Ten Reasons I’m Thankful I Went to Wild Mountain

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Back on November 15th of last year, I took a deep breath as I clicked the “Complete Transaction” button to send in my initial deposit on the last day of early bird pricing for the first ever Wild Mountain Memoir Writer’s Retreat in Leavenworth, Washington. I told myself it would be okay as I exhaled slowly. I didn’t exactly know how I’d pay for the entire trip, but I did have a part-time job that provided a steady stream of additional income, so I figured we would make it work. Somehow. Besides, I had asked for my husband’s blessing before going ahead to book my ticket. He was 100% supportive, as always.

Little did I know just how much of an impact this writer’s retreat would have on my work, let alone on who I am as a person in general. It’s a little unreal how much a beautiful resort, jaw-dropping scenery, incredibly brilliant and inspiring published authors as instructors and presenters, fresh organic gourmet food, and vivacious, supportive, funny and highly social attendee writers can impact one’s sense of purpose in the world. But, man, I can honestly say that I came home a more empowered writer and person in general.

In January I booked my flight using frequent flier miles we had been saving up for a rainy day. (The retreat was in Seattle, I take that as a sign from up above for many reasons, rain being one.) I decided to take an early flight out on Thursday before the retreat, in order to give myself an entire day and a half to settle in and adjust somewhat to the 3-hour time change before the retreat officially started on Friday evening. That proved to be one of the best decisions I made in booking the trip. I had a great flight out to Seattle from DC, and enjoyed the next 24 hours relaxing, exploring the resort, and writing while listening to Ed Sheeran’s new album on repeat before the rest of the retreat-goers arrived on Friday night at 5:30pm.


Then it got wild.


Here are my Ten Reason’s I’m Thankful I Went to Wild Mountain:

10. A mountain resort set withing the picturesque and uber-relaxing Cascades Mountains. I seriously was in complete awe of the beauty that surrounded us the entire weekend. From the snow-capped mountains to the bubbling waterfall with it’s soothing melody. It was the perfect setting for writing, reading, and learning.

9. The food was simply incredible. Top-of-the-line gourmet, organic, fresh and delicious. I fed my body just as well as I fed my writer’s soul last weekend.

8. A break from the reality and stress of everyday life. I packed for an adventure, and it was one heck of a ride from start to finish. I’m still glowing from the whole of it all.

7. Community. From the moment I met my roommate, Natalie, to the last hug goodbye at the airport, for forty-eight hours I was wrapped in a sense of comfort knowing that I was surrounded by my people. My tribe, as I like to call them. Writers who write and who truthfully share their stories for the greater good of people who read them.

6. Hands-on instruction from rock-star authors who so generously and passionately offered up their best knowledge on the craft of memoir writing. Techniques, tips, and tidbits of advice were wrapped with gorgeous bows for us. I am so very grateful to Ariel Gore, Candace Walsh, Suzanne Finnamore, and Theo Pauline Nestor (and Scott, for encouraging her to just go for it and host the retreat) for making the magic happen. Sitting next to Cheryl Strayed after her keynote address (written specifically for us) was a dream come true. She took her time in signing my three books and gave me a hug at the end. She is so amazing. My favorite piece of wisdom from her talk was to write until you find the bigger picture. I learned that I need to find a universal thread for my memoir in order to make it a book which many people will want to read. I’m happy to report that I think I found that universal thread during Theo’s two classes and I can’t wait to start sewing my story together with it.

5. Meeting a blogger who I deeply admire and respect. The witty and beautiful Ann Imig won the Writer.ly 6-word memoir contest and received a scholarship to attend the conference. Ann is the brainchild behind Listen To Your Mother, “a national of live readings by local writers in celebration of Mother’s Day,” which was born in her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, and has grown to 24 cities this year. I was so honored to have met and gotten to know her over the weekend and am now privileged to call her a friend.

4. Feeling like I was back in college again. The resort had a cabin set-up, and each cabin had between one to four beds, so we were grouped based on the package we selected. I chose a room with one roommate and was so perfectly matched with Nat, who ended up becoming my best friend at the retreat solely based on the fact that she and I just “clicked“. On Saturday afternoon, she wrote in our free time, and ended up reading me what she wrote, to which I promptly replied, “Nat, that’s your first blog post right there.” We spent the rest of the break before dinner creating her very own blog, It Will Never Happen 2 Me, and then went to the bar for a celebratory drink. So fun to be a blog instructor for a few hours.

3. Cheaper than an MFA. I think I heard this phrase mentioned more than once during the retreat. I’m pretty happy about that right there, given my love of a good deal and my admitted regret to having wished I studied Creative Writing as an undergrad.

2. I left the retreat emotionally and physically exhausted, and yet, I was more energized and inspired than ever before. I couldn’t wait to get home to start writing again, to apply all of the incredible things I learned. I even wrote on the red-eye home because I was so uncomfortable in that damn window seat. Some of it is actually usable material, which is surprisingly fantastic.

1. New friends. I gained an unbelievable community of like-minded, highly intelligent, encouraging, fun-loving people. We’re blowing up Facebook these days, if you haven’t noticed. And I’m sure it’ll continue. We’re serious writers and we’re keeping in touch. I can’t wait until we all get published and get to have a Wild Mountain reunion to celebrate all of our accomplishments.

What a weekend. I changed. My book changed.

And this is only the beginning, folks.


  1. So glad you were able to go and that you had such a wonderful time! You deserved it!

  2. Heidi Pullen says:

    It is the quiet, early morning. Waking up with my coffee and your lovely words on this last day before spring break. Just a week ago we were in that other-worldy magical place. I am so happy to have connected.

  3. I so enjoyed meeting you. Your generous heart was evident from our first conversation, and I admire your curiosity about other people and their stories. You’re a great listener, and that’s a great quality for a writer. I look forward to hearing your LTYM piece and reading that memoir someday!

    • Meeting you, Ann, was one of the highlights of my time at Wild Mountain. I appreciate your encouragement and thank you for sharing your story and words of wisdom with me on the bus ride back to the airport. Thank you on so many levels. xo

  4. That is so awesome! I wish so much I’d been there, to hang out w/ you, and to figure out how the heck to write a memoir. I am so stumped most days, including today! Do you have any advice for me?

    • I can’t believe you’re reading my blog, Anna! I read your words and am blown away by every post. I would love to share my notes with you from the memoir presenters at the retreat – they said we could share with writer friends but not distribute electronically. Would you want to meet for lunch sometime? I could learn a ton from you, easily, if you’re open to sharing your knowledge. I never studied Creative Writing or English although I often wish I would have followed my passion back then.

  5. Great list, Jenn. And yes — oh, the food! It was so great meeting you & even better to talk and hear just some of your story. You have such openess and willingness to go up to others & just jump in — a trait I can only admire from afar.

    • Kelly, it was such a pleasure meeting you and getting to know you at Wild Mountain. I’m so glad that I got to know you and whether you realize it or not, you did warm up and I loved hearing more of your story over dinner at the airport. Can’t wait to read your book someday. Write on, sister! xo

  6. It sounds like an amazing experience Jen. I cannot wait to read your memoir. Xo

    • I wish you could have been there, Jen. It was like a dream and I kept praying no one would pinch me because I didn’t want to wake up. Loved every minute of it. My kids are in spring break camp all next week and I’m finishing up my day job (recruiting contract) and will definitely be making time to dive back into my book draft. Thank you for your encouragement. It means the world to me. xo

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  8. There are so many lessons in what you have shared. I swear you and i have known each other in previous lives. i hear your wisdom in this journey. i hear the wisdom of others through you. those who have gone before guiding you. the trip was transformative, but you brought the pieces of the change to the party. you inspire me to listen more deeply to the parts of me that actually recoil in the on line mainstream mommy land. i actually prepare for the worst every time i check my face book page as i have been at the blunt end of bullshit bullying. my gut says fling my laptop off the edge of a mountain and never look back. i have a book coming out that i am afraid to promote because of the emotional work involved in bringing readers to it in among the crew of characters wishing me failure or worse. I have lots of folks who ask me for help with their projects and books, but few offer to do the same in return. The on line life is not life. it is not research. it is not real. and it is no place for memoirs. i for one will line up to read yours. and thank you for the years of writing on this site. if you are ever in La–look a sister up.

    • Thank you so much, Walker, for reading and relating so well. I cannot wait to read your book. Don’t let the haters get to you. There will always be negativity, but so long as we don’t let it get to us, we’ll be okay. I promise to connect if I’m ever in LA. You promise the same if you’re ever in DC, okay?

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