Writing tidbits from the retreat


In addition to pushing my social boundaries, the writing retreat I recently attended sent me home with a half-finished short story and lots of actionable authorial tips. I include the best of the latter here just in case you’re a writer as well as a reader. And if you don’t care for writing…maybe the pictures will float your boat.

Chipping away

One takeaway was using synesthesia to fuel your creativity. Writing about the colors of music or the grittiness of sounds rewires your brain to push out interesting ideas.

And try this — focus on sound echoes. Every three to eight syllables, use alliteration, near rhymes, or repeated vowels or consonants inside words to emphasize the words you want to stand out.

Wise owls

Another intriguing tidbit was that the flow state I’m so good at harnessing when writing is closely akin to the meditative state I can’t for the life of me achieve when sitting cross-legged on my yoga mat. Both are about focusing, and I highly recommend Heather Sellers‘ warmup techniques if you need help with the former.

There’s more to it, but she basically gets settled then sets a timer for three minutes, labels a sheet of paper from one to ten, picks a random word (like “sofa”), then jots down ten images chronologically spanning her life that relate to the prompt. If she gets stuck, she starts to spiral — literally — by drawing a spiral on the corner of the page, trying to make the lines as close together as possible without touching. By the time she’s made her list, her mind is clear and ready to write.

Navigational equipment

Heather also had several great tips for writing about difficult subject matter:

  1. Go cold. Take out the explanation, summaries, description, observations, feelings, commentary, and analysis, leaving only dialogue and action on the page. This lets the reader add in their own emotions and keeps tough subject matter in line. (It’s also a great way to amp up tension in genre fiction — you know something bad’s going to happen if the writer goes cold!)
  2. Go small. Select a specific moment you’ve never written about before and use that to represent a larger chain of events.
  3. Create a beautiful container. Transform darkness into beauty using repetition, lists, and litany to relax the reader and help them feel safe.
  4. Make all characters yearn for a good thing…even the antagonists. This turns the conflict into a fair fight and actually makes the reader identify more with the protagonist since they trust him to be telling the whole story.
  5. Come in through a side door. Heather wrote an inspiring short story all about the bikes she’d ridden through the course of her life…which also showcased tidbits of the difficult childhood she was really trying to share.

Enough about writing…time to go write!