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Been There, Done That – February 2019

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In our "Been There, Done That" series, Literary Mama editors and readers share their experiences at conferences, workshops, classes, and residencies. Literary Reflections Editorial Assistant Susan Rowe recalls her time at the Into the Fire: The Sun. 


What program did you attend?

In 2015 and 2016, I attended "Into the Fire: The Sun Celebrates Personal Writing" sponsored by The Sun magazine.

2. Where was it and what was the time requirement?

The weekend writing retreat is typically held the third weekend in October at Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California. It begins informally on Friday evening, includes a series of three workshops on Saturday, and concludes Sunday morning with a panel discussion with workshop presenters.

3. What were the course offerings? 

A number of regular contributors to The Sun typically teach the workshops, including Heather Sellers, Brenda Miller, Joe Wilkins, Sparrow, and Frances Lefkowitz. Each two-hour workshop is dedicated to one or more aspects of writing craft, such as voice, language, discovery, poetic turns, etc. The instructors provide their insights, lead discussion, and offer useful writing prompts designed to get participants writing and practicing.

4. How did you spend your time? 

Arriving on Friday afternoon, I try to attend a yoga class before the evening meal and opening session which can last until 10 pm. Saturday is filled with workshops interspersed by delicious meals and wonderful conversation as you meet other writers, discuss the workshops, and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Esalen is world famous for its natural hot spring baths and swimming pools, clothing optional. This wasn't my scene, but many participants enjoy this added relaxation or schedule a massage as they take in the gorgeous California coast.

5. What did you take away from the experience?

I came away from every session with new insights and inspiration. I also learned helpful techniques for generating new writing. After taking writing workshops from Brenda Miller and Heather Sellers, I interviewed each of them for articles I wrote for Creative Nonfiction magazine. At Esalen, I also began writing that was later published.

6. Did you have the opportunity for a writing critique? Was it helpful? 

Writing critiques are not offered as part of the retreat, although many writers form friendships and writing support groups that they continue as a result of the weekend.

7. Would you attend this event again? 


8. Share some helpful tips for a writer considering this experience. (Tips may include transportation, lodging, food, classes/instructors, or anything you think future attendees would benefit from knowing.) 

Esalen is a three-hour drive from San Francisco Airport. In the past Esalen has offered a roundtrip shuttle from SFO, San Jose, and Monterey airports. Participants need to arrive at one of these airports in time to catch the shuttle or rent a car. The return shuttle doesn't leave Esalen until mid-afternoon on Sunday, which made it impossible for me to catch a flight home that night. I arranged to stay with a friend in San Francisco to avoid added hotel costs.

Have you attended a conference, workshop, residency, or class? We'd like to hear about your experience. Email us at lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com.

The Literary Mama Blog Editor searches for mama-centric news you can use — including information about publishing opportunities and literacy efforts; essays and writing prompts that motivate and inspire; and announcements about events, classes, and workshops. The current blog editor is Bridget Lillethorup; read her bio here

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