More Community, Less Churning: A Weekend at Rivendell

Editor's note: Today we're excited to offer our first post from a guest contributor! Kate Parrish, a Nashville writer and blogger, attended The Porch's 2014 fall retreat at Rivendell. We asked her to recap the experience for us. Here's her take: 


En route to The Porch’s fall writing retreat at Rivendell Writers’ Colony in Sewanee, Tenn., on a chilly November day, I was unsure what to expect. What is a Writers’ Colony? I asked myself. I imagined we would be greeted by individuals dressed in period costume, something circa Massachusetts Bay Colony, and required to churn our own butter each day. Fortunately (unfortunately?), no manual labor or costumes were required.

Rivendell, named after the Elves’ domain in The Lord of the Rings, is tucked away off the main road into Sewanee, nestled into a bluff and overlooking Lost Cove. There’s a pond to the right of the house, a lavender garden to the left, big beautiful trees everywhere. Each room is named after a famous author. I stayed in the O’Connor room featuring two twin beds. I think Ms. O’Connor would appreciate that set up. No space for shenanigans. Only writing. Or thinking about writing, as I’m prone to doing.

There were seven of us, from as far away as Portland: a mix of both published and unpublished writers, poets and fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers and I’m-not-sure-what-I-am writers. We spanned a broad age range. Some came to finish work, others to revisit a decades old project for revision and fine-tuning. Others, myself included, were just looking for a place to get started.

As we convened in the living room in this beautifully remodeled home around the fireplace (in addition to visions of costumes and chores, I also had a mild fear that we would be sleeping on cots in a one-room cabin), we were surrounded by the books of authors who have escaped to Rivendell, folks like Kevin Wilson and John T. Edge.  Katie and Susannah, our gracious hosts, outlined the weekend for us over wine and cheese: Activities were planned but nothing was mandatory. Participate, don’t participate, the weekend was ours to do with as we pleased. Meals, amazing meals, would propel us from one point in the day to the next.

Later that evening, Leigh Anne Couch, managing editor of The Sewanee Review came by for a casual Q & A and poetry reading. She graciously answered our questions, things like, “What are my chances of getting published?”, “Who actually reads all the submissions?”, and “How many submissions do you get a year?” Having access to the town’s local literati seemed to keep the questions coming at a good clip.

On Saturday, we had the chance to share some of our writing and talk about what was working, what wasn’t, and how to get what wasn’t working working again. It was a great opportunity, for me at least, to really get in the ring and see if this whole writing thing had any merit in my day-to-day life. That’s what most of the weekend ended up being for me--an affirmation that this is what I want for myself, that this is more than a hobby, that this is work that reflects my character.

The rest of Saturday was open for us to write, take a hike around the property, do some reading or editing, perfect an image for Instagram, participate in another afternoon draft chat. The ease of each day was truly lovely. I understand why people come here to write--the nature, the house, the lack of urgency all seem to provide optimal space for creative thinking and creative doing.

Sunday morning—again, for those interested, no pressure—we circled up to discuss a few topics Katie and Susannah prepared--the writer’s life and why good writing is good (my words, not theirs). We had one final feast and then it was time to wind down the mountain.  

What this weekend made possible—what The Porch makes possible—is a community of writers. I can’t create this fellowship in my own home alone with my computer and my work. I suppose I could, but I don’t think it would be very good or very fun. Carving out dedicated time and space through the writer’s retreat to interact with other writers, new and seasoned, allowed me the space to settle into possibility. I had approached writing with some rigidity, believing that my work needed to unfold in a certain way. My time at Rivendell helped immensely to understand that, when it comes to writing, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Being in the company of other writers, hearing my struggles in their struggles, sharing thoughtful feedback and tips, and simply having the dedicated physical space for reading and writing was an invaluable experience. I left the retreat with a list of contacts, more confidence in my work, and more compassion for myself during the writing process. And probably five extra pounds (but zero butter churned). —Kate Parrish