IWR spoke with author Jeanne Blasberg about the highlights of the 2017 retreat, the workshops she took with Meg Wolitzer and Paula McLain, and how it’s important to write about what frightens us the most.
Iceland Writers Retreat (IWR): When and why did you choose to attend?
Jeanne Blasberg (JB): I chose to attend the Iceland Writers Retreat after reading a newsletter from an online literary organization. Two things struck a chord: 1) that I had always wanted to visit Iceland, and 2) The faculty was incredible. I really enjoy combining leisure travel with some greater personal endeavor, as well as getting out of my regular routine, in order to write.
IWR: What were the highlights of IWR for you?
JB: Highlights included:
* A reception with the President and First Lady of Iceland
* Exploring Reykjavik and learning more about the culture
*Writing sessions with Meg Wolitzer, Bret Anthony Johnston, and Paula McLain.
IWR: What was the most unexpected thing about IWR?
JB: Before the IWR began, my husband and I traveled about the country hiking, and taking in the inspiring geological wonders. When I arrived at the IWR, I was prepared for it to be all about the writing. However, combined with the wonderful sessions and panels there was a deep immersion into the literary history of the city and the culture as well as a lot of interaction with the local writing community. The hiking I did beforehand was really fun, but a trip to Iceland would have been pretty perfect if all you did was attend IWR and all the outings they organize as part of the retreat.
IWR: Are there any lessons you remember from IWR that you use now?
JB: Bret Anthony Johnston said he could teach us the technicalities of writing a novel in six hours, but what can’t be taught is the ability to surrender to the work and sit with it. To let the work determine the direction it needs to go in. I think of this when the competing urge to work quickly and produce a lot comes up. He also encouraged us to write about the thing that frightens us the most. I think about that challenge often.
IWR: Had you published a book when you attended?
JB: My first novel was published in May 2017 (a month after the retreat ended) and I used the free time during the IWR to work hard on some other projects I really wanted to finish before going on book tour.
IWR: What books have you published?
JB: EDEN: A Novel was published in May 2017 by She Writes Press and THE NINE was also published by She Writes Press in August 2019.
IWR: Who do you think would benefit most from IWR?
JB: IWR was an amazing experience that I have recommended to lots of people since returning. I think it is perfect for writers who appreciate rigorous instruction and want to immerse themselves in writing exercises and challenges. It is a good place to meet fellow authors, if you are working on building your writing community, and it is a great excuse to visit Iceland!!
IWR: What do you think is special about this event?
JB: IWR was unique for me in that it was a writing retreat that drew authors from English speaking countries around the world. I really did feel like I broke out of my New England bubble and was exposed to a broad talent pool as well as a refreshing range of ideas.
To find out more about author Jeanne Blasberg visit her website: https://jeanneblasberg.com/ or follow her on social.
A Once in A Lifetime Experience
This is possibly the most compelling reason to come to Iceland. I haven’t been to Iceland. Even though I participated in the virtual retreat this past April, I haven’t had the whole immersion experience in Iceland, surrounded by other writers. If you’ve been following this series, then you’ll remember how that immersion aspect of the retreat is key to the whole experience.
Up until now, I’ve based all my feelings about the retreat on research. I’ve written about what I understand about the location, the format, and the writer and the team behind the event. The more I learn about these subjects, the more excited I am.
But the authentic experience of it can only be told by those who have experienced it. Luckily, we have great writers and their experience to go by. If you haven’t read the posts from past alumni award winners, I encourage you to do so. Here are just some of the things that really spoke to me when I read their posts.
Nathan Ramsden also found it “transformative” helping him get a clearer idea of what kind of writer he is. Nathan felt after the retreat that he brought some of Iceland home with him. And he left some of himself there. This sounds like the experience I need in my life. The romantic idea of gifting and receiving from the event is beautiful. I hope that this is not only my experience in Iceland, but in all the monumental experiences of my life.
Puja Changoiwala’s article expanded on this idea that the Iceland Writers Retreat is more than connecting with other writers. It’s about connecting with the literary culture of Iceland. I am excited to meet and attend workshops whose unique perspectives will help deepen that connection.
Sara Letourneau described her time at the Iceland Writers Retreat as “world-shifting” and it helped build her confidence. I’ve never met a writer who didn’t need their confidence built, and I am no exception.
Out of all the essays, I connected most with Audrey Wright. As a writer with a day marketing job, I also sometimes suffer from the “imposter’s syndrome.” The connections and comradery she describes feel like what I need to build my confidence.
This isn’t just a holiday. This is an experience where we all come away from it forever changed if you let it. I, for one, am not going to miss out on this experience.
There are spots still available. Sign up for the 2022 Iceland Writers Retreat next April. I hope to share this experience with you.