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Seán Dwyer

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When I started this blog just over a year ago, my first goal was to explore places where I could Write Out, because I often concentrate better on my work when I have a bit of background noise and no bed nearby. My second goal was to encourage other writers to try out my productivity technique by showing them where settling in to write was an acceptable practice.

Soon after I began posting reviews, Cami Ostman of Red Wheelbarrow Writers suggested that I create Write Out Field Trips and put a crowd of writers together for a day of writing and reading. We have to date held seven field trips, on the second Saturday of even-numbered months. Partly because I’ve focused on the field trips, I’ve been posting less often to the blog. The blog has served its purpose, though, as close to forty local writers have shared in the magic-making that the events entail.

Cami ran another idea by me last fall, and we brought it to fruition in February. We figured that, since we could get people together for a day, we could probably get a few together for a whole weekend. I did some checking and negotiating, and at the January, 2014 Red Wheelbarrow meeting, I was ready to announce the experience: a weekend Write Out at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island, off the coast near Bellingham, Washington.

The writers at the meeting showed their intrepid spirits by jumping on the opportunity. As soon as I explained the idea, Jennifer Wilke started signaling me from across the table. Pam Helberg was not far behind, and Linda Lambert nailed down another spot. I shortly added Dawn Landau, Marian Exall, Susan Tive, Nancy Adair, and Jolene Hanson. With accompanying spouses Amory Peck, Nancy Durant, and Michael Falter, I had a dozen writers (well, eleven writers and one hot-tub maven) on board. Many were veterans of Write Out Field Trips, but some were new to the experience. I couldn’t help but be thrilled by the enthusiasm and the potential for an amazing weekend.

I had once spent an extremely productive weekend writing at a cottage near the Beach Store Café on Lummi Island, and along with the two previous field trips there, those island visits led me to believe we would all find the atmosphere energizing. I had no idea just how positively the group dynamic would affect me, but considering the company I was keeping, I should have expected wonderful things.

One possible obstacle to my personal writing accomplishments was my role as retreat organizer. My overarching goal was to ensure that the other eleven writers (well, ten writers and one hot-tub maven) had the best possible visit and the most fruitful writing opportunity of their lives. And so, I stayed alert to their needs throughout the weekend. I did get a lot of writing done, because the whole crowd showed a strong independent streak atypical of such gatherings of humans.

The ferry ride to the island is always like shedding a too-tight skin for me. I relinquish mainland conveniences in favor of island energy. I travel over to write with great anticipation of the results, because each island session has provided me with great mental clarity. Leading a whole crowd over gave me a deep sense of purpose for the weekend.

Lummi Ferry

Lummi Island


We got our accommodations arranged without problems, thanks to the efforts of Reid from the Inn. Dinner was first on the agenda (as we’re typical writers), and the Beach Store menu provided something enticing for everyone. Before we settled in to work at the Willows, we took a moment to enjoy the sunset with which we had been provided. The weather promised to turn bad for Saturday, so I found the Friday sunset, spreading gold over the expanse separating us from Orcas Island, to be a gift from the Muse we were pampering.

Willows Sunset

I had two writing goals for the weekend. One was to finish polishing the first 10,000 words of a novel so I could submit it to a contest. The other was to continue reading through a novel I had submitted to an agent. I worked a bit Friday evening, but I spent more time preparing myself mentally for a Saturday run at the revisions. Therefore, it didn’t concern me that we had lingered over dinner; part of the weekend, for me, was an exercise in community.

Linda, Amory 2

Linda and Amory


An unexpected bonus Friday afternoon was getting to watch Mt. Baker, our sleepy local volcano, disappear in the sunset:

Baker 1 Baker 3 Baker 4

Saturday got off to a good start. Eggs Benedict and coffee perked me up, and after everyone made it to the Beach Store for breakfast, I felt comfortable with letting go and getting my work done. When we all had wandered back to the Inn, I got a request to see if they could open the Willows dining room and let us work there. Emma, who was our guardian for the day, did so, and most of the writers took tables there.

Willows Writers

I planted myself at the bar and grabbed some coffee. The work flowed smoothly for me, as for everyone, it seemed.

My Workspace at Willows

My workspace.


After a trip down for lunch, which included breaded oysters and a mimosa, I took a short nap, but I got back to work and finished the first project in the afternoon.

Beach Store Oysters and Mimosa

Willows Bed

Saturday dinner, as expected, was one of the highlights of the weekend. Tess from the Beach Store, along with two sous chefs from the nationally famous Willows Restaurant, set up the dining room for a candlelight dinner, with candles in the wall sconces as well as on the table.

Willows Place Settings

They prepared a salmon for us, as well as a pork shoulder and curried cauliflower. This meal included wine and a flourless chocolate torte for dessert.

Willows Spread

Much of the dinner conversation centered on writing, and I couldn’t help but think that situations where we could talk about technique, goals, and personal writing customs probably didn’t occur often enough. We all understood our collective craft, and a lot could be said with no need for explanation. I found that sense of belonging comforting and, perhaps, healing.

Writers at Dinner

As soon as we could settle in after dinner, we held a reading of our work for the day. As has always been the case in the reading phase of our field trips, the work produced filled me with admiration for the talents assembled in the room. The writers presented work in a broad range of genres and styles, and I believe they could have pulled off a Village Books Open Mic by themselves that night. We had Pam Helberg with her current interest, haiku, reading works that push the boundaries of what one believes haiku can be; Amory Peck sharing a eulogy for a 102-year-old friend that she would be reading the next day; Jolene Hanson unveiling a new portion of her memoir; Marian Exall adding a chapter to her latest Sarah McKinney mystery; Jennifer Wilke reading a touching story about her relationship with her mother; Linda Lambert and Dawn Landau sharing family memoir pieces; Michael Falter debuting in our circle with a story about a visit to his parents’ house; and my first chapter of the novel I had prepared to submit to the contest.

Susan, Michael, Dawn in Lobby

Susan, Michael, and Dawn

Pam, Jolene at Fireplace

Pam and Jolene


Sitting by the fire in the lobby, with drinks and snacks available, we had something going that resembled the literary tertulias in prewar Spain, or the Paris café scene instigated by Hemingway and Woolf. The difference would lie in the fact that, outside the Inn, we were being blanketed by a foot of snow, another gift from the Muses that made the Inn seem a degree more cozy, more isolated. No one else could spend the night at the Inn; no one could infringe on our world.

Given the writers with whom I shared the weekend, I counted my blessings then, and I continue to do so now. I saw the weekend as a trial run for other similar weekends, and I could not be happier with the results. Thanks to the writers, the staff, and the Island for providing me with such a beautiful experience. I hope it was mutual.

12 comments on “Write Out Field Trip: The Willows Inn

  1. susanissima says:

    “…we had something going that resembled the literary tertulias in prewar Spain, or the Paris café scene instigated by Hemingway and Woolf.” Dang! Agonizing over missing this one! Fine writing and visuals, as always, señor. ❤

  2. caithiseach says:

    Yes, susanissima, it was also agony not having you as part of the mix. Next time, please.

    1. susanissima says:

      You’re on. Especially if you go somewhere in AK!

  3. Sean, I was sorry to have missed this and when I saw the title about a write-out I thought you were planning another then I read your post (ok I’m making dinner and read part of it and, like a child, mainly looked at the pictures but promise tomorrow I will read your whole lovely post) and and and . . .whew. Next time I want to be on board for a write-out. Cheers, Lish

  4. caithiseach says:

    Lish, it’s one of my goals to have an event where you can fit it into your schedule!

  5. Wow! Looks like a great time! You’ve developed a wonderful, supportive community. Good work!

  6. caithiseach says:

    Thanks, Jilanne. I’m surrounded by motivated writers who enjoy our area, so they’re great to work with. I’ll be doing more of these retreats in the fall/winter, so you should come up!

  7. I am all in… it was pure magic, and I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve been on! Please message me anytime you plan a write out… so I don’t miss it! 🙂 You rock, Sean, for putting it all together!

  8. caithiseach says:

    Thanks for the endorsement, Dawn! It’s always great to have you along.

  9. I love this idea (sorry, I’m new here to your blog, so I guess this was a while ago). I live in Boston and teach creative writing classes. I think I’ll start now thinking about how a group of us can do a ‘travel’ writing weekend, at some inn, in front of a roaring fireplace!

  10. MAK says:

    I have been working on serious writing. I’d like to join your group. I feel great passion and caring in the work that you do.

  11. MAK says:

    ase post when your next retreat will be. I’d like to sign up.

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