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My View: I can find my voice in quiet of the woods

By Susan Clements

Next weekend, we’ll load the car and head north to the Adirondacks. For the first time in three years, I’m going to camp – writer’s camp, that is. Every July, Pyramid Lake Women Writer’s Retreat reappears like Brigadoon out of the primordial forest for five days of escape from workaday cares and modern life. Medical issues kept me away the past two summers, and my psyche has suffered for it.

I like to describe the retreat as “Girl Scout Camp, with writing!” Perched on the shore of a pristine lake where no motorboats are allowed, the camp is remote and secluded. As our tires crunch over the dirt entry road, I can feel layers of armor start to peel away. By the end of the week, I’ll be refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to engage the world again.

The retreat acts as a reset button for me. I’m able to disconnect from my job, current events and most importantly, the internet, and reconnect with the natural world, friends from all over the country and my own creativity. In the quiet of the woods, I can hear my own voice.

Mornings are spent in workshops on topics as varied as fiction, poetry, memoir, travel writing and writing for children. All levels of experience are welcome, from published pros to women who are just starting to write in a journal. Criticism is gentle; help is freely given.

Whether you spend your week writing a novel, honing an essay or simply expressing your feelings on paper, the retreat gives each woman what she needs.

What I need is to loosen up. As I’ve begun to write this, I’ve been editing as I go – changing words, correcting typos, stopping and starting again. I’m wound as tight as a top. I doubt my ability to produce anything people would want to read. In my PR and fundraising work, I’m used to revision, editing and meeting deadlines. I mute my own voice in the content I generate. When the weekend arrives, I always think I will write something for me, but lately, the words don’t come.

Writers are all different. Some use prompts to get them going. Others set a word count they will achieve each day, or write at the same time in the same room.

Here’s how I tend to write a short piece: an idea may randomly pop into my head, or I react to an experience – something I’ve seen or a scrap of conversation I’ve heard. When I’ve mulled it over until the idea gels, I sit down and compose the whole thing in one sitting. Editing comes later. I don’t know why I write this way, and I often berate myself for lacking discipline.

Lately, it hasn’t been working. I find myself devoid of ideas, staring at the screen, teeth clenched.

At Pyramid Lake, removed from electronic devices and highly structured days, I begin to hear my own voice as the critic in my head quiets down. I hear it in the wind rustling through the trees, the call of a loon across the water and the absence of city noises. I hear it woven through conversations in workshops, on the dock and waist deep in the cool mountain water.

The unscheduled afternoons are perhaps even more important than the workshops. Writers are free to swim, kayak, hike or simply gaze out on the water and let the mind drift. Some of my best ideas have come in the absence of any agenda.

Evenings are devoted to readings by anyone who cares to sign up. Gales of laughter, tears and quiet attention greet each author. It bolsters the spirit to read for such an appreciative audience.

Three years have passed without this July interlude. I’m older, slower and more awkward. It doesn’t matter. The denizens of the Brigadoon of the Adirondacks await with open arms, and my voice will once more be heard.

Susan Clements lives in Buffalo, works in Niagara and vacations in Brigadoon.
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