I’ve wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember. I also have been a procrastinator for as long as I can remember. I have OCD, like actually diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder along with ADD, attention deficit disorder and not just “Oh I’m so OCD” self-diagnosis type A personality kind that people joke about. This leads to a variety of reasons why I hadn’t completed a book or much of anything else up until this point in my life. I was sparked by a divine little connection that led me to Linda Sivertsen and her fabulous book retreats in the quaint little town of Carmel in California. This seaside town is the epitome of old world inspiration for any novelist and Linda has the most phenomenal program that I’ve ever taken part in when it comes to writing workshops. It was a substantial investment in my career, a leap of faith, and a strong belief in myself that I was finally ready to face something and finish it.
I was on the heels of a trip from Italy, the sort of trip that sparks a deep wanderlust that to this day refuses to stop pushing me towards more adventures abroad. Danielle tweeted something about an online webinar she was giving with her friend Linda about a book writing program package they were launching. Sign me up! As I watched Lindas interview with Danielle LaPorte and I was sold before the talk was over. This could be it, my connection to getting my story told once and for all. I poured over Lindas website and watched all of her videos, I purchased a copy of Your Big Beautiful Book Plan and began to listen to the audio in the car, while I did dishes, put together Ikea furniture (another talent of mine – and seriously you need some talent to decipher those horrible instructions). I showed my husband the videos, the website, I talked about it non-stop for days, I set up a skype meeting with Linda to discuss the retreat and get payment information. I nervously awaited our chat unsure if my husband would be willing to invest in another one of my dreams. **Spoiler alert – Big Poppa always believes in me so of course he went out of his way to make this happen for me. We have a groovy kind of love like that and I’m very thankful.
So far I’d been a mother, a brick and mortar baby store owner with a thriving online business, a cake designer, a life coach, an intuitive medium and card reader and now, a writer. Oh, did I mention after this I became a certified Yoga teacher too? I’m all about learning and trying new things and my career(s) or rather lack of committing to one has become a bit of a trademark for me. I don’t believe in doing anything that no longer brings you complete happiness and joy. The underlying theme with every career I had chosen and left behind? Blogs – I started blogs and wrote about my business, my products, reviewed items, wrote about family and friendships, travel, cakes and pastries, recipes and advertisements. I placed so much effort and care into what I wrote that I neglected the actual businesses because all I really wanted to be doing was writing.
After a skype meeting and approval, I was set up to arrive in June. Carmel forewarns travellers of June Gloom but as you can see by my pictures, it was anything but. The weather was fantastic with maybe 2 rainy days out of the 10 days I stayed there. Lindas retreats are held in a beautiful home off of the coast. From the big bay windows inside the home you have the perfect view of the ocean, the occasional whale leaping through the surf and a breath taking landscape. It’s all gardens, greenery and salt air – the perfect setting to write a best-selling novel.
Linda not only picked me up at the airport but she dropped me off and made sure I was settled in at the Cypress Inn, a local hotel owned by Doris Day and very dog-friendly. Carmel itself is a dog-friendly town with bowls of water and pets allowed in virtually every business and restaurant. As an avid dog person, I adored this and got to mingle with some of the most spoiled pooches I’ve ever met.
The Cypress Inn has an other worldly charm, the outdoor patio has a magical secret garden vibe for dining al-fresco with friends – canine or otherwise. The following day I would peruse the shops that lined the streets until the salt air enticed me with it’s siren song leading me to the vast expanse of white sands and blue surf. I wrote in my journal (with a fountain pen of course.), took dozens of photos and when my phone rang it was time to meet Linda and head over to the house and get started.
We were met by her chef Blair who cooked some pretty amazing meals. I mean, look at this food, it’s art! Everything Blair created in the kitchen was full of flavour and perfectly complemented the comfort food required when diving deep into your personal story. After baring your heart and soul you need more than a peanut butter sandwich on stale bread or the scrap left in the bottom of the ice cream tub that’s been in the freezer for two months because you’re too busy writing to go grocery shopping. Not that I’ve done that or anything…
After quickly unpacking we ate some appetizers and talked about what brought us to Carmel, there was just me and one other participant for this particular retreat – a rare occurrence and one I am grateful for as I got extra one on one time with Linda to work on my story. It was time to hit up the local restaurant located in another beautiful hotel – Il Fornaio – a popular spot for pasta fans with a variety of seating both indoors and out. At dinner we dove deep into each persons story, Linda and Blair included – over rich bowls of pasta. I highly recommend the Cappallacci Di Zucca (Ravioli filled with butter nut squash and walnuts served with tomato sauce, browned butter, grana padano and crispy sage) it’s a little bit of heaven in your mouth!
The house itself was like a womb – a warm and soft landing space of support for each of us writing and sharing our stories. In the days to come table readings were full of sparked conversations, legal pads and pens furiously writing ideas, sometimes tears and mostly laughter, the occasional applause. Each of us spread out, cue cards with scribblings of chapter titles and notes from our yellow legal pads by our sides we typed as quick as our fingers would let us to create enough material to read each morning and evening. Sitting around the long wooden table with large mugs of herbal tea and ideas steeping by the minute each of us fuelled by the others creative share for the day we intuited our future plans for book launches and proposals.
Once the ice had been broken, which took all of ten minutes because every participant that arrives tend to be fantastic likeable folk – perhaps it’s the desire to not only just be story-tellers but to also be wonderful listeners who can appreciate a great tale told with the same passion we have for living life to the fullest. Also, we need something to write about so it’s kind of necessary to live wild and free. We need material people! The following days were filled with table reads, cozy chairs and big soft blankets and the beautiful sound of the laptop keys clicking away at a feverish pace. At the end of the day we would gather around the supper table and break bread about the writers life and what our lives were like back home trying to squeeze in as much get to know you time before we retired to our rooms for a sound and sweet sleep.
Doggy snuggles from Lindas sweet and gentle pooch Miss Merry who somehow becomes everyones muse as she seems to know just when you are writing about the tough stuff and need a little support. Miss Merry and I spent a great deal of time curled up together on the couch while Blair kept us nourished with full bellies, warm hearts and the most delicious iced teas I’ve ever tasted. Morning table reads, more work alone, one on one time with Linda, another table read, feedback both given and received that becomes so valuable and such a driving force of motivation to just keep writing. You want to write as much as you can so you have as much to share and receive feedback on as possible. Dinners in the kitchen overlooking the garden frequented by ethereal like hummingbirds and butterflies make it feel like there’s an element of magic to this sacred space. The magic isn’t just in the setting it’s also within the group of people that surround you on this journey. You will become keenly aware of the synchronicities in your connection with each group member and their stories. You will be just as excited to help others with their works as you are to receive their help and feedback on yours. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
I use to go into events with very high expectations and come out disappointed, I learned that it is far better to show up as you are and expect nothing – then you will receive great rewards. Linda exceeded my expectations and really got me excited about my work, organized my story, lit a huge fire under my ass and hinted at future connections she would like to make for me when my manuscript is completed. She’s a gentle but fierce force of love and kick assness that gets you on track to craft your most heart-driven work onto the page. When I read some of the things I wrote in the time period I like to call B.L. (before Linda) and compare it to the writings that occurred just days after spending a few hours with her one on one I deem A.L. also known as (after Linda taught me how to actually write) the whole trip was worth every cent. For that alone, the gift to really see the transformation in my own writing style was huge. I couldn’t believe that she actually sat through what I had written without stopping me and saying, “Crystal-Lee, this sucks.” because it did suck, but Linda has this very cool way of guiding you to write in a way that really brings out your true voice, to urge you to just shift this word, then that sentence and before you know it you have gone from writing in past tense to crafting perfected dialogue and scene structure with little effort. It might sound woo-woo to say it’s magic, but I can’t explain it, I guess when you have the right teacher the magic happens and boy does it ever.
For five days we laughed, ate, cried, looked at pictures, shared stories, and pieces of writing that may never see the light of day because let’s face it, there are some things you write strictly for the therapy and not for the public eye. In need of a creative break we explored the local nature reserve and encountered dolphins, whales, seals, and a doe and her fawn just steps in front of us. This day trip requires you definitely bring a camera, dress in layers for the ever-changing weather conditions at this locale and be prepared to stare in awe at the Harry-Potteresque forest trails. There was so much to marvel at I think I took 200 photos in just this location alone, there is such a variety of wildlife that even this country girl was a little awe-struck.
It was at that nature reserve that I really got a chance to visualize the possibilities that lay in front of me after experiencing a retreat like this. Five intensive days of writing with detailed notes and feedback on everything I’d written over the course of that time and a game plan for the future when it came to approaching agents with polished query letters and proposals. There isn’t anything Linda didn’t cover and she has remained in touch via email for any questions I continue to have.
When I left the retreat and found my way to a new hotel and unpacked my bags once again I felt renewed and hopeful about my future as an author. I sat down and got to work and when I returned home I had written 40,000 words in ten days. I explored the town and it’s variety of restaurants, art galleries and garden shops full of treasures on my writing breaks and of course as always, I spent as much time as possible at the beach walking the shore and inhaling as much salt air as possible to sustain me until my next visit. I made several new friends in Carmel, the kind of people you get a text or a call from once in a blue moon and pick right up where you left off. The kind of friends that support your dreams and you are just as excited to support theirs. There’s something about numbers when it comes to this manifestation business and I think the gift of working in a small group really nourishes the kind of soul-connection that takes place on these retreats. Linda just has a way of welcoming everyone and nurturing the birth of your book baby into being that can’t really be compared. It’s a one of a kind experience that I will always be truly grateful for.
For more information on Lindas Book Mama Retreats held in Carmel visit her website here. Have questions? Fire away in the comments below, I am always happy to provide feedback about my experience and offer any tips for packing, staying after the retreat for additional time in Carmel and which restaurants/shops to make sure you check out during your stay.