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by Ruth Ozeki


The idea for Hedgebrook Writes! came from a weekend writing retreat I did two years ago on the little island where I live in British Columbia. It was late August, the end of the silly summer season. The tourists were packing up, and the islanders were looking forward to the rains and the bad weather so we could get serious again. Or, at least I was.

All summer I’d been having trouble carving out time for writing. The solution, I realized, was to ask everyone on the island to help. You can do this on a small island. So I made some flyers and posted them at the community hall and the post office and the library, inviting people to participate in a three day writing intensive. It was inspired by the 3-Day Novel Contest and held at the same time, over the Labor Day weekend.

That first year about thirty people signed on. We had a couple of meet-ups before to hone our intentions and strategies. Some people were writing 3-day novels. Some were writing other things. It didn’t matter. We opened up our guest house and invited writers to drop in anytime. Non-writer friends made soup and bread and cookies, tiptoeing in to leave offerings in the fridge or on the stove. Three body workers offered free massages to the writers. Some people brought sleeping bags and slept over. Others came during the day, and most wrote from their homes.

During the retreat, the silence in the house was profound. It felt like a library. Or a study hall. Or a monastery. The whole island felt that way—on a small island, thirty people is a sizable percentage of the population, and everybody knew somebody who was writing. At midnight, when it was over, we had a party. People brought wine and shared their writing, and later that month, we held a public reading.

We were all so productive that we did it again the following year, and about fifty people wrote. It was so much fun, I mentioned it to Amy and Vito. They got it, and we decided to offer it to Hedgebrook alums. We would build a website, a virtual Farmhouse table, and invite everyone to gather there.

It’s just like Harold and his purple crayon (from the popular 1955 children’s book by Crockett Johnson): you draw a line around a weekend and call it a retreat, and suddenly it is one.

I’m really interested in the idea of interpersonal neurobiology and the phenomenon of emergence; how, when the conditions are right, we can come together and resonate with other sympathetic minds and beings, and in so doing create conditions for creativity and output that would be impossible to achieve on our own. I think we’ve all felt that here at Hedgebrook. And if six women writing in linked cottages in the woods can generate so much literary energy, just think what a network of twelve hundred plus Hedgebrook alums, writing all around the world, can do!

If the emails and blog postings are any indication, the participants in the 2011 Hedgebrook Writes! had a great time. It made me happy to check into the website and read the posts and feel the working presence of everyone out there. I hope we can do this again next year, and in the meanwhile, there’s no real reason to stop. The spirit of Hedgebrook is with you, wherever you go.


Ruth Ozeki
About Ruth Ozeki

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