“I’ve always felt that my ‘style’—the careful projection onto paper of who I think I am—was my only marketable asset, the only possession that might set me apart from other writers.” ---William Zinsser

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Word Lover's Retreat in Lakeside - May 2008

Word Lover’s Retreat participants felt right at home at the Idlewyld Bed and Breakfast, built in 1888 on Walnut Street in Lakeside. A private gated community founded as an independent Chautauqua on Lake Erie’s shores in 1873, Lakeside is one of the few remnants of the adult education movement popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Innkeepers Dan and Joan Barris ran the kitchen while cooking with weekend hostess Claudia Taller, who used Joan’s tried-and-true recipes for the event.

True writers write, and many of us spent several hours writing on the front porch on Friday afternoon. After a walking tour of Lakeside and a soup and salad supper, Donna Wilson’s writing-prompt boxes came out and we wrote memories stirred by postcards, linked random words together in essays, and dug deeply by completing phrases like, “A secret dream of mine is to . . .” Surely the results were part of Julia Cameron’s goals when she wrote The Artist’s Way: those who wrote explored their potential for possibilities and what they have to share with the world.

Freelance Writer and Writing Coach John Ettorre shared tips from his book-in-progress during his “Flex Those Writing Muscles” session on Saturday morning. John focused on the craft of writing and the habits and disciplines that produce good writing. The weekend’s mantra became “less is more” as we talked about tight sentences, perfect word choices, listening for cadence and flow, editing, and rewriting. The other theme that emerged is how important it is for a writer to read widely.

That was a great segue for the afternoon session entitled “The Book Loving Soul.” Gustave Flaubert said, “Read in order to live,” and that sums up how most writers feel about reading. Most of us became avid readers in childhood, stealing reading moments in the backseat of the family car or on a tree roost or in our beds at night with flashlights. We discussed keeping a writing journal, tracking the books we read, studying good writing to become better writers, listening to books on tape, and taking part in book discussion groups.

Journals, like Katherine Mansfield’s, are a writer’s notebook, a journal of inner life, a spiritual autobiography, and she said her journal was a way “to lose all that is superficial and acquired in me and to become a conscious, direct human being.” Our personal journals can be culled for memoir, stories, novels, personal essays, articles, or poetry, or can be worth reading on its own.
A journal helps us make connections. The afternoon workshop “Leaving a Trace” was inspired by Alexandra Johnson’s book by the same name and the writing exercises delved into how to cull our life experiences for use in our writing.

Haiku is a Japanese poetic form available to everyone. We learned the history and technique of this one-breath poetry and how practicing Haiku can teach us to write more succinctly and deeply with less words. We vowed to explore Haiku when we returned to the real world, in the hope that Haiku will also allow us to show, rather than tell, what we mean and allow the reader to bring their own life experience into what we write.

On the front porch of the Idlewyld, we rocked in the bentwood rockers as shadows lengthened and discussed Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun. Mayes and her new husband embraced Italy when they bought Bramasole, an abandoned villa in the Tuscan countryside. Roman roads and Roman wells, ancient vineyards, hidden frescoes, vibrant markets, simple food, and big hearts--the book’s a celebration of Italy. The memoir and armchair travel book presents poetic cadence and a lyrical quality worth study. Although we agreed that the Mayes challenges us to “surprise” our own lives and not resist the impulse to live fully, the consensus of the group was that the book is rich, but meanders, and the author is reserved and self-centered.

Following after-dinner sunset walks, we returned to the Idlewyld for storytelling and spent a good deal of time laughing before retiring to our Victorian sleeping quarters. Refreshed from a good night’s sleep, we sat in a circle in the big meeting room on Sunday morning to critique each other’s work. We were productive. We took leave of Lakeside with great hesitation, but basked in new friendships and refreshed spirits. The weekend encapsulated Claudia Taller’s image of what an Igniting Possibilities Event is meant to be.

A Winding Road - Writing

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My book, "Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries," an Arcadia production, explores the history of island and lakeshore wineries from the mid-1800s through today. I write travel, memoir, profiles, book reviews, local interest articles, and fiction. My writing is always of discovery--whether it's journaling, book reviewing, letter writing, or sharing an experience of life. I have written two novels and am working on a third novel and a memoir. I am passionate about sharing what life has to offer with others. "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron woke me up to a sense of possibility--life is too short not be enjoyed by living deeply and well. I created Igniting Possibilities, a conduit for creativity workshops and events, in the hope of guiding others to realize their full potential. The Word Lover's Retreats at Lakeside, Ohio's Chautauqua community, help writers find their voice and direction.