Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Writer's Retreat

This past August I took a weekend trip to Asheville, North Carolina to visit the Biltmore Estate. I didn’t go kicking and screaming, but my idea of a vacation is usually more of the big fruity drink, toes in the sand variety. When we reached Biltmore House, it was a jaw dropper for sure, but when I rented the audio tour, the story behind the house is what drew me in and made me wish I’d known the Vanderbilts.

Why? George Vanderbilt loved to read. The library is a sumptuous two story room, walnut-paneled with deep red furniture made when furniture was a work of art. Books line the walls from top to bottom. A spiral staircase takes you to the second level of books and there’s a secret door so Mr. Vanderbilt could come down from his bedroom to retrieve or return a book. (A secret door?! How Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Lead Pipe is that? Gotta love it!) It’s a place his guests could retreat to and curl up by the massive fireplace with a good story. Among his guests? Edith Wharton.

On the house tour we went through one of the bedrooms where Edith Wharton stayed while visiting. As the mountain breeze caused the curtains to billow, I imagined her rising in the morning, hot breakfast waiting, full day of staring out at the Blue Ridge Mountains and feeding her soul ahead of her. Did she write anything there? How could she not?

Yes, that’s what I thought of as I walked through Biltmore House. How cool it would be to have this beautiful and inspiring place where all you were expected to do was just be. A stroll through the rose garden, back to your room to nap or write a letter, tea time with scones and lemon curd and clotted cream, a five course dinner, a library beckoning you with its volumes…

Oh man, how I crave a writers retreat!

Truthfully, at the center of all these hedonistic layers of yumminess is permission. Permission to let myself find the joy in creating.

This morning as I sat down to revise a chapter I’ve been having trouble with, I was literally reduced to tears. It was one of those mornings where every word that came out of my keyboard felt skunked. It didn’t help that a virtual Venga Bus of editorial insults barreled through my brain. Also pressing on me was the knowledge that if I didn’t hit the deli counter at some point in the afternoon, my daughter would be without her beloved bologna for yet another day. Then of course there’s that orthodontist bill I need to call about. And another three day weekend is coming up and - you get the picture. You’ve been there. I know.

Since I don’t have any millionaire friends who have a mountain retreat I can hole up in for awhile, I was thinking we could put together a virtual retreat right here on The Paper Wait.

First – the place. Large, log cabin type retreat, with a view of the mountains. Rustic enough to create a mood, but with modern amenities, like a whirlpool bath. A fire place is a must, so at the end of a day spent creating we could sit and discuss our drafts or talk about great books we’ve read. There would be a chef on site. (so more time could be spent just be-ing) Someone to cook healthy but yummy brain food. Chocolate would be on the menu every day.

Okay..what next?


  1. In addition to a view of the mountains, you have to have a view of the ocean and be able to hear it at night! Mountains don't lull you to sleep. The ocean does.

    Great post, Robin. Biltmore has been on my "go there" list for years. You caught the atmosphere of their lives beautifully. Yes, it would be nice to write in such surroundings, but there would still be days when it was frustrating. "You can't always get what you want."

  2. After a long day of good work, a good bottle of red and some writerly banter at night. Then a good hike the next morning, to clear the mental cobwebs from the prior night, so we can write all day long again!

  3. I, too, am jealous of writers lucky enough to go on retreat.
    Some day.....

  4. One incredibly important element for any writer's retreat is really, really good coffee.

    And if you can't go to a writer's retreat, let the writer's retreat come to you. I love waving good-bye to my husband and kids as they drive to a weekend at Grand-mom and Pop-Pop's. I sit at my computer with a mug of coffee in the morning and a glass of red at night at night, and write away. Of course, now that the kids are older, those weekends are harder to come by.

  5. Years ago when I took a class with Barbara Seuling online, we created our own chat room and added in all kinds of virtual things...

    Bish - absolutely - views from all sides!

    Gale - I think it was my suggestion on that board that on one side of the house would be the beach, and one side of the house would be the mountains. There's a definite draw as to what place inspires me more (I think beach though, lol) There's nothing like being lulled to sleep by waves!

    JL - maybe with a hot hiker dude guide for even more inspiration...

    Judy - absolutely right!! I try and give myself these moments at home as well.

    and Meg...hmmm, this has me thinking...Asheville is a really nice place, I know a cool hotel, there are reasonable airfare rates...maybe we can start our own!!


  6. Oh my word. That library sounds amazing - and a secret door?! Awesome. My mom always told me a home up the hill from ours had a rotating wall in its study. I don't know if it was true or not, but it was fun to think about.

  7. The hubby has been trying to drag me to the Biltmore for years! We only live a few hours away but something always seems to come up! Hopefully we'll make it sounds lovely!

  8. Robin,

    What a place the Biltmore is! I too was wowed by its fabulous chateau architecture and its view of the deep green of the surrounding lawns and woods and the Carolina Blue of the mountain ridges beyond.

    The retreat - certainly needs that great chef! And the view -= surely needs the ocean - if not a lovely long lake,

    but most importantly some solitude in the silence of the lake water and woods and the soothing sounds of the waves.


  9. Oooh- it needs plenty of outdoor rooms, too! Little decks or verandas with big comfy couches, where you can somehow always see the laptop screen, even in sunlight :D

    And maybe some classically trained actors who can read pages back to you, to see how they flow.