by Tracy Barrett (W&M contributor)
I’ve written elsewhere about the need—for me, anyway—to develop a routine for my writing. But once in a while it’s beneficial to shake that routine up.
So a few weeks ago I left my treadmill desk and my schedule and went to Loretto, Kentucky for a three-day retreat with my critique group. We stayed in an old (1860s) boarding school at an academy that was founded in 1812 by three young women—girls, really—who were determined to educate girls in what was then the frontier.
This convent is the mother house of the order of the Sisters of Loretto and serves primarily as a home for about eighty dynamic, intelligent, engaged elderly women who spent their youth working in AIDS wards at a time when most people, even health-care professionals, refused to go near those patients; setting up and teaching in schools in Latin America and Africa; teaching inner-city youth that others had written off.
These women, some of whom are more than 100 years old, have earned a leisurely retirement, but they refuse to retire from life. They’re engaged in replanting native species on their land; solar panels are on the roofs of all but the historic buildings; they’re actively involved in the local schools; they raise funds for a school in South Sudan; they know all about politics (and sports) and have strong opinions about both. They accept donations to subsidize housing people recently released from incarceration for civil disobedience. They’ve been referred to as “badass” in the media for refusing to allow an oil pipeline to cross their property.
My critique group had an entire floor to ourselves. The wood floors of the corridors, wide enough to allow two girls in hoop skirts to pass each other side by side, were so polished you could see your reflection in them. The ten-foot ceilings, huge windows, and transoms made for a constant exchange of air. We each had a private room, and we had a large lounge to work in. We ate meals with the nuns, which led to some fascinating conversations.
In other words, a writer’s paradise. We wrote in groups and individually, took walks, critiqued madly, did writing exercises (this one proved particularly useful), talked about writing and life and the writing life, and left inspired and recharged.
Tracy Barrett is the author of numerous books for young readers, most recently Dark of the Moon (Harcourt) and the Sherlock Files series (Henry Holt). Forthcoming from Harlequin Teen in July, 2014 is The Stepsister’s Tale. She lives in Nashville, TN, where until recently she taught Italian, Humanities, and Women’s Studies at Vanderbilt University, before transitioning to being a full-time writer. Visit her website and her blog.