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  • Faith Tibbetts McDonald

Winter Writing Retreat

Making time for a writing retreat was a crucial step to completing a project. Overcoming writer’s block at The Nature Inn was a key part to the success of finishing a novel and completing work on a personal blog.


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Last winter, as I reached the nearly complete point of a writing project I’d been working on for a long time, my enthusiasm waned. The effort remaining to complete the manuscript and send it for publication evaded me. The remaining work seemed tedious and overwhelming.


Self-talk that surfaced—uninvited—nudged me to believe that the completed story wouldn’t attract readers or make a difference for anyone in the world. My doubts about the value of the project grew when I recalled a caution from a trusted editor friend. “When the writer has to dredge up enthusiasm for a story, the reader often feels lukewarm about the result.”


I almost concluded that the project was taking too long. I feared that forcing the manuscript to completion would lead to an inferior book.


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But then I remembered the feeling I had a few years ago after dragging my feet along mile eight of the Pittsburgh half-marathon. I had trained. I was running with a friend—not for a record of any sort, just to complete. I hit mile eight, grew tired of putting one foot in front of the other, and considered collapsing in fatigue on the side of the road. However, as they say, I dug deep and dredged up the determination to shuffle on. As I subsequently plodded through mile nine, I began to believe I could finish the race. A few miles later, I crossed the finish line.


Every runner who crossed the finish line was handed a foil blanket and as I pulled mine around my shoulders, I felt steeped in success. While I didn’t set any records that anyone else would notice, the act of completing a task I’d started made a difference for me, and I wanted that satisfaction for my writing project, too.


A friend, who was also working on a writing project, and I decided to set aside time to focus on our projects. Drawn to The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle because it was nearby (located in Central Pennsylvania) and offers room for quiet and solitude, we headed to the inn to devote a few days to writing.


I discovered the Inn fosters creativity. The available work spaces and the natural beauty that surround the Inn facilitated each step in my writing process.


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The Nature Inn included many places in which I felt invited to write. In my room, I sat with my arm chair facing Foster Joseph Sayers lake. The outside air was frigid and wisps of steam rose from the lake’s smooth surface. On the other side of the lake, a mountain unfurled across the skyline. The mountainside is covered in trees. That day, snow and ice clung to tree branches and when the sun broke through the hillside was covered in shimmering sequins.


The beauty inspired my work. Appreciation and awe loosened the shackles of requirement that had stilted my writing. I felt released to daydream and sketch a tentative schedule for completing my project. My original excitement for the story returned.


Later in the day, I moved to the Inn’s Great Room to write. A fire crackled and burned in the fireplace. Coffee, tea, and chocolate-peanut butter bars were available on a sideboard. I placed my laptop, notebook, pencil, coffee cup, and snack on a table that faced the lake. The windows in the Great Room provided an expansive view of the lake and mountainside. Feeling nourished by the environment, I sat down and began to draft the incomplete portions of the manuscript.


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In the late afternoon, to edit, I moved to a first-floor lounge. The windows that extend from the floor to the Inn’s second story let in soft, natural light. Outside, large snowflakes swirled and birds flitted by, pausing to feast at nearby feeders. Entertained and inspired by the birds’ activity, I worked diligently to reread my work and make sure my sentences made sense.


Between each part of the writing process, I took a long walk on trails that meander through the woods near the Inn. Walking gave me time to consider what I’d accomplished and think about how to proceed with the next part of the project. Being in nature rejuvenated me.


Near dusk one afternoon, as I hiked in the woods, I rounded a turn and glimpsed a big buck grazing near a grove of trees. As I crept forward to see him more closely and count the points on his antlers, joy tric