This One Time, at Word Camp…

And on the last night, the clouds parted, and the full moon showed her face. And it was good.

This past week, most of us here on The Million Words were away at the 2017 Roaring Writers retreat, the annual gathering we’ve held for the past four years and where we came up with the initial idea for this blog.

As usual, it was an amazing experience. As we do every year, we critiqued each other’s work; engaged in animated, useful discussion with each other about topics across the board; and received feedback, guidance, and instruction from the author mentors we invited to join us.

Yet this year there was a new energy to our experiences. An awareness of the skills we’ve gained since last we met. A thrill at the possibilities within our reach. And serious plans for moving forward on our individual and collective journeys.

So what does this mean, and why should you care? Well, here’s the lessons I took away from the week. With luck, you’ll find this useful when working with colleagues or friends, too.

Organizing writers can be like herding cats, but when it’s done right, it’s downright magical. (Well, one of our gang thinks herding cats is worse, whereas I think it’s easier, but I have two and she has five, so perhaps that’s a factor, too.) Kidding aside, it does pay to sit down and talk, especially when discussing the mechanics of our goals, both personal and group. Having an agenda to follow and a transcriber taking notes brings some semblance of order to the chaos of nine strong-minded people. This is what makes the real difference between an an ineffective bitchfest and forward progress.

Sometimes the best ideas come accidentally. Cross-talk can be annoying and feel unproductive, but it can also spark ideas. “It’s like grad school,” one member said to me yesterday. “Everyone cares about the same subject, so we can have these in-depth conversations you wouldn’t see elsewhere.”

We have the capacity to forge our own informed path. An oft-said phrase is that you have to know and understand the rules before you can break them (or mould them to your needs). In the case of the retreat, that has some very important applications. One example is tackling the efficiency of our critique sessions. Yes, we’ve had some very useful instruction in Clarion-style critiques, where we go around and every member has a chance to contribute their opinion about each piece. Yet we’ve also found that in a group of our size, that amount of feedback bogs down the discussion. This is especially true when folks don’t have anything new to contribute but feel obligated to do so. So instead, if a few people take responsibility for providing feedback on any given piece, and others are welcome to chime in as they see fit given the cross-talk and idea sparks we’ve come to embrace, this results in a more productive and useful critique.

We’re coming into our own. We’ve already been establishing our goals and plans for the year to come, and we’re doing it with positive drive. We continue to embrace learning new things. And most importantly, we’re there for each other as a support network, helping one another reach farther than we ever did before.

This is going to be a good year.

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