The Writing Excuses Retreat 2017 – my two cents

This was such an life-changing experience for me and my spouse Niklas – I don’t think I can do the retreat justice, but apparently now ”I am a writer!” so I’ll try.

”This is real. This is really happening!”

I’ve been listening to the Writing Excuses-podcast religiously for the last two years. Whenever I get stuck on something in my own writing, I google an episode about where I am in the process and after listening to it I always get inspired to keep writing. The instructors on the show are so encouraging, and just as much if not even more in real life!

So it felt like a once in a lifetime-opportunity when the WXR came to the Baltic Sea. Niklas and I scraped together the money for it and just went for it. All in, in all ways possible. I tried to read everything I could find on blogs about people’s experiences of the retreat, and then I took their advice.

I printed business cards (they did come in handy lots of times!), I read books of almost all the instructors (didn’t have time to read them all). I wrote down questions for the instructors. I prepared my texts. But nothing could prepare me completely for what an amazing experience it would be, in spite of everyone on the blogs gushing about it.

You need some context to really understand what I am trying to tell you.

First of all, I am from Finland, and in spite of being extroverted I still feel anxious when I meet new people and wonder what  kind of impression I leave. I have had many bad experiences over the year with people not liking my personality, which makes me a bit apprehensive when I meet new people. I had no idea what to expect from the cruise.

Secondly, Niklas and I haven’t been on a proper vacation for more than fourteen years! We went to the Mediterranean a few times when our youngest was still a baby, but at the time I was in so much pain from giving birth (I almost died) and the following surgeries, that they didn’t feel as much as vacations as a form of recovery trips, with me going back a bit more rested but still with the same ache and PTSD as before. Then we had the two little ones (who are not so little anymore! They are both 10 at the moment) and we just never had the opportunity for a proper vacation. Our private economy went belly up along with the rest of the world, and the kids were traumatized and needed stability and having parents who stayed with them 24/7.

Thirdly, I’ve actually never spoken English for more than a few minutes at a time. I listen to English every day, I read almost conclusively in English, but speak – just a couple of times for more than the short while it takes you to buy fish and chips.

And fourthly, I felt this was an opportunity to get a confirmation that I am on the right track writing-wise.

 

So  when say it was a life-changing experience, I mean life-changing.

 

We came back from the cruise well-rested and relaxed, and I have, wonder of wonder, been able to keep that sense of relaxation with me ever since (fingers crossed it remains!). I’ve slept well for the first time in more than ten years. I’ve met new friends that are my crowd, a place where I don’t feel as the odd one, but just one of the guys, one who can contribute.

There was no threshold for talking to people. Everyone was so welcoming and encouraging, even the most introverted souls on the retreat who probably were more anxious than even I was.

I’ve learned so much about LDS and Mormons (I used to be a teacher and taught religion, so I had a lot of questions that I finally got answered, like why are there so many Mormon craft blogs). I found out I speak a bit like an American when I try to speak, in spite of the school systems effort to make me sound British. I also didn’t know I had such huge blind spots when it comes to Americanisms, and had no idea a lot of Americans pronounce Copenhagen the German way (we always say ”Copen-HAYgen” when we speak English). I got to feel like a European. Haven’t felt like one since we were in South Africa, but now I suddenly identified as one, and that was a fun thing to ponder.

I love thinking about cultural differences, and on this cruise I found many likeminded individuals.

I also found people to talk pop culture with, who dig my kind of pop culture (Star Wars and Star Trek, all the SciFi on Netflix etc – you know, all the geek stuff). I didn’t feel the need to dress up if I didn’t want to – this was definitely the crowd who would have loved our 14 year old’s Doctor Who T-shirt or his Deathnote notebook! By the way, he was so jealous he didn’t get to go on the cruise! And he would have loved it.

Every night people brought out the board games or sat at tables discussing writing or awesome books or awesome movies and TV-shows. My type of crowd! I even found people who loves etymology as much as I do, which hardly ever happens.

We discussed grammatical differences and the third pronoun in Swedish, and got so many book recommendations that my reading list is about ten times as large as beforehand.

nobody got my Ann Boleyn reference btw! Not many Brits around and with them I talked other stuff… The necklace is my version of Ann Boleyn’s B-necklace

 

I felt really overwhelmed in the middle of the cruise and talked to some of my new friends who told me to go and talk to Emma Newman, and then I did just that. She was so supportive, and after that I felt relaxed and had new confidence.

I am on the right track, I can do this, I just have to stop pushing myself so hard and allow myself to go to the progress at a pace which my body also can accommodate.

After that talk I felt as if this was the best trip ever, the best vacation, the best …anything. But then amazingly it got even better!

On the last night I met not one, but two women who could totally relate to my personal story, and we had so much to talk about that I feel so sad that the trip ended that quickly, and I so hope we get to meet again in the future some time!

I’ve gone for 14 years without anyone understanding what I went through with almost dying while giving birth.

I’ve gone for 14 years without anyone understanding what it’s like to have chronic pain in your pelvis, and have your husband always having to help you with stuff.

And now suddenly, here they were – women who completely got it! I cry when I type this, because it was just such an amazing experience. I’ve googled my symptoms so many times, have tried to find support groups etc, but then I find support there on the Writing Excuses Cruise! It was just amazing.

And that maybe tells you a bit of what you can find when you are writing. Writing is not just an academic exercise, as I thought beforehand (I tried telling my brain it wasn’t, but I didn’t believe myself). Writing is art. Writing is about emotions. Writing is about finding what is hard in your life and to talk about those things.

Writing changes people, and it changes me.

I feel like I am in the perfect spot now that I am middle-aged and have all these experiences, and maybe, just maybe I can help someone through my writing and use them for something that adds to society.  Even while writing dark fantasy, because dark things happen to people and we need to read about them to process them.

 

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