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Whidbey retreat nurtures the writer in all of us

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By Sarri Gilman
I often meet people who ask me how I began writing. I know that question has very little to do with how I began writing and is more about the writer inside of them.
I reply by asking if they write, and I ask about what they like to write. I have learned the most interesting things about people and what they write from these conversations.
I am reminded about the courage to say what is raw, the patience to wait for the words, the loneliness of an empty page, and the interest in the same story for years.
There is a quote from Vincent van Gogh that I find inspiring: "Painters paint." Probably because I write, I find it perfectly permissible to alter Van Gogh's words my own way, but I always give a nod to the painting master. I have adapted van Gogh's words to "Writers write."
At some point every person who writes must cross the line of "wanting to be a writer" to recognizing the writer within. I was recently invited to a very special place for writers, Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island.
For nearly 25 years, Hedgebrook has been a private, closed place where writers could stay alone in a cabin in the woods and write. It has attracted some of the most famous and celebrated writers.
Even though it is just a few miles from my home on Whidbey, I had never been to see the place because Hedgebrook has always been a secluded sanctuary for writers that was not open to the public.
I'm delighted to see that Hedgebrook has recently opened its doors to offer some writing salons and weekend classes. After 25 years of nurturing writers, Hedgebrook is asking its writers to give back by offering some occasional classes.
Before becoming a columnist, I had spent 10 years taking classes on weekends, focusing on the craft of writing, voice and storytelling. The classes and workshops were an excellent way to carve out some writing time and devote myself fully to the writer within.
After about 10 years, I seemed to outgrow the writing class space and found more interest in writing alone, and began devoting the time I needed to write.
When Hedgebrook invited me to visit to see their new workshop, I wasn't sure if I would be inspired because a part of me had moved away from years of writing workshops. I went with some uncertainty about my ability to be in a class structure.
But Hedgebrook is unique. Hedgebrook has perfected the art of nurturing the writer within. They have been nurturing writers with food, quiet, nature and simplicity for more than two decades. They built a haven on 48 acres, keeping most of the trees, growing a garden of flowers and food, stocking a kitchen with one of the best chefs this side of the Mississippi, and inviting writers to stay and write, write, write, uninterrupted.
They see the writer within and understand how to support that inner writer.
I came away from the Hedgebrook workshop with more than tools for my craft. I replenished my spirit and love of the art of writing. Appreciating, I think for the first time, how much the force around the writer within contributes to the writing.
To all of those who love to write, "Writers write." To grow a community of writers or a community of anything, someone needs to nurture the space around them to enable it to happen. If you look at any community effort, appreciate how it is nurtured.
Sarri Gilman is a freelance writer living on Whidbey Island and director of Leadership Snohomish County. Her column on living with meaning and purpose runs every other Tuesday in The Herald. You can email her at
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