A women writer’s retreat

BY Chandana Bannerjee| IN Media Practice | 06/06/2008
What do a bunch of journalists do when they organize a retreat for themselves to discuss writing? They end up trying their hand at fiction.
CHANDANA BANERJEE describes this unusual experiment.

Every day and every minute of our professional lives is spent obsessing over the written word. Does this article read well; will the story enthrall readers; could I have come up with a better idea; how do I add more chutzpah to the copy? – Questions that all writers ask themselves a zillion times in the length and breadth of their writing careers. As journalists, writers and editors, we¿re constantly honing our craft and always trying to come up with a good story, crisp copy, and a flash of dazzling creativity. But somewhere between chasing deadlines and bagging bylines; between juggling home and office, work and family, the general business of living and earning begins to deplete the pool of creativity that each of us has. That¿s when we need to getaway from it all and lavish some time on our muse; spend some time nurturing our passion for the written word.


A group of six freelance journalists and writers did just that in the beginning of this month. Armed with notebooks and pens, they set out for a writer¿s retreat at Yercaud, a picturesque and serene hill station 40 kilometers from Salem, Tamil Nadu.


"Take time to retreat; only then you can leap ahead," states Radhika Meganathan, the brain behind this writer¿s retreat. Radhika, the Managing Editor of Chandamama.com and a freelance journalist and author from Chennai, says that its wanderlust and the talent for planning that made her coordinate this writer¿s retreat. Having organized a weekend retreat a year ago, Radhika wanted to plan a longer one that would focus on writing.


"I kept giving hints about it to all the members of Writing in India (an e-group for Indian writers, moderated by Hasmita Chander)," explains Radhika. Five professional writers who were also part of the e-group – Suneetha B, a freelance journalist from Trivandrum; Fehmida Zakeer, an instructional designer and freelance journalist from Chennai; Hema Raman, a Chennai-based award-winning fiction writer; Jeta Kumar, an HR professional and a fiction writer from Bangalore; and, Deepa Kandaswamy, a prolific writer and freelance journalist from Trichy – were gung-ho about the idea. Deepa even offered to host the retreat at her cottage in Yercaud,


So, with the dates marked on the calendar (May 1 – 4, 2008), the tickets booked and the writing schedule in place, the six writers, who had only interacted online and had never met in person, geared up for the four days at the writer¿s retreat. Four days of, as it turned out, pure bliss and undisturbed writing in pristine surroundings.


"Being on your own with like-minded people and no family pressures, and just writing and discussing the craft for four days seemed so surreal - it was almost like ¿a room of one¿s own concept¿," says Suneetha, her eyes sparkling with the memory of the retreat.


Free from the worries and obligations of home and family, the writers breathed, talked and dreamt of writing. From working on writing exercises to playing writing-related games; creating and reading short stories to sharing information about leads, markets and publishing tips, the writers at the retreat explored the expanse of the writing world on the magic carpet of imagination.


Fiction writing, a form of writing that tests any writer¿s creativity and caliber, was what they focused on during their stay at the retreat.


 "All of us were accomplished non-fiction writers. Fiction was the final frontier," explains Radhika.


Everyone took along their favourite short story and discussed the various genres that each of them enjoyed. They participated in writing exercises, worked on plotting a story, structuring it, fleshing out characters, understanding why conflict is important in a piece of fiction, and concluding their individual works in a satisfying way. After each writer had created her own short story, the group critiqued it and discussed ways of fine tuning the work of fiction.


"We set a time limit for each activity and each one of us came up with good work. It¿s the power of deadlines and the collective muse when you work as a group," says Radhika. The feedback from fellow writers and critiquing helped each writer learn more about the architecture of good writing - pearls of wisdom that they hope to incorporate in their professional writing as well. The group also exchanged ideas, leads, writing markets and tips, and discussed the finer points of professional writing and journalism.


Says Femida, "It gave me a chance to interact with others in the same field and that is something I really enjoyed." She adds that all the discussions about markets, leads and solutions to problems that most journalists face in their professional lives, turned out to be a tremendous learning experience.


Hema agrees with Fehmida and says that the networking with other writers and forming a close-knit circle of writer friends is what she cherishes most about this writer¿s retreat. The six of them have also formed an online critiquing group and hope to fine tune each others writing through regular writing exercises.


Being part of the writer¿s retreat has given Jeta, an HR Manager by day, the hope and confidence to publish her work. "Meeting people who write professionally has given me a certain perspective and clarity about writing as a craft as well as a profession," she points out.


The best part, they all agree, was that the learning and interaction was interspersed with a lot of laughter and games. Rejuvenated and nourished with the writing and the memories of friendship; with the laughter and freedom; the birdsong and the flickering dance of the fireflies, the writers are now back to their day jobs and deadlines, happy about being part of the writer¿s retreat.




Radhika Meganathan plans to organize another writer¿s retreat in Cochin or Kodaikanal soon. Those of you, who would like to be part of this retreat, can email Radhika at contact@radhikameganathan.com.


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