Thursday, April 11, 2013

Think Global; Write Local:

TWC’s Writing Staycation

By Angela Swayze

After researching writer’s retreats a few years ago, workshop leader Zahara Heckscher came to an inspired conclusion: there should be an affordable writing retreat in the D.C. area for busy people who can’t afford the time or cost of leaving their family and responsibilities. Thus was born Writing Staycation, The Writer’s Center’s week-long retreat for writers who need to get away and write.

Heckscher’s workshop seeks to transport busy D.C. area residents to a place where “their souls and bodies are being nurtured so that their minds can focus on writing.”

Bringing in paintings, flowers, healthy foods, and in part guided by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, Heckscher leads participants through five consecutive days of structured writing.

“We start on time and end on time,” she says. “Within the structure comes the freedom.” But it’s the space, and nurturing energy of that space, she likes to emphasize, that matters most.

Her participants agree. A self-proclaimed “staycation junkie,” Sheila Walker wrote on a recent First Person Plural blog that “The continuity and intensity of five consecutive days of Staycationing, rather than the usual once a week for several weeks, was exactly what I needed.” Andrea Solarz shares that the Staycation helped her jump start her writing and gave her a lot of motivation that “continued long after the week ended.”

So how does it work?

The day starts with a reading, Heckscher explains, often from such names as Pablo Neruda or Thich Nhat Hanh.

There may also be a writing prompt, however both take as little as 30 minutes. Then, it’s time to write.

Lunch involves guest speakers, like writer Danuta Hinc or acclaimed poet E. Ethelbert Miller, all of whom are open to one-on-one sessions afterwards. Lunch is followed by more time to write. Another break if offered later in the day, such as an outdoor walk.

“It’s good for the body to take a break from writing and gets creative juices going,” Heckscher says.

The day typically closes with a brief check-in to help participants become more self-aware of their process, such as identifying at what point they felt most productive during that day.

Outside the daily structure, participants also have the option to work on technique or talk nuts-and-bolts of writing with Heckscher or one of the lunch speakers. They also have the option of retreating to their own private space.

“Some need to be in a room alone,” says Heckscher.

Either way, Heckscher makes a conscious decision to stay away from workshopping students’ material, emphasizing that the purpose of the class is to focus on writing. “Critiquing is another class,” she says.

Born in part from “desperation and poverty,” the Writing Staycation has hit its mark. Over time, the workshop has seen its share of repeat attendees as well as new participants of varying stripes. Heckscher describes participants as “early 20s to their 70s and everyone in-between novice writers and already published authors.”

She goes on to say that she has a “radical faith in everyone that comes to Staycation, whatever their stage in the writing process.”

Seeing her role more as a facilitator than a leader, her goal is to create the space for people to be at their creative best. “If you want mint tea, I make sure you have mint tea. I know everyone who has walked in the door has made a huge commitment. I honor them all for making that commitment to writing.”

Heckscher is co-author of the book How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas. She has also written numerous articles that have appeared in books and the online travel magazine, where she serves as contributing editor. Heckscher teaches professional writing at University of Maryland at College Park.

The next Writing Staycation is set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 22 – 26 in Bethesda. Check our website for more information. Visit The Writer’s Center’s youtube channel ( for a video of Zahara discussing Writing Staycation.

Two Writing Staycations are now posted on our Website. To join a workshop give us a call or click the start date to register online.  Writing Stacation starting: April 22 or June 24.   .

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