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Friday, August 20, 2010

Digging into the High Desert Retreat

Interview by Halie Rosenberg

With only 2 spots left, space for the Writing Pad High Desert Retreat is going fast! Chris DeLorenzo of Laguna Writers will be leading the retreat along with Marilyn of Writing Pad. This week, he answered a few of my burning questions about what's in store for those lucky enough to snag one of the limited reservations!

How did you and Marilyn choose the 29 Palms Inn as the location of this retreat?

We both thought the desert would be an inspiring place to write, and Marilyn had been to the 29 Palms with her husband and found it comfortable and charming. It's very close to the state park, so it's a very unique place. Also, it's easily accessible, but it feels far away from everywhere.

I love it too! Can you give me a little background on yourself and what kind of a teacher you are?

While doing research for my senior college thesis on writing communities, I met Pat Schneider, who had developed a method called the Amherst Writers and Artists Method (AWA). She invited me to one of her workshops, and I loved it so much I decided right then and there I wanted to do that kind of work my whole life. I have been teaching for over eleven years now.

I like to use a Goethe quote to describe my method of teaching, "Criticism does much but encouragement does much more." I think that when people feel safe and encouraged they will take risks and explore ideas. This is what I aim for in every class and retreat I teach.

You can also read about what some of Chris's students say about his teaching style here:

In a nutshell, what is the Amherst Writers and Artists method?

The AWA method is about taking the academic model for teaching writing and turning it on its head. Traditional writing classes and workshops usually involve writing something, bringing in copies, and letting everyone tear it to shreds with criticism. While there is plenty of room for helpful, constructive, manuscript feedback in the AWA model, the focus is on producing new writing through spontaneous writing exercises, and sharing it with the group if you so choose. When we read our work out loud, we acknowledge it's a raw, first draft, so people in the group only offer feedback about what's working, what they like, what they hear. No criticism. It's a way of building confidence as a writer, but also a way to begin exploring ideas for narratives in a safe space. The AWA method helps us return to the joy and wonder of creating writing, something we lose around third grade, when it becomes all about grammar and syntax. It's a very empowering feeling, and it generates some amazing writing that often surprises the writer.

Oh, so it's totally like Writing Pad! Will the classes at the retreat be similar to what we do in class here?

Yes, we will write together in a group with writing prompts meant to help you focus on dialogue, setting or characters. The great thing about a retreat versus a class is that we have longer to write. The free writes at the retreat tend to be between 15 and 20 minutes. You can really delve deep into ideas during that time. Also, at retreats I like to make my prompts thematic. Some of the trip's prompts will be related to the desert surrounding us and the objects we collect on our hikes. I think it will really be inspiring.

Me too! How much time do you spend writing at a retreat versus other things?

That's really up to you. We spend three to five hours a day in group writing classes but people spend time outside the group writing too. The other time is spent eating, relaxing, walking and gathering ideas.

Ooh what a wonderful sounding day! So is that the benefit of a retreat versus a class?

Yes, a retreat allows you to really sink down deep into your writing, and to imagine your writing in new ways. Most importantly, it allows us time to relax, to stop running errands and checking our email. A successful retreat is one that allows enough structured workshop time to write and work on writing projects, but also allows enough down time to contemplate, to dream.

What have student's achieved at your retreats?

I've had students write and edit a complete short story over the course of a retreat. I've also seen people return to a piece that they had been avoiding. Others choose this time to tackle a tough scene that they couldn't wrap their brain around before. Then environment can really stir things up for people creatively. I think the one on one meetings help with productivity too. Everyone has different goals for their time at the retreat and we work together so that they achieve them.

What if a person doesn't know anyone on the retreat?

I've seen a lot of friendships blossom on these retreats but I've also noticed that some people prefer the solitude. If you are a person who likes meeting new people, there will be plenty of time to socialize and a group of fun, interesting people to socialize with. If you want to be more contemplative and reflective, I think that you will find the group to be very respectful of your wishes.

What are you most looking forward to in regards to the 29 Palms retreat?

Collaborating with someone you respect and care for is always a privilege, so I'm really looking forward to working with Marilyn this way. And she has an amazing caterer, so I have to admit, I'm also really looking forward to the food! But ultimately, it's the writing that I most look forward to. This method generates beautiful, powerful, sometimes hilarious writing, and it's such an honor to sit in a room of writers and listen to their first drafts. It feels sacred in a way. I really have the best job in the world.

To learn more about Chris, visit his website. If you are interested in reserving a highly coveted space at the Writing Pad High Desert Retreat please contact or call 323-333-2954.

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