A writer’s reflections on Venice and Istria

 In Adventure, Creative Writing Courses, How to write a book

On Venice

It was a luxury to have unscheduled time in Venice to wander and ponder and tickle the creative parts of me.  The morning schedule with lively communal breakfasts, lessons, and mentor meetings worked very well.  Our group meshed remarkably well and we had interesting discussions.  As the only American, I found some of the political talk over meals to be puzzling but oddly similar.  While a diversion, our excursions were interesting and thoughtfully executed to give us additional experiences and bonding opportunities.

The morning discussions were relevant and interesting and generated good discussion, which was where we all dug in a bit more.  I came away from each one with nuggets I’ve kept in my notebook to refer back to since returning home.

Caterina was a delightful host.  The morning smell of croissants baking was a great way to come alive and the personalized beverage service and attention to special needs was an extra plus.  The room was comfortable and the location was extremely convenient for getting around Venice and for arrivals and departures.  The meeting space worked very well.

As with any vacation getaway, you remember special scenes such as crowding around the table my first night in a tavern on a canal.  Still jet lagged and trying to force myself to stay awake, the friendly conversation, food, and wine are still alive in my memories.  The boat ride with everyone stretched out lazily enjoying getting to know one another and feeling thankful that the rain was temporarily staying away.

The lone early morning ride on the vaporetto to watch the orange ball of sun rise and illuminate the Grand Canal and beautiful buildings, then seeing the real Venetians arrive for work, the street cleaners, the garbage collectors, those with a minute to spare standing in the coffee shops for a final quick espresso, and the high pitched voices of children skipping alongside the canal headed to school.  Then to see the busy market with colorful and exotic fruits and vegetables and smelly fish while the seagulls sat on the sidelines noisily requesting discards.

As always, the time to write without home distractions was helpful, although Venice can be distracting, too.  It required some discipline not to run out and enjoy the city more than I did, which meant rising early and staying up later, but that wasn’t difficult.

Richard was thoughtful and helpful as we slogged through my work.  I’m certain he tired of reminding me of some of the same things again and again until I finally got it:  “but what does she want … remember your point of view … Is there a reason you included this scene ..”.   Like a good parent, he was patient, kind, and never sounded like a broken record.

Thank you for a great week and for helping me through many ups and downs that finally got me to my second draft.  I look forward to our next adventure together.

On Istria

The Istrian experience was completely different from Venice.  While I will always love Venice, the remote location of Casa Famiglia was perfect for retreating from the city and noise and conducive to writing and spending time with our small group.

The accommodations were very comfortable with plenty of room for us to gather in different areas of the property.  Meals there were enjoyable and tasty as everyone pitched in and part of the experience was working together.  The local restaurants we visited had good food and we had many choices.

Frank and Natalie were generous hosts.  The tours of the nearby Istrian towns and countryside were interesting and of course, the scenery was beautiful.  The optional adventures were thoughtfully constructed and so full of history.  Frank was a treasure trove of historical knowledge and kept us well informed about each of the places we visited.  There is so much more to see, and the region offers such a rich experience of history, nature, wine and food, and outdoor activities such as swimming and hiking.  The truffle experience was great fun.  We had a delicious dinner, followed the truffle dogs and watched how they find and retrieve the truffles, and enjoyed buying some treasures in their shop.  The views from the dining room were spectacular as the sun set and the sky was full of colors and the hills beyond became blue shadows.

Providing us with local fruits and vegetables was a welcome treat.  It was fun to choose breakfast from the many items that were available to us and we had delicious snacks, too.  We were well fed every single day.

I got more work done in Istria than in Venice and attribute that to: the lack of distractions; finally getting over jet lag; Richard pushing me to get into my character’s head, put her into scenes, and focus on point of view; and finally, skipping one excursion when I wanted to write so I would stop beating myself up about not getting enough done.  Initially, I was torn between having fun and going on excursions instead of focusing on the reason for my trip (to write without the distractions of home and learn from others).  I finally realized that even when I wasn’t writing at my desk, or curled up in one of the comfy couches or the conversation pit, that I was still doing something beneficial.  And part of that was clearing my head, enjoying the company of others, learning from them, spending invaluable time with Richard reviewing scenes, and giving myself some freedom to just be.

I want to encourage those who haven’t published a book to invest in this adventure.  You don’t need to be published or famous, or even have a clear goal about who your protagonist is or in what point of view you will write.  If you’re just getting started or have finished your first draft and are wondering if you have it in you to finish, you will get something out of this retreat.  Richard, JoAnn, and Fred give equal attention to the new and seasoned writers, and they help you immensely.  We’re all together for the group sessions and the experience in the room is awe-inspiring but we were all equal there.  Everyone shared, and we all benefitted.  I write lots of things (blogs, newspaper articles, letters, newsletters, etc.) but have only begun to tackle my first book.

The other participants, many already published or further along than me, aren’t intimidating.  They have the same struggles that newbies like me have, and are willing to share their experiences.  I found being around them to be inspiring and helpful and felt like I was just as much a part of the group experience, although I probably contributed less.  Being the only American meant I learned a lot of new words and was confused by expressions on a daily basis, which was fun and sometimes embarrassing.  All that is to say that this is for writers at all levels and the change of pace, the inspiration of a new place, the support and camaraderie of others, and the excellent sessions and mentoring make for a valuable package that is worth the investment.

Katherine Dudley Hoehn

PS – To find out more about Kat’s experience in Venice and Croatia, please check out Katherine’s blog on her own site, Kat Writes and Snaps. You’ll also find out exactly when a writer needs to be brave, and we’re pretty sure you’ll enjoy many of her other blog posts.

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