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Haven Retreat and the proper notebook

By on Aug 21, 2013 in The Creative Life | 0 comments

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The view from our meeting room, Haven Writing Retreat, Winter 2013, Whitefish, Montana

The view from our meeting room at Walking Lightly Ranch, Haven Writing Retreat, Winter 2013, Whitefish, Montana

Most writers have favorite paper and pens they like to use. I do, and I have at least 3 notebooks going at any given time. One for my morning pages (thank you, Julia Cameron), one for my shitty first drafts (thank you, Anne Lamott), and one for keeper quotes, articles and references (thank you, Facebook). After my Haven Retreat, I now have 4 (thank you, Laura Munson). Laura didn’t give me a new notebook, but our writing retreat helped me see how I use the ones I have, and what they say about my work.

My friend Jane actually gave me the notebook. In February, to celebrate my upcoming adventure to Montana, she presented me with a beautiful Smash journal, Doodle style, with a vibrant red spine and lush pages just waiting to be filled. I carried all 4 notebooks across the country in the dead of winter to Whitefish Montana and the peaceful Walking Lightly Ranch.

The Haven Retreat mornings were filled with writing exercises guided by Laura, our lovely teacher and fellow heart traveler. I brought two notebooks (dollar store composition books) to our first morning session. (I always feel safer on the first day of school with my arms wrapped around a few books.) At home, composition books are my choice for the morning pages and first drafts, not for the polished final versions. On retreat, my reasoning was that the rough work the mornings produced would only be worthy of the disposable, recyclable pages of a cheap notebook. The Smash journal remained in my room, and I planned to edit my work later and fill in the journal from there.

As our retreat days progressed, I had little time to transform my morning work into versions I deemed worthy of the Smash journal pages. After the morning exercises, there was a delicious, healthy lunch, followed by time for yoga, hiking, equine therapy, napping, more writing, visits with Laura, or whatever we were guided to do to open our hearts to our hidden, true voices. Every experience was rich in meaning and serendipity. We were all meant to be there, at that time, with that particular mix of people. The integrity of Laura’s work, and her nurturing care, held us there. We blossomed.

By the third day, I realized that our morning sessions were bringing forth some real gems in my writing. Sure the drafts were rough, but they were honest, and they stretched my writing into new genres, away from the style I’d become comfortable with in my own work. I added the pristine Smash journal to my stack the next day, and my fellow Haven-er Christa asked why I had so many notebooks with me. I laughed and tried to explain all the layers and drafts and judgments I bring to my work as it progresses. She just smiled and said, “So your first draft isn’t worthy of the pretty pages?”

She nailed it. My inner critic was pre-judging the value of my first attempts, before the ink even hit the page. My friend Jane seemed to trust my first drafts, why couldn’t I? I decided at that moment to use the Smash journal for the rest of the retreat–two more days to let the pen freely express what my heart so desperately wanted to say. (For those of you who can be as particular as I am about keeping notebooks, you’ll be happy to know I left several pages open at the front, clipped the pages from the composition book, and transferred, scrapbook-style, my first drafts of Haven Retreat writing work onto those pages. Another neat feature of the Smash journal: the handy glue stick attached to the side!)

Isn't this first draft a beauty?

Isn’t this first draft a beauty?

Clippings from one exercise and my notes. Bluebird courtesy Smash!

Clippings from our prose poetry exercise and my notes. The bluebird is courtesy of Smash!

Now, all my Haven Retreat clippings and photos and first drafts are secure in this journal. I pull it out whenever I need to return to that safe, sacred space that Laura created for us. The healing, insights, and care I received seemed to come from another, higher place than I know from day-to-day. And the words they produced are worthy of a beautiful space to hold them. Thank you Jane, Laura, Christa, and my fellow Haven-ers for honoring the voice I struggled to honor on my own.

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