This post by Gayle M. Irwin
An earlier January blog post mentioned a self-imposed retreat I was planning, so I decided to do a follow-up about the experience. One word describes it: AWESOME! Although I could end my thought with that word, I’ll share a bit more.
On January 15 , 16 and 17, I “retreated” to my friends’ ranch about 70 miles northeast of Casper. I’ve known this couple for nearly 12 years. They live on acreage owned by the husband’s family for more than 50 years; he inherited the ranch after his parents died. Although my friends don’t do as much ranching as he did growing up and until about 10 years ago, they still maintain livestock, including horses, cattle, and llamas. They rent out pasture to others who have more cows, horses, and even some sheep. My friends bought an additional 40-acre parcel adjacent to the original family ranch and built a new house on it a few years ago. They kept the original modular home on that 40-acres, which serves as a guest house. When their children and grandchildren visit, when other family and friends visit, they stay at the guest house. That’s where I stayed, where I slept, where I ate (although I shared a meal with my friends at their home), and where I wrote.
And, did I write! I composed several articles, including a new story to submit to Chicken Soup for the Soul which was due the end of this month. I re-purposed some articles that had not been accepted into Chicken Soup when I submitted them a few years ago, added to, subtracted from, and edited through those and have since sent on to other publications, two of which have been accepted to Prairie Times in Colorado. A few other of those re-purposed stories will be sent to Prairie Rose Publishing, the company our friend Doris McCraw writes for and tells us about. I’ll be submitting for the company’s upcoming anthology “Pawprints on my Heart” with hopes one or two will be picked up for that publication.
I learned about Prairie Times from the publisher of my book, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, who resides in Greeley, CO. She encouraged me to contact the editor because Prairie Times publishes animal stories. I did, the editor said to send a few samples, so I worked on those and submitted them — she accepted them! One is slated to be published in May and the other in June. It’s a paying market, and I plan to submit more with hopes she’ll publish them in the fall; October is National Adopt-a-Shelter Dog Month and November is National Adopt-a-Senior Pet Month. I certainly have stories appropriate for such recognitions.
Additionally while at the ranch, I started a new children’s book, about my rescue therapy dog, Mary. I have opportunity to have that story serialized later this year in “My Trib,” the children’s section of the Casper Journal. Two of my children’s stories have run since September, and when I spoke with the publisher earlier this month, he indicated an interest in running more of my children’s work. I’ve wanted to write a story about Mary, her adoption, and her therapy-dog nature, so that conversation, and my ranch writing retreat, prompted me to get that going. I also wrote more of my children’s story, Jasmine’s Journey: Story of a Rescue Dog, a story I started a few years ago but left shelved on my computer. It’s time; it’s time I write on my manuscripts once again, and that’s one of the main reasons for the retreat. When I’m home, I work on other people’s work: the Vietnam veterans stories for the Casper Star Tribune, the articles for WREN magazine, the compositions for Our Town Casper. Plus, the various interruptions at home: the phone, the internet, the pets, the husband; the laundry, the dishes, the television… at the ranch there was none of that. I purposely chose to ignore the Vietnam writings, even though I had done two interviews; my WREN and Our Town articles were completed for the month; and I left the dogs and husband at home. There was no TV and no internet, even though I did watch one DVD on Friday night – a fun movie that helped me laugh and relax, both of which I needed. I slept in on Saturday until 8 am, NOT normal for me, and usually NOT an option for me at home. That added rest probably contributed to my ability to sit and type, to let the muse flow, and to feel stronger and more creative. My spiritual side also benefited, as I brought along instrumental CDs of Christian hymns and also brought my Bible and two devotion books. I reviewed my goals and prayed over each project and each plan. This retreat is exactly what my emotional, spiritual, creative, and physical sides needed.
Wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, and great horned owls were among my visitors. A few stray cats, whom my friends feed, and three llamas made up the guests near the guest house. The sun shone, the wind remained calm, and the snow didn’t fly (much anyway!). Although the temperature was cold, especially in the morning, a woodstove helped heat the house and provided an extra comfy atmosphere for writing.
I hope to do this again, even if just for one night and one day, at least once more this winter (maybe twice if my friends and my husband allow!) My goal is to finish both children’s books by early spring. To do so, I’m going to need to learn to block out time at home, to ignore the distractions (well, most of them anyway). Time management – it’s something else that’s on my goal list for this year. Perhaps I can find a way to block out at least four hours in one day, and another hour or two on another day to simply spend on my manuscripts and weave the other writing assignments and school speaking engagements around those blocks of time in addition to continuing my part-time “steady job.” I hope to figure all that out and start next month (which is just a day away now!) as I’ll again be working on magazine assignments.
I highly recommend self-imposed retreats. Perhaps a day at the beach, in the desert, or even at a library. A place to be by yourself and get quiet and simply spend with your heart, your mind, and your computer (or writing notebook). I am blessed with these great friends and I am blessed to have the mountain cabin (which for me is too difficult to get to during winter – and too many distractions, like feeding the woodstove constantly and being cold!)… so I look forward to being there in spring, summer, and fall.
I’m looking forward to what lies ahead this year in terms of my creative writing! How about you?
P.S. Just as I was about to post this, I learned that a magazine article I wrote last month for WREN (Wyoming Rural Electric News) won third place in the Single Feature magazine category at the Wyoming Press Association awards. One of my stories from the same publication took a third place at WPA the year prior. I love writing for WREN and I’m so honored to be part of that publication and to have been bestowed these awards! Now I can officially say I’m an award-winning writer! If I put more time and effort into learning and polishing the craft and seeking opportunities to publish, I can grow as a writer and continue making positive impacts on readers. Spending time in reflection and on retreat can help in all those arenas – retreat ranch, I’m quoting Mr. Arnold and saying, “I’ll be back!”
Gayle M. Irwin is the author of several inspirational dog books for children and adults, including Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog; Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God, Sage’s Big Adventure, Sage Finds Friends, and Cody’s Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest. She threads life lessons into her work, such as friendship, courage, and perseverance. Her blind dog, Sage, was the inspiration for many of her stories. Gayle has also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. Additionally, she’s contributed short stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul books and writes regularly for magazines and newspapers. Gayle has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. She speaks in schools, at libraries, and for various groups, weaving topics with lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at www.gaylemirwin.com.