Thursday, February 3, 2011

Weird Posts About Writers' Retreats

Every time I organize a writers' retreat, I'm struck by the weirdness that the Internet brings to relationships, and then I'm further struck by the further weirdness that any degree of fame (or notoriety) brings to relationships, and then I'm further, further struck by the further, further weirdness that being a sensitive, creative person brings to relationships.

Basically, since I organized this last retreat with me and 24 other authors, I've gotten such a bizarre range of e-mails and gotten sent such a strange array of blog posts referring to it that I feel like I should say something about it.

This is how I pick my invites for retreats.

- I'm going for harmony. You know how reality show producers cast folks they think are most likely to fight? I do the opposite. Every invite list I draft looks like a mix tape. I have to think that the songs go together. Because otherwise, one of those songs is going to end up hiding in her room for the entire retreat sobbing and rocking and I have that emotional blood on my hands. WHAT KIND OF A MONSTER DO YOU THINK I AM?

- I have to know you. I sort of feel like this should be obvious, but dude, I need to have some concept of whether or not you're going to kill me in my bed. I would never, ever pick some random person to come to one of these events. Also, like I said: harmony. I try to add personalities I think will fit in and enjoy the brand of conversation that's likely to fly around and to know that, I have to have actually communicated with you on a slightly less than cursory level.

- It's professional. Though we will have loads of fun at this particular retreat of Moose Head Wonder, it's also a professional thing where we talk about the industry. I have a few emails and comments from folks who expressed wistful sadness about not coming, since clearly we would be sitting around fangirling about each other's characters. True confession? I haven't read all of the authors' books that are coming to my retreat. We'll be talking industry and deadlines and creative processes, but probably very little about specific books. I try to add people I think think about the industry like I do.

- Ego. It's really easy to get a bruised ego as a creative person in a room full of people more and less successful than you. Bigger advances, better covers, better reviews, more books published, better looking editor -- so many things to compare yourself too. I invite people I think can stand the heat. And trust me. There's heat. When you're sitting next to someone at dinner and they're five years ahead in their career than you, the conversation needs to not be sulking, awe, or any degree of self-deprecating fangirling. If I add unpublished writers I know to the mix, I want to be relatively confident that they're not going to melt into ooze. Likewise, if I ask hotsy totsy authors to the mix, I want to be certain they check any ego at the door. We enter the door of the retreat, we're equals. This is the #1 reason I add someone to my list or take them off.

Okay, that said, these are NOT reasons I pick or exclude people:

- how famous you are
- how much I love your books
- how unfamous you are
- any sort of clique
- the size of your book deal
- whether or not you're published
- who you're published by
- who you're agented by
- whether or not you have an agent
- whether your blog/ hair/ face/ book/ etc. is shiny and beautiful

Basically, what I've been hearing is that people -- especially not invited people -- are regarding an invite to a Maggie Stiefvater retreat as a status symbol. And this annoys me. No decisions that I make over a pot of tea and a spoonful of cookie dough while dancing around listening to techno should be used to establish anyone self worth. The idea of it hurts my soul.

Now go out and create a writers' retreat.
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