After being trapped in a house with my three children during the pandemic for 15 months, my wonderful husband agreed to let me leave him and the kids for four days. So on Mother’s Day, I gave my Mom (and myself!) a writing retreat for two. Never have I ever packed my bags and set off for the sole purpose of writing. I knew there was only one place worthy of my first time. I had been dreaming of visiting The Highlights Foundation Retreat Center. And it did not disappoint. The Barn at Boyds Mills in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania is the perfect setting for any writer, but especially those who lead hectic lives or struggle to carve out the time to write.
If you know me, you know that because I have children who share every moment of my day, I read novels in a very strange way. One or two paragraphs at a time. Any other parents relate to this? My writing life is also very sporadic. Some days I can grab half an hour here, twenty minutes there, but every day is a different schedule for us. I certainly do not have the luxury to spread out all my post it notes and just THINK about my characters and spend a whole day on writing. This was a dream come true. No TVs, no chores, nothing to cook or clean. No distractions or responsibilities. I worked on picture books. I started a blog. I wrote more chapters of my novel. I started writing a chapter book series. I stayed up way too late and read books.
I thought, “Okay, can I stay here forever?”
When I wasn’t reading or writing, I was eating the most delicious food. While the rustic cabins may remind you of summer camp, the food is as gourmet as it gets! The chefs are so incredible, everything is farm fresh and made from scratch. You can eat in the barn or take it back to your cabin. And the grounds are full of hiking trails and beautiful spaces to walk off all of those fantastic meals!
But the true magic of booking a trip to Highlights is the people. You never know who will be staying in the other cabins on the same dates you picked. It was so exciting to go into the barn that first evening and find out who else would be there. I am so grateful for the time I had to work on my novel, but the biggest surprise was the time I got to spend with other authors; from aspiring to prolific and award-winning. To sit and enjoy the company and conversation of other writers, to have the opportunity to speak casually about craft over dinner and wine, to swap funny childhood stories and to talk about what we’re all currently working on made me feel like an actual writer.
I wrestled with the idea of even going on this retreat because in my mind retreats are only for “real writers” and people would know that I didn’t belong there. In her book, “Bad Choices Make Good Stories,” Erin Dionne talks about the Imposter Sydrome and how even after ten years into her publishing career, she still struggles with the words, “I am a writer.” And the truth is I am a writer. I write every day. I actively query agents and publishers. I attend writing conferences and participate in my local writers group. I don’t know if it was the magic of Highlights or if they put something special in the water, but I left feeling inspired, recommitted, refreshed and full of gratitude.
Most importantly, I left feeling like a writer.
Back at home, I am still struggling to find my time every day to write. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids more than anything. And I know this time with them is fleeting. Pretty soon they’ll be grown and gone and I’ll probably be complaining about the quiet. So for now, I’ll find my minutes where I can get them and enjoy all the other minutes with my loves. They are my WHY, after all. But…I might just be planning my next visit to Highlights. Who wants to carpool?