2019 Beaufort Retreat

SCWA Member, Jayne Padgett Bowers, wrote a blog about her experience at the Beaufort Retreat in October 2019.

As I anticipate the SCWA’s upcoming Spring Conference in Columbia, I can’t help but recall some of the highlights of the organization’s  writing retreat October 31 – November 2. Held in Beaufort, one of South Carolina’s sea islands, the event’s agenda provided the perfect balance between imparting information about the craft and allowing attendees to mingle, share ideas, and enjoy the seaside attractions. Below are some of the conference highlights I was privileged to attend.

From the moment I stepped into the upstairs conference site and spotted Dr. Kasie Whitener, VP of Events and Education, I knew the long drive was going to be worth it. The energy and excitement were that palpable. Five writing intensive group sessions were scheduled concurrently throughout the day, and I had chosen one led by Jason Ryan, journalist and creative nonfiction author. Good choice—for me, that is. Jason’s stated goal was to “spend time at the retreat getting our hands dirty and taking a nuts-and-bolts approach to writing samples, figure out how pieces might become stronger and pack more punch.” His session did that and more.

Something that stands out from this session was the respect that writers in the group displayed toward one another. Part of this was because of the facilitator’s skill, sense of fairness, and personality, and another part was because of the particular mix of people. Comfortable with one another and with Jason, writers asked a number of questions about that mysterious mixture of truth and fiction, and I immediately thought of Leonard Cohen’s “Nevermind” line: “The story’s told with facts and lies.” Jason stressed the importance of balance in storytelling and writing in general.

Another something that I think about just about every day is a comment from a writer in our group session. She asked, “Can we just get naked?” and reminded us of a truth we all (not just writers) need to remember: get real, put the stuff out there, be honest. Her question unleashed openness and honesty within the circle, and I feel certain that the dozen or so of us around the table that morning were trying to be real, to get naked (nekkid as Lewis Grizzard once said).

Incidentally, feedback was positive for all group sessions.

On Friday evening, conference attendees had the opportunity to participate in an Open Mic, something that gave everyone the chance to both read their own work, some of which they had tweaked during and after their small group sessions, and to listen to fellow writers share their words. Led by Vivian Bikulege, the readings reminded listeners of the importance of story.

Saturday was a day set aside to enjoy Conroyfest events and make use of independent study and writing time, and on Sunday morning, writers returned for the final hours of the retreat. What a treat it was to meet as a large group and learn three back-to-back sessions:

  • Workshop led by Amber Wheeler Bacon, President SCWA, and writer, David Lerner Schwartz, “Repeat, Repeat, Evolve: A Tool for Structure;”
  • Workshop led by Stephanie Edwards, Chapter President Beaufort, “Creative Organization for Writers;”
  • Slushfest with a panel of readers for literary journals and publishers.

All three of the above had me taking notes, but since time and space prohibit a lengthy discussion of all, I’m concentrating on “Repeat, Repeat, Evolve: A Tool for Structure.” Here’s something I learned that was truly eye-opening. Your characters can’t keep doing the same things over and over again without something happening. The same event(s) can’t keep occurring without some sort of evolution, and then resolution, even if it’s a dire one. Even if loss, heartache, illness, or even death result, something’s gotta give. 

The two presenters used several books and short stories to illustrate this concept, but the one I could most identify with was a children’s book titled There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. She swallowed several other items too, and the reader begins to realize that something has to happen. She simply can’t go on swallowing things and continue to live. After the cat gets gulped down, I knew that things were looking bad for this old lady, and after the horse, her condition was even more dire. I mean, who can swallow a horse and live? Something has to happen, and it does.

From “Using Social Media,” writers learned several tips about organizing their work and some beneficial information about social media. My ears pricked up when someone asked Stephanie Edwards about whether blogging was useful. She replied yes and no and mentioned that sometimes Facebook can serve the same purpose. Websites are good, she added, if writers keep them updated and use them to sell books and announce events.

If you’re thinking a slushfest is a slushfest, then you weren’t in attendance at this one. It takes a certain amount of courage to submit one’s work, have it read aloud, and then listen as the people reading your work critique it before a group of your peers. I haven’t made it to that level of bravery yet… maybe next time. To my ears, every piece read had qualities to lure a reader in.

One of the best things about attending a conference are the people you meet. Not only do they make you realize once again that everyone has a story, you also get to know that under the skin, they’re just like you, people with fears, hopes, disappointments, dreams, and a history. Before leaving the scene, I hugged the writer who’d urged our group to get naked and thanked her for her reminder to be honest, to be real.

But that was the Fall Retreat, a special assemblage on the coast. Now I’m looking ahead to convening with writers and would-be writers April 24-26 for SCWA’s Spring Conference. The conference is moving to the Midlands, specifically the Vista district of Columbia at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. And I can’t wait! Registration opens soon—February 1st!