Writing Retreat on Shaw Island

A relatively recent development in my life as a writer has been the inclusion of Writing Retreats into my practice. Writing Retreats take many forms, but I find that a retreat in seclusion with light outside contact and a minimum stay of one week is most useful to my work.

During late February, I was blessed with the opportunity to have a writing retreat at a house on the residential San Juan island called Shaw Island. I stayed in the house of a generous, author-loving couple, complete with wood pile, critters, no internet access and no cell phone reception! For ten days, I worked on my novel in an almost eerie amount of quiet.

View from the ferry

Shaw Island is one of the San Juan Islands off the coast of Cascadia, just below Canada. I listened to lots of CBC radio. A short walk from the house was an amazing view of the sound where I watched otters play during writing breaks.

Street signs on Shaw Island

The library

The library on Shaw is open three days a week for about four hours each day and volunteer staffed! There are no businesses on the island except for one general store at the ferry dock. Whoever is behind the counter greets every person by name. To me: “So, where you visiting the island from?” Visiting the island was like visiting another time. It only took a few days for the deep magic of the place to begin to show itself to me.

Shaw Island Historical Society

Inside my 'writing studio'

I learned a lot about myself during this retreat. I work best on fiction during times of total isolation. For this trip, I was editing my 300 page book of YA fiction called Celia, the Dark and Weird, due on The Viking Press in 2012. I think this time spent on the book has produced the best writing I’ve done on it to date. Based on my editor’s suggestions, I was fleshing out minor characters, building up select scenes and concentrating on the pacing of the story. I expect a few more small rounds of edits before the copy editing process begins, so I hope for more remote islands in the coming year!

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