“You might not know you need this, but I can guarantee it will change your life. That’s what I always tell writers about my Carmel writing retreat experience with Linda Sivertsen. Because it changed mine. With my 3rd book deal in the works and Linda busy with new puppies and her gorgeous grandchild, it seemed the perfect time to jump in with a guest blog to share the magic of Carmel. Enjoy!”  ~ Maia Toll  

Maia Toll

From Maia: On my last morning in Carmel, I stood on the balcony of my room, watching the moon set over the Pacific. I pulled air deep into my lungs, trying to taste the scents of jasmine and pine, to store the sensuality of this place in my mouth like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter.

I felt a bit drunk on the magic of the past few days: on the long afternoons writing in the garden, the evenings gathered in a circle to share the wonder and gift of words, spicy and sweet, leaping off pages and rolling off tongues.

Truth? In the beginning, I dreaded those gatherings.

If you’re reading this, then you too are storing scents and scenes and writing soliloquies in your mind hoping that someday you’ll weave them together in a pattern perfect enough to catch the eye of an agent or editor. Often this is a lonely process. You, your computer, and your dog who desperately wishes you’d pause long enough to kick the ball she’s dropped on your foot three times.

Here’s the thing: you’re never sure if your words are any good. You’re not sure your story flows. Maybe you wonder if anyone but you cares about this stuff you’re putting heart, soul, and ridiculous amounts of caffeine into creating. And what if, after all this work, you only get one chance to impress an editor or agent and you blow it by pitching dreck?

This is where the Carmel Writing Retreat comes in.

All day I would write, immersed in a world of my own creation, and then night would fall, dinner would be devoured (I could spend pages on an ode to dinner, but I suggest you simply taste it for yourself), and then we’d gather to read.

My Carmel group was full of spunk and shine and even a bit of fame. I felt small and inadequate and wrecked by the long trip from the east coast. I broke down the first night, wondering what I’d gotten myself into and if I could possibly make it through without a puking migraine.

Writing that had seemed graceful and eloquent at the little desk I’d rigged up in the garden suddenly felt clumsy and contrived. I listened to the others read their day’s work, nervously gnawing the inside of my cheek.

But I’d forgotten something important: Linda creates magic in Carmel.

When it was my turn to read, my tongue wrapped around each word and knew from feel whether they flowed. My fingers itched as I read, wanting to type in tweaks and edits before this new-found sense evaporated.

The next day, back in the garden, I read to the roses and yarrow, trying the words out loud. Linda came and sat with me, reading over my shoulder. She balanced enthusiasm with a dose of healthy realism: writing deals aren’t a guarantee. Would this earn me one? She couldn’t say with any certainty, but she had a feeling. And she could swoon, asking me to read bits over and over so she could hear the cadence and the flow. By the end of the day, the chickadees had headed to a quieter part of the grounds, but I was feeling a little surer, a smidge less afraid.

That night we followed the same routine: drooling over our dinner and then circling up to read. I was stronger, my voice more my own, bolstered by something ineffable which Carmel was brewing up.

The nights progressed this way, each building my confidence until the last night when I knew without a doubt I’d found my calling: I was a writer, and I was going to be an author. My bones knew this. I had seen the anticipation in the eyes of my Carmel sisters as I pulled out my laptop that last night. I understood that I’d learned how to connect, how to offer something fresh and unexpected.

Getting a book deal? It took perseverance and flexibility. It took innovation and patience and tossing my ego in the back seat and revoking its license. But the book birthed that week in Carmel will soon be birthed everywhere, and when I signed my second book deal on the second anniversary of our retreat, Linda was right there cheering me on, just as she’d done so many times before.

The Illustrated Herbiary

Standing on the balcony on our last night, the Pacific ocean a whisper away, I wondered: how will I ever recover from this?

And the truth is I wouldn’t. Unbeknownst to me, I was crossing a threshold when I signed up for Linda’s Carmel Writing Retreat. I was stepping into a new world of words and agents and book deals from which I never want to recover.

If you too are chasing the dream, it’s time to take a deep breath. Let the taste of jasmine and pine mingle on your tongue. Breathe the salt air. Give yourself the gift of guidance and of a group who will remind you who you really are and what’s worth writing about. I’m fairly certain history will show us that we’re living in a time when it’s vital — not just for you but for everyone on this planet— that we find our voices, our eloquence, our humor, and our passion.

My Carmel group now has four books, one movie, and a TED talk between us—all greatly aided by connections Linda facilitated during or after our week together. I turned in the manuscript for my second book last month and am working on the proposal for the third. Carmel is a gateway and Linda is the gatekeeper.

If this is your journey, if writing is your path, then this is your place. Experience the magic of Carmel for yourself … because the world changes as each of us steps up and into our calling.

Carmel retreat walk

From Linda: It’s not often that I’m out of words, but this one has stunned me into a grateful semi-stupor (Maia’s offer to guest-blog and the result). #Icanteven.

Go here to order Maia’s masterpiece and watch her stunning book trailer, and let them work their magic on you.

So much love,

Linda xo
P.S. Any thoughts to share? We’d love to hear them over on today’s Facebook post.

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