corner. Access to the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, puts me on the same hallowed waterways our forefathers traveled.

1) Voyageur Canoe Outfitters — Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, Minnesota
Amenities & Attractions: Rustic cabins, tent camping, outfitted lake trips by canoe or kayak. Secluded areas to make you feel like you have the whole territory to yourself. A distant moose or bear sighting thickens your plots.
Magnetic Draw: Leave no trace — more than a tag-line, here it’s a way of life. I feel like Lewis or Clark, pioneering new frontiers, while watching water trickle off my paddle. Challenging portages cause blood and oxygen to pump to my brain, spurring new imaginations. I call this place Boundary Energy.

Quieter Times & Lower Prices for all resorts: April, Early May, Late September, October, Tuesday through Thursday in summer.

Writers often need quiet space, and outdoor writing retreats offer a breath of fresh inspiration. No matter where you live, there’s probably an economical resort close by. Take advantage of off-peak periods to sweeten the price. But then again, you could pitch a tent in your own backyard.

Where do you retreat to sharpen your focus? How do you concentrate on projects?

Leasburg, Missouri
Meeting the Muse in God's Creation

Does the World Really Need Your Story?

This week snow fell–again, about a foot, on top of already knee-deep layers. I strapped on skis and went off into a spruce forest near my house, my tracks the first marks on the page of the world.

Starting a new writing project, a book or an article, even a blog post, feels much like this. I see something falling outside my window–an idea, a passion, a glimpse of something true and maybe beautiful. I eagerly strap on metaphorical skis and go out, wondrously lost in a world made strange again. I am confident that I belong here, that I will apprehend something of value and meaning. But the going gets hard. The surface of the snow changes. The skis get stuck. I fall. I discover dozens of tracks before me on the trail, most more graceful than my own. Why am I here?

Doubts track me down no matter where I am. I have learned not to dismiss them. They force me to consider and reconsider. Does the world really need one more story?

Today, I give three responses: two from others, one my own.

1. Your story can bring “healing and illumination” to others.

Katherine Paterson, prolific Newbery award-winning author, says with genuine humility, “I know my gift is limited. I know I cannot stand toe-to-toe with philosophers and theologians and solve for myself or anyone else the problem of evil . . .”  But here’s what we can do, she says, “we who are writers can tell a story or write a poem, and where rational argument will always fail, somehow, miraculously, in metaphor and simile and image, in simple narrative, there are, in the words of Barry Lopez, both ‘healing and illumination.’ Here I see a word of hope and possibility.”

2. Writing your story can preserve your life.

When Madeleine L’Engle’s husband says of her new work, “It’s been said better before,” she responds,  “Of course, it has. It’s all been said better before. If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said, by me, ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes out through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn’t what human creation is about. It is that we have to try, to put it down in pigment, or words, or musical notations, or we die.”

3.  Writing can move us toward the city of God.

If we pursue our stories, honestly and truly, they will send us on a pilgrimage that takes us, like Abraham, from one land to another, from a land of unknowing and darkness, through, of course, wastelands, where the promise of a promised land appears invisible and impossible . . . but the writing inexorably, day by day moves us closer to clarity, to wisdom, to the very city of God, if we allow it.

Don’t waste your doubts. Use them to move you forward into that forest, into the pages of that story that you must write—for yourself, for God and for others.


After the Glitter, Get Inspired

When the glitter settles, I often discover that my creativity has gravitated from the work place to family, friends, and holiday festivities. In other words, it goes into play mode. Christmas can leave me feeling unmotivated to return to the hard task of writing. When this happens, a pep talk is in order to remind the creative side of my brain that it loves writing.  I find it helpful to think about a time when I was able to produce and convince myself that I’m capable of doing so again. I try to focus on the positive and not entertain negative thoughts or lingering distractions so that I can prepare the way for my inner writer to quicken.

I know that I must allow the left side of my brain (the logical or analytical side) to provide a safe uncluttered place for my creative right side to emerge.

In other words, I clean up the glitter. For me, it’s getting my hair done, putting away the Christmas decorations, and cleaning off my desk and workspace. I organize my desk and schedule and make necessary adjustments to reincorporate my writing time. I order a calendar for the upcoming year. I often need to re-prioritize my writing goals and ask, “What is my next step? What day and time will I begin?” I allow my left side to formulate a plan for my inner writer, rather like one friend spurring another to do something great.

With the glitter removed, I coax my right side to get back to my fiction writing.

 I stoke the dim flickering desire by intentionally doing things that heat up the inspiration. I may read a book on writing, go to a writing blog, or connect with another writer. I dig out the inspirational quotes. If I’m lazy, I may read a novel or two. I think about my readers.

When my motivation intensifies, I know it’s time to get started.

Even if it doesn’t, when the designated appointment time arrives, I sit at my desk. It feels familiar like I’m coming home again. I begin by reading what I last wrote or looking over my plot outline.  When my creative mind knows I mean business, it will emerge–sometimes slow and sulky and other times eager and crashing through the gates. My lips quirk into a smile and my fingers glide over the keyboard. It may feel rusty, but I know this isn’t the time for me to worry about perfection, but just be thankful that I’m writing again.

How do you go from glitter to inspired?