Tag Archives: retreat

The Woodbridge Writers Retreat….

This is another post in my writers workshops series, where I give you the scoop on the writers workshops/conferences I attended this year. The Woodbridge Writers Retreat was hosted by Richard Bausch, Robert Bausch, and Tom Zoellner in May 2014 in Woodbridge, Virginia. If you are a reader/writer and you don’t know about these guys yet, you’ll be very glad you read this post. (Richard is on the left, Tom in the middle, Robert on the right.)

woodbridge Writers Retreat-May 16, 2014

I met Richard Bausch when I was an English Major at George Mason University a few years, ahem, okay, decades ago. He was the professor whose words stuck with me truly for a lifetime. When I was his student, he gave the class a short story assignment. I had never written a short story before and was completely intimidated. (Yes, the class was probably called “writing short stories” or something very vague like that–thank you for understanding why I was surprised by the work we were asked to do.)

Luckily it was a small class and he must have seen the look of shear dread in my eyes. He asked what was wrong. I sheepishly told him I didn’t even know where to start. (Yes, rookie mistake. Don’t ever let other people do the dirty work for you. In order for you to be invested in it, you must own every step of the process.) So he kindly created a prompt for me. I wrote a story based on that prompt and it was horrible. Absolutely horrible.

But rather than tell me to give up on writing, he told me the truth:
“You took the easy way out on this one. You can do much better than this.”

He was right. I had very much taken the easy way out. I wrote the story quickly and put it aside as if the first version of anything is ever good enough. I never edited it. I never reconsidered optional story lines. My characters were flat. It was awful. (No,  thankfully, I do not still have a copy of it. No need for such evidence.)

I was worse than a rookie. I was lazy. And embarrassed myself.

Fast forward many years later. I had joined a writing group and we decided to attend the AWP writers conference. When planning out what sessions I wanted to attend, I realized that Richard Bausch was going to be a speaker. Squeeeee.

So like a good little groupie, I excitedly waited for him to come into the session. As soon as he sat down, I rushed over to him and gushed about how he had been my professor and how he had inspired me by telling me the truth and blah, blah, blah. I even gave him a flashdrive with a copy of my work-in-progress to show him that I was no longer “taking the easy way out.” (Yep, still rocking the rookie. Thankfully I stopped short of asking him to sign my t-shirt.)

He was very sweet and said thank you. He even accepted my facebook friend request. But I didn’t really think I would get a chance to see him, much less work with him, again.

That is, until I met his brother Robert Bausch at the Algonkian Writers Workshop in Sterling, Virginia. He was a guest speaker and there were only about 8 of us at the conference, so we all got a chance to chat with him. He had us completely engaged. There is no doubt that Bob is extremely talented with many books, short stories, and even a movie under his belt. But he is also passionate. He reads like crazy, he teaches, and he writes every day. And he is funny as hell. (Just like his twin brother Robert. Yep, twinsies. Awesome.)

What I love most about Bob is that he loves writing and teacher writing, even after doing it every day for years on end. He hasn’t lost his zeal and that makes me hopeful that I won’t either. (Richard is the same way, by the by.)

As he was walking out of the conference, I asked him to please let me know if there were any workshops he was teaching and gave him my email address. When I hadn’t heard from him after a while, I went from rookie to near-stalker and googled “Bausch” plus “workshop” and found the Woodbridge Writers Workshop. His brother was going to be there too. Both Bausch Brothers at the same conference, teaching me? I might faint. Sign.Me.Up.Now.Please.and.Thank.You.

Tom Zoellner was also a workshop leader. I had not heard of him before but that was reader error on my part. He is a fabulous non-fiction writer and journalist. He takes subjects that most people don’t think too much about – speed traps in small-town Georgia or Uranium for instance – and writes engaging, almost fictionesque prose about it. He turns facts into stories and draws the reader deeply in.

The workshop was small–only ten writers. Yes, that’s right. Ten writers and three workshop leaders. That’s damn near miraculous. All three of the leaders are teachers as well as writers. Yes, that’s even better. The workshop lasted 3 days (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday).

We spent most of the time workshopping the different submissions, but we also had craft talks and ate dinner together each night which allowed the workshop discussions to continue on well into the night. Each writer was allowed to submit up to 20 pages. Each participant was expected to submit something and read/critique everyone else’s submission.

Because the leaders are so entrenced in the teaching world, many of the attendees were also teachers, either creative writing or composition. I loved that.

The feedback from this workshop was invaluable. The leaders spent a lot of time reading and considering everyone’s work. The attendees were also smart readers and invested time in each story.

These are the wonderful writers who attended the conference.

woodbridge Writers Retreat-May 17, 2014-2

Some of the advice/things we learned were…

  • Write your way to the end – don’t tinker with details until you get your story down.
  • Peter Taylor is a master of having the narrator tell the reader important info without the narrator understanding its full impact.
  • Writing a one sentence summary of each chapter will allow you to see the entire book as a whole.
  • When writing character remember to write this character, not just a character.
  • You want your readers to feel surprised at the exact moment they realize the inevitability of what’s coming. It should be an “Oh” and an “Aw” moment.
  • Move the most imporant piece of dialogue to the end of the line so it has more impact.
  • Perfect is the enemy of good. Feel free to write without judgment of quality – but in editing be heartless with the delete key.
  • Don’t write to make a point. Theme is generally accidental.

Richard also has a “ten commandments” list on his website. You can read that here.

As always happens at writers conferences, several books/stories came up as recommendations to read…

So there you have it. If you ever get the chance to attend this conference. Do it!

The link to the workshop is here.

Oh and it turns out that all three of the workshop leaders have books out this year.

Here they are …

Robert Bausch

before during afer

tom zoellnerYes, you should buy them all. Right now.


Hin-du-stan v. Pak-i-stan…………

Every night right outside of Amritsar in India and Lahore in Pakistan, there is a border closing ceremony between the two countries – India and Pakistan. It is called the Wagah Border Retreat Ceremony. The point of the ceremony┬á is to lower the flags of the two nations and officially close the border for the night.

In 1947, the village that existed at this point where the Radcliffe Line was drawn became split between India and Pakistan and it remains the only place to cross the border by road between the two countries.

The best way to describe the ceremony is kind of, sort of like a U.S. college football game. Kind of. Sort of. There are dancers instead of cheerleaders and there are soldiers instead of players. And, instead of a ball, they have guns and each soldier gets his own gun – so no balls, but lots of guns. See what I mean – kind of, sort of but not exactly? There are also crowds and they cheer their ever-lovin heads off. There are even bands that play really loudly in the background. But eat before you go, because there are no hot dog or beer vendors. Not even cotton candy – but you can get popcorn and balloons on the way out. (Just don’t buy them on the way in because they won’t let you take them in the stadium.)

The entire program is announced in Hindi and I guess Urdu. I don’t understand a lick of either language – so please don’t ask me for exact translations. Basically they are saying:
Go team
We are better than you
Are not
Are too
Says who
Says me, that’s who

But remember, that is a loose translation.

I did, however, understand when the Indian side yelled HINNN-DOO-STAHN  and the Pakistani side answered with PAHK-EEE-STAHN.

It is quite the occasion and if you ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it. Let me be sure to say that I would not plan an entire vacation around this, but if you are a.n.y.w.h.e.r.e. near it, don’t miss it.

The stadium…

The security – these guys sat right behind us – fully loaded – I am not sure if that made me feel better or not.

The cheerleaders dancers………

The gates………….

The gates had to be opened before they were closed………

Team Pakistan……………

The flags……….

The flags coming down……they are brought down together so that neither country has the “advantage”….

The gates closing again………

Team India…..

A few good things to know.

If you can get VIP seating – do it. Really – don’t hesitate – just say thank you and move on to a very uncrowded spot with a fantabulous view. Otherwise it is open seating and that means about 8,000 of your new best friends enter the gates at the same exact time as you do and rush for a seat. VIP seating is way better. And the security lines are much shorter.

Speaking of security – you will be screened at least twice.

I have been told that you are not allowed to take a bag in. I have also heard no cameras. We did not take in bags but we did take cameras in our hand. During the ceremony people sitting near us were asked to not take pictures. I was standing on my seat snapping away and no one said anything to me. So this is something you will definitely want to clarify before you go.

You should plan on walking a fair distance from the parking area to the stadium and back (you can actually take a rickshaw up to it but you must walk back). Comfy shoes are a good idea.It’s really not that far – but I would hate for you to be surprised by it.

And remember, you are not allowed to take your cell phone so clarify with your driver exactly where he will meet you before you head to the stadium. Have him point to it and say right here. You won’t be able to call him when you leave the stadium because you won’t have your phone.

We did not have to use the restrooms while we were there but I always feel it is a good idea not to need to use them when there are that many people who might need to do the same thing.

The whole ceremony lasts about 30 minutes max.