Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Retreat into the New

 By Divina Infusino

I finally attended a writer’s retreat. Most of the writers I know, including some in SDWW, have flown to far flung places to extract themselves from their everyday lives, focus on their latest projects, receive feedback and just generally recharge their creative batteries.

This retreat, on a lake in the Midwest, was my first. I was a little unnerved, even though, and perhaps because, I actually knew most of the women attending. This was a formidable group. A Pen Award-winning lyricist and librettist whose show ran on Broadway for 137 performances; A former, highly successful Hollywood screenplay writer and an acclaimed playwright (Chicago’s Steppenwolf performed her plays); an author and former section editor at a major daily newspaper, and myself. All accomplished, ambitious, and, except for the librettist, in transition.

The screenwriter was tackling a memoir of her emotionally chaotic life. The journalist, who functioned for years as the observer, was pushing herself to write a personal essay. I was mulling over an animated story.  Each person was edging into a new genre. Each wondered, “Am I on the right track?”

It was ironic that these women who had achieved so much in their careers fretted about venturing into a different form of writing. Like most people who do one thing long enough, writers can fall into habits. They get accustomed to writing for a specific medium, audience, outlet, or in a certain style. Veering from their safety zone can feel like returning to “Go” on the Monopoly board. Do I really need to start over? The answer I discovered from listening to these women read aloud their writing, and reflecting on my own, was yes and no.

The screenwriter brought her sense of drama, characterization and manic passion to her prose just as she had to her plays and scripts. The newspaper editor maintained her elegant, economical style, even as she moved away from the conventions of journalism and revealed more about how she felt, not just what she thought. I realized that the awareness of visuals and sense of imagination that I have brought to other forms of writing propelled me in the animated tale as well, even though the two main characters are animals.
The experience demonstrated to me that many of us have our “original” writing form, the one that announced itself early on, that bubbled up from within us and kept on bubbling. Exploring a new area of writing feels rather like moving a diving rod around familiar territory. It brings to the surface new reservoirs of inspiration.

I now understand why so many writers attend regular retreats. This was a time to surrender to the stimulation of inspired company, the encouragement that arises from mutual support and the undulating waves of the spring-fed lake.


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