This year I was fortunate enough to be able to once again attend the Out of Excuses Retreat. Last year I wrote about my trip and I gushed about how the people, the classes and the experience were simply amazing and how I walked away with this sense of tribe and community I’d never experienced before. In essence, I took a bit of the Retreat “bubble” home with me.

RCL Oasis of the Seas

Simply amazing.

I carried that feeling for a long time (and still do quite a bit a year later) and before the trip, I wondered if the feeling would be the same this year. This made me a bit nervous as I have a pretty

strong philosophy of not relieving past experiences. Those few times I’ve tried, it has always felt forced and fake and disappointing, and somehow tarnishes the original experience a bit. So I wanted to avoid that at all costs.

After returning from this year’s Retreat, I can honestly say that didn’t happen. This year was just as impactful, touching, and wonderful as last year, but it was also very different. The best way I can sum it up, is to say that this year was bigger. Not just in size and scope, though there were more people and the ship was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen, but the message I brought home was bigger and farther reaching.

It’s only been a couple days, and I’m still unpacking my thoughts, so this may still be a bit rough, but I’ll try to share what I took away from the experience.

Last year I came away with a number of things, but foremost among them was this incredible sense of community, of finding my tribe. Of connecting with a group of people who simply “got me” and with whom I could hang out and discuss those topics near and dear to me without concern that there would be any snickering or joking about the kind of writing I love to do. I know we all have friends and family who support us, but I know there also those who don’t understand this crazy thing we pour ourselves into. And when we bring up writing fantasy, or sci-fi, or what have you, there is sometimes an eye roll or a bit of a laugh, and we retreat a bit from the conversation.

It was a really refreshing feeling to know without asking that the people around me would understand, and would respond sincerely, and be on board with me. In more ways than one (yes, that’s a sailing joke). The Writing Excuses team had gathered together a group of caring, thoughtful, like minded individuals who connected over a shared love of writing, but then went on to bond over many other topics both geeky and personal. It was a singularly unique experience, this “bubble” of security and connection that I, and I think many others, took home.

Going into this year’s even event, I still carried that sense of tribe, and so as the week progressed, that feeling, already strong, grew and changed into something new. I think in large part, this is thanks to the really spectacular group of instructors on this year’s cruise. They took the classes beyond craft and into authorship, and community, and connection. And I think for me, it is this last word, connection, that continues to resonate.

As a writer, my entire purpose is to create a connection with the reader. I don’t know if I always understood that, but when all else is said and done, that is what I’m after. To use a story to connect to a reader and impart a laugh, or a scare, or a thrill, or a sigh and leave them a bit different than before they read my work. To evoke such a real feeling, you have to come from a real place. Not in some mercenary way because “real topics” get through a person’s “defenses.” I think we’re all good a spotting that kind of thing and it is why most things created to go “viral” don’t work. But because those real, personal things, are what each of us have to offer. They are the unique elements only we possess and using them gives us a unique perspective, and a unique voice and provides stories no one else can tell in quite the same way.

Now this all well and good but isn’t that just basic stuff? Write what you know and so on? Perhaps, but I saw it in a different light.

On the cruise, we were all brought together by writing. The Writing Excuses folks brilliantly setup an environment where even shy introverts could raise that one topic when you met someone, and a connection would be formed. And that is what I began to think about. The forming of that connection. Simply being on the cruise meant you were involved with writing, either as a writer or a family-member of a writer, but that didn’t actually start a connection. A connection began when you discussed something, usually your writing, and then asked about the other person’s writing. It was in effect, a two way street, a two way connection, stretching between people from connection points called writing.

As I noted above, many conversations began with writing, but just as many then went off in other directions: family, hobbies, world building, community, jokes, movies, etc.. But the initial connection was always begun by someone not actually reaching out, but by exposing a connection point on themselves.

“Do you like this book? I love it.”

“Why, I love it to!”

It was this idea of exposure that struck me, because that’s really what we’re doing as writers. We’re exposing bits of ourselves, either consciously or subconsciously, when we write. We’re showing our feelings and our ideas. They can be something deep like, this event causes me pain, or something along the lines of, I think this is really cool! But either way, we’re exposing bits of our minds and personalities to the reader, and when taking it a step further, with each other. With other people.

So this year, what I take away, is not that sense of a wonderful bubble. Of a place where I feel safe and happy. But of a wider horizon, of the opportunities for connection beyond my tribe. Of the possibility to reach out, not only by tossing out lines in the form of stories and hoping someone connects, but by providing places where others can latch on to me, and connect with me. Of using stories as one way to show my ideas, and my personality, and understanding that some people will connect (like on the Retreat) and some won’t, and that’s okay. But providing those points of connection are key, not just in writing, but in life.

That’s why the Writing Excuses tribe exists, because we all felt comfortable enough to show ourselves to others, and allow connections to form with those around us.

In the current state of affairs where we find ourselves, with so much defensiveness and aggression, that is what I’m pondering. The idea of genuine connection, not always through pushing out a message, but showing who we are, and allowing others who are looking for connections, to find us.