Posted by IWR Social Media and Marketing Intern Audrey Wright.
It is now Sunday, my fifth and final day in Reykjavik, and even with the constant busyness, I feel refreshed. Being in this great city, wandering its beautiful streets that have so much character, and spending time with this kind and inspiring international group of people have all reinvigorated me from a year of studies and the banalities of everyday life. I swear, I’ve had no more than 6 hours of sleep each night, and I am still feeling good (although I have been dipping into the Icelandic coffee supply).
The workshops, in particular, have been really important to me. The first workshop that I took with Kate Williams was really rewarding. I listened to a great group of authors talk about their work and the beginnings of their works, as per the workshop title “Beginning Your Novel.” I’m thinking about starting a novel this summer (while writing my independent research paper for my MA, yikes), so this workshop was the perfect introduction to the Retreat for me. Kate runs her workshops in such a welcoming way. It felt so familiar and comfortable, I had no issue with speaking up right away nor in chatting with Kate (a world-famous novelist and biography writer!) after the workshop. It was lovely, Kate was lovely, all was lovely.
Andrew’s workshop was the most practical of all the workshops. He gave the participants a cohesive list of the nuts and bolts of “Story and Style,” with a particular focus on writing a non-fiction piece of work . I had so many notes and so little dexterity to get them all down. My hand was sore after, speeding through illegible note-taking, working desperately to get all of the valuable information. Not only was it helpful information, but it was so funny. Everyone was laughing constantly throughout his workshop. Andrew is an amazing author, and one whose work I think is accessible to all readers.
The second day of workshops was just as enriching as the first. In the late morning, I met with a smaller group of participants for Miriam Toews’s “The Life of a Writer,” a workshop that I can most accurately describe as spiritual. Miriam is an incredible person, a humble teacher, and an even better writer. Her advice was not just practical but also so intensely human. I felt a connection to her writing process and to her relationship with writing: writing as therapy. She shared with the group her daily life, how to achieve one’s longterm writing goals, how to deal with the stigmas of being a writer, how to manage family and close friends while writing autobiographical fiction, and so much more advice. I walked away from the workshop more connected to myself as a writer and more excited than ever to get to work.
My final workshop was with Mark Kurlansky, examining how to write “Opening Lines.” It was a really great workshop, and had such an energetic group of participants attending. Mark gave countless examples of opening lines, extending even further my must-read list (agh!), which sparked an enlightening discussion about what makes a great first line. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do. The workshop was liberating as a writer. Mark encouraged the group to not self-edit too much and instead to follow our instincts. What could be more encouraging, and true, than that!
Between all the workshops, there were delicious meals and fun events to attend with everyone. And here is where the title of this post comes in… I’ve had such an amazing time getting to know these people, learning about their lives, their homes, their work and/or their writing. Even though the group is incredibly diverse in terms of region, age, profession, and stage in their writing careers, I have connected with every person that I have sat down with and talked to. Every one is kind, warm, and genuinely interested in everyone else’s work. I have felt no negative energy whatsoever (which seems impossible with a large group of strangers being put into close quarters for several days, while also engaging in discussions and debates about writing). The energy of the workshops and the attitude of the participants, and Featured Authors for that matter, all contributed to this Retreat’s overall goal⎯to make writers of all stages feel like they belong. My impostor’s syndrome vanished not even halfway through my first day.
The organization of the event was excellent. While it was incredibly busy (how else can you get bang for your buck though, really), it was always interesting and always a good time. There were optional events to attend throughout, ones which you could acceptably step back from to either write independently or just relax in the hotel or city centre. One of the greatest events was Cheryl Strayed’s talk. She got very sick and couldn’t make it to the Retreat, but kindly gave a talk via Skype. Alternatively, this was lucky for me. I hadn’t been scheduled into her workshops, and this talk gave me the chance to hear her speak, which was just as amazing and inspiring as one would expect.
There were so many other events, too many to reiterate! I could go on and on. The last event, however, was of special importance to me. It was a final goodbye pub night at Kex (a hostel in downtown Reykjavik). There were two speakers, Vilborg Davíðsdóttir and Hallgrimur Helgason, and a musical set by Reykjavik’s very own Lay Low. The reading by Hallgrimur was hilarious, by Vilborg deeply sad and inspiring, and the music performed by Lay Low was so incredibly beautiful. It was a perfect evening to finish off my time at the Iceland Writers Retreat, and I could not have been more thankful for the chance to experience it all.
The whole experience has made me realize just how badly I have to come back to Iceland, and how truly beneficial a retreat such as this one can be for any writer. Before the Retreat, I was plagued with the impostor syndrome. Now, I can’t wait to get back to my desk and computer, and start working on my next writing project.
In the meantime, with the few days I have left in Iceland, my partner and I will be exploring as much of the south coast as we can. Wish me luck and cross your fingers that we do not get (intentionally) lost!