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A writing retreat for the books: thanks Natalie Goldberg!

Updated: Jul 23, 2022

Note: This is post #1 in a series of blog posts about my experience attending a 2-week writing retreat with author & teacher Natalie Goldberg on Madeline Island, WI.

First things first: hello! I'm Katie, and this is my new author website and blog.

You see, I've decided I'd like to step out of a decade in higher education (teaching ESL/linguistics) and focus on writing and my small business.

Dare I claim the label "writer?" It still sends waves of insecurity through me, but more excitement now along with it. I wrote a book, for crying out loud. Why am I dragging in all these nagging voices of doubt?

Anyway. I'll spare you that roller-coaster of self-worth for another day.

Here's what I'm REALLY interested in sharing with you:

I recently attended a 2-week writing retreat on Madeline Island in Wisconsin. (Yes, I had cheese curds. Yes, I got a tick bite and am still taking antibiotics.) It rocked my world, which I didn't think the Midwest had the capacity to do to me again.

Pre-retreat Katie. Notice her naiveté. She's never been on a retreat before.

So, why did I go?

Well, just over 8 months ago, I was reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and drooling over ever word. When she mentioned a great book on writing by Natalie Goldberg, I ordered it immediately.

Writing Down the Bones came into my life while I was in the middle of writing my first book, a memoir of my time studying in Senegal, West Africa. I credit it- and the actions I took because of it- for helping me birth Teranga into the world several months later. I had been sort of constipated with it for 12 years, not to be gross. But the story needed OUT, and Natalie gave me the zen-informed guidance I didn't know I needed in her books.

All of which I read, by the way, in the following 6 months- 14 books, I think. Only because her first book Chicken in Love is IMPOSSIBLE to find (except the one "collectible" copy on Amazon for $260. Shall 10 of us split the cost and get it?)

So while I was inhaling these books while publishing my own, I looked her up. Holy shit, she has a writing retreat in WISCONSIN! I couldn't believe it. I became motivated again to sell my car back in Michigan (thanks Janelle) and threw all the money at the retreat ASAP. And then some.

I'd never been on a retreat before, but guys- I just KNEW I had to be at that retreat. I felt PULLED. I felt... CALLED. I felt... kind of guilty, actually, once I committed to it.

Besides the cost, I'd be away from my partner for 2 weeks. He wouldn't love that. But he knows me and respects my sometimes-out-there needs (like, I'm going to Senegal in a few weeks by myself for 3 weeks before he joins for a week of vacay). So, I plugged it into my calendar at the end of The-Year-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named and built 2021 up around the July retreat.

Writing group meetings. Workshops. Reading 1 memoir a week from Natalie's list of recommendations. Writing. So much writing. READING! SO MUCH READING.

I wanted to be SO READY for this retreat. For this next chapter of my life. I wanted to take this next step into being a full-time writer and entrepreneur seriously.

Guys, I narrowly avoided applying to grad school. GRAD SCHOOL! I once told a friend after I got my MA to never let me go back; I wouldn't survive it again. I could hear her voice in my head when I started thinking about PhD programs: Just... don't. Please. For all of us.

I decided to create my own education.

For once, I just dove in the deep end without a formal degree or certification giving me "permission." In her memoirs and books on writing, Natalie demonstrated to me what it looks like to just go after it- to "go for the jugular," as she often repeats in her books. Through her example, I felt like I was being given permission to write, right now. As is.

Hallelujah, because I was already writing a book but extremely bent out of shape about it. I could list 100 reasons why I couldn't or shouldn't publish it. I'd write for two days straight and then not sleep for a week and clean the corners of every closet in my home. I'd be "productive" in my writing group and then stare at the cursor until everything went blurry and I ended up bingeing on Netflix with a beer. Or four.

It wasn't a healthy process at times.

What am I doing? I kept thinking. Who are you to write a book? You're not a writer. You're definitely not ready. You should Google everything you need to do first before publishing a single word so you don't make any mistakes or upset anyone.

In the Writing Practice that Natalie teaches- hell, advocates for, begs us to do- you don't listen to that inner critic, that negative voice, the "monkey mind" as she refers to it as. You keep the hand moving, no matter what. She tells us there is no good or bad (the academic in me still gets worked up over this one, but I'm softening... because it's freaking working).

She repeats over and over to just keep writing, to not stop to think or analyze, because that's where second and third thoughts creep up and over our first thoughts- our fresh, un-judged, naked thoughts- and halt us in our tracks. She even encourages people to "write the worst shit in America," so that we can finally get out of the way and "let writing do writing."

No ego, no filter. Not at first anyway. Editing comes later, but this retreat- and most of her teaching- focuses on Writing Practice, on strengthening your writing spine.

And holy crap guys, that's exactly what has happened to me.

If you know me, you also know that pretty much all of this is the opposite of how I've approached things/projects/work in my past of paralyzing perfectionism.

So that's why I'm really, really excited to share more with you about the Way of Writing and Memoir retreats I attended back-to-back at the Madeline Island School of the Arts. It was powerful. It was delicious. And Natalie hurt my feelings so badly, I cried. I can't wait to tell you about that one. Best lesson from the whole retreat.

But yeah, I'm one week away from reading through the journal I nearly filled during my time there- another suggestion of Natalie's (fill 'em up and then don't read them until 2 weeks afterwards, and soak up and use what you learn from it).

So, subscribe for updates if you'd like to follow me along on my writing journey. I'll be posting more about lessons from the retreat, Natalie, and others somewhat regularly for a bit. Probably! Definitely. I mean, I'm pretty sure.

Don't you want to know more about how I put up my tent in the rain at a campsite because I'm too cheap to stay at fancypants lodging? C'mon!

Curious about the school?


Here's my first voice-over TikTok for a tour, but you can also find it (and me) on Facebook and Instagram.

And while I'm overwhelming you with links, here's my Linktree! :)



PS: Join me for a workshop or creative writing class, writing practice retreat modeled after Natalie's, or one of my free offerings such as my memoir book club, Friday writing practice, and more.

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