Most of you know that seven years ago after some wild happy success in the publishing industry, I had a crazy dream: I wanted to make new writers into authors. By leveraging some kick-ass studies on creative brain science, I began working with writers to build their work up, rather than breaking it down. I call it Gateless Writing because there are no gates you have to go through, you don't have to know someone in the industry or have gotten anything published previously. You only have to be shown your innate genius and work from there...
your brain on Gateless writing
And… the dream came true. My writers started getting attention from top agents, their stories went viral on social media, I watched them get six figure book deals, win awards, their writing careers took off.
All was going just fabulously until...a few weeks ago, I was about to spend four days leading a small group of new writers at a gorgeous Spanish-style manse overlooking the Atlantic Ocean when an ugly bedfellow came to visit. Doubt.
Sitting by the sea, waiting for my writers to come I wondered, Could this process really work, every single time?
Sunset photograph courtesy of our very own Jeff Woodward.
Since the universe has a way of answering in its own sweet time, I waited.
And then...Margie Pivar, our resident Shiatsu therapist arrived with her nurturing hands, ready to work through our creative blocks; Dede Cummings flew in, full of publishing news and eager to start planning writing careers; Jeff Woodward, the preeminent photographer, began unloading cameras and talking about making us beautiful with the lens...
Margie Pivar, our retreat Shiatsu therapist who balances our meridians and massages away our creative blocks...
Maybe best of all? Our writers arrived, full of happiness and hope, gorgeous and tired from a long day of traveling. And the writing magic happened that very night in a light-filled retreat room where we could hear our own true muses and the Atlantic, crashing on the beach.
Crazy beautiful writing took place in this room!
That’s when the universe began to speak. In the space of about five days, I got huge news from my writers across the nation.
Mary Okoye wrote from Tucson to say she’d just been offered a book deal for her memoir Redbone. Me-K emailed from Seoul to tell me her book, Don’t Trust Anyone Without Secrets, had been shortlisted for a prestigious lit prize. Lisa Mae Demasi’s first essay in her memoir series got accepted by a top notch lit journal. Kathleen Murray whose seed story for her memoir, The Widow and the Hijacker went viral on Salon.com last month, signed her first book deal (while she was on retreat!) with Green Writers’ Press. Catie Webster wrote a piece on Friday night and received her acceptance from a top online pub while we were lying on the beach on Saturday (take a peek here!); that night Linda, one of our long-time salonistas, sent a note saying she had big agent interest in her novel; Desha Peacock’s Sweet Spot Style interior design books arrived on her front porch step!! Jane Miller wrote about her fabulous book launch party in Boulder for Sleep Your Way to the Top (And Other Myths About Business Success); Diana Whitney, salonista extraordinaire, announced her blog tour for her upcoming book Wanting It; Susan Strecker posted on fb that she just got the advanced readers copies for her debut novel Night Blindness (out this fall with St. Martin's Press!); and Bob Litwin called to say two agents wanted his book, Live the Best Story of Your Life: A World Champion's Guide to Lasting Change, and it’s being shopped to editors at the end of May.
toasting Kathleen's book deal.
And...every writer at retreat: Lindsay, Kate, Michelle, Kathleen, Sueann, Catie, and Kim read aloud to awed silence and staggering feedback. To steal Rah Goddess’ phrase, they moved a crowd.
By the time I was sitting on the plane with all my summer clothes packed in my luggage underneath, doubt had fled, I felt sure. Sure that we didn’t have to destroy a writer’s work to make it shine. Sure that moving a writer toward her innate talent could bring everything she’s ever had the audacity to dream about.
Say yes to your own strength on the page (and your dreams)-- and you will be rewarded ten million times.
Jeff Woodward in his photographic virtuosity, was able to document what we look like when we are in this process. This 3-minute video shows the incredible light that actually enters the physical body when we allow ourselves to build on our strengths and lean into our own genius.
Thank you Jeff, for your keen eye, thank you Mary Oliver for giving us our first prompt (her poem Aerilists) and thank you to you gorgeous writers who were willing to trust your own intrinsic talent. Can’t wait to watch you fly even higher.
If you would like to join us on retreat, please feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to get trained to teach in the gateless method, email me as soon as possible the summer training is almost full! email@example.com.
What it's like to retreat with your writing:
Thank you thank you thank you! I spent the majority of my plane ride back scheduling writing time so that I don't get too caught up in work. My piece for Elephant Journal (the one I wrote on retreat…!) should be up today! I will send you a link as soon as I have it. And now I have a book in my head... a memoir even(!)I am writing a slam-tastic testimonial for the retreat this weekend. OH thank you both so much.
Catie Webster, Montana.
I'm having retreat withdrawals! I came into retreat feeling blocked, distant from my writing, and rudderless. When I came out, the intense work and deep nourishment of retreat had lifted me out of my busy life and grounded me again as a writer. All important to the weekends' work was the skillful and gentle shiatsu bodywork I received. My mental and physical blocks literally eased up. I felt better and wrote freely. Retreat was entirely nurturing and allowed me to be my best writing self. Now I have a plan for my manuscript, agent interest and a surefooted way to move forward—Kate Baldwin, Massachusetts.
Suzanne has been my guiding light and inspiration. Dede is positive, and keeps me energized. Since working with them, my story has been highly praised by the best editors at major media outlets and some of the top publishing houses in NY considered my memoir for publication. And…at this last retreat, I just signed a book deal for my memoir The Widow and the Hijacker! We toasted with champagne on Friday night, and I couldn't be happier –Kathleen Murray, New York,
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I will definitely be back on retreat. It's amazing to hit it off and make a connection with so many fascinating women. I was really blown away meeting you and spending time with you. You are even more beautiful of a person than I imagined. I learned so much, made some lifetime friends and had a blast on retreat and thanks to you I am writing like crazy! I'm in the flow, getting so much down, my mind working faster than I can type. No more blank page.— Kim Griffin, Texas, the novel she was stuck on, started talking to her BIG time at retreat and she read parts aloud to our stunned (and ecstatic!) praise. Dede and I are sure Kim is on her way to being a big part of the highly-acclaimed southern literary tradition. Kim, you are beautiful...
I miss you guys already. I just wanted to thank you for your smile, encouragement and the amazing experience of being in a room nestled, among incredible writers and feeling safe to share without embarrassment. Thank you for making me listen to the positive things being said about my writing. My new outlook is going to be viewing through the lens of positivity, start with what is working about a piece, the relationship, the thing I am struggling with and say it out loud. THANK YOU!-- The gorgeous Lindsay Agne whose work on motherhood and marriage was domain-changing for us retreat women, made us laugh AND cry. Want a sneak peek? Come visit her Full Circle Fertility blog.
Writing is lonely work, joyful and doubt-ridden. We come to Retreat alone. We write and listen and read our words aloud. Dede sits, covering her face with her hands, and when you finish reading she looks at you and her eyes proclaim, "You did it." Suzanne is pure generous energy. She says "You are amazing", until you know you are. We leave Retreat no longer alone—Sueann Pugh, North Carolina. Dede got to read 50 pages one morning and said it is in the process of becoming an award-winning manuscript. Sueann is two weeks from finishing now… And I am so excited to read it.
When we’re writing-- we have something akin to the frothing three-headed dog of Hades guarding the entrance, spinning razor sharp swords. I have a ten-foot tall bust of my father, rolling his eyes at me. How much fun is it to have Suzanne, (I call her the girl from Ipanema), blazing the trail past these knee-crumpling menaces, making sure our bodies are warm, our bellies full of hearty soup, leaving trails of treats in case we are stuck and the only recourse is to coax out our spirits with chocolate. The brilliance of Suzanne’s methodology is barring the critical voice. This makes sense to me as a practitioner of the health field. All the things we write about come from the tender spots in our hearts, we all feel deeply, have myriad memory and story and heartbreak. Understanding this, Suzanne perceives the beauty and vulnerability in all her students who continue to grow and develop their own signature voices. Margie Pivar, retreat shiatsu therapist and author of Fourth Uncle in the Mountain and founder of Shiatsu School of Vermont.