TL;DR (aka executive) Summary: Episode 2.29 of Write Right Podcast spurred my thoughts about how the Writing Excuses Cast and Staff got it right and created a learning community on the WXR Baltic Cruise. From modeling, to clear agreements, and creating safe space, they facilitated strangers becoming a team, and ultimately, peers.
In my goals list for September is a note that says, “Blog about the W-X factor, the most interesting thing you observed at the Writing Excuses Retreat.”
And in typical fashion, it turns out I can cheat on that assignment in the best way by introducing you to a new resource: Elan Samuel. Elan is a fellow writer (NEW FRIEND!) who I met attending the Writing Excuses Retreat Cruise and Worldcon 75 in Helsinki.
The bestest thing about new friends is that you are continually learning exciting things about them. Because they’re new!
You just met them!
Things like…they are podcasters!
Even better, when new friends get on their podcast to talk publicly, they say things that encapsulate the shared experiences you had, or make points that allow you to better organize your own thoughts.
I’ve included a link to the entirety of Episode 2.29 – Worldcon and Writing Excuses at the bottom of this post. Here at the top, I quote the heck out of Elan and use his experiences as a jumping off point to share my own.
The Write Right Podcast is just over 26 minutes long and in my next few posts I’m going to call out three time stamps. The first is at 04:35, where Elan eloquently defines what I call the W-X or Writing eXcuses, factor:
This community really is friendly…is deeply interested in what everyone has to say. Is welcoming in a way that I hadn’t expected…When you’re a writer, for lack of a better word ‘alone’…you can sort of start to build this idea that the traditional publishing world is very siloed…like an insider’s club. But I just showed up. And everyone was so nice, and so welcoming, and so warm, that I was blown away.”
I am 100% with Elan on this one. When I was on the cruise I was astonished at how much I felt that writers are the crème de la crème of humanity. The very nicest, smartest, and most stellar beings on this planet.
That *could* be true.
But it’s also a bit suspect.
Maybe we were all just our best selves.
But why would that be?
Whether the sense both Elan and I took away is true of Writers, WXR Writers, or is the result of a third magical catalyst is what I want to explore here, because I suspect my former life as a facilitator provides one answer.
So, how do at least 100 people come together to be their best selves for 7 days straight? Selves that are so wondrous and compelling that warmth and welcome outshines any other quality about them?
1. Modeling. The participants who attend the Writing Excuses Retreat are self-selected fans of the podcast or one-or-more casters. And the defining quality of the podcast is humility, which some argue is the new smart.
“15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”
What the tagline of the podcast accomplishes is pure human-magic. It makes listeners laugh, which John Cleese says is, “the fastest way to go from closed to open.” The fastest way to get a learner open to new material, new experiences.
This openness, the humility that the hosts model, is the foundation of trust. Participants trust those in charge and believe they are in good hands, which frees them to learn, to be open, and to extend the safe space to all the other participants.
2. Clear Agreements.
“Readthepacket. Read the packet. Read. The. Packet.”
– Mary Robinette Kowal
It’s a given that we had all bought tickets and were there to learn. That is the participant’s agreement.
The hosts and staff then provided an orientation. Provided materials, including a code of conduct. Defined acceptable, unacceptable behavior, and consequences. Together, this is the definition of a clear agreement, which sets people at ease. Goals, structure, and consensus (what, how, and yes, we’re on the same page), are critical elements to building a team.
3. Safe Space.
You are a Writer. We instructors are Writers. We are just a little farther along the path than you are. We are all Peers. Remember that, all week long. Treat us like Peers and that’s how we’ll treat you.
– paraphrased from Mary Robinette Kowal’s introduction, (errors are mine and mine alone)
A level playing field is a safe space.
A level playing field where everyone is rooting for everyone else becomes something different: A Playground. A place for rampant creativity, ideas, thoughts, games, learning, risks, and FUN. And by fun, I mean writing. By having safety officers, Persons of Color (POC) safe spaces, and opening the retreat with a lecture you can read about here, the instructors and staff did all they could to ensure the group could be their best selves for the duration of the cruise.
Just a few steps. I’m sure a helluva lot of planning.
And it worked. And I for one, (Elan for two) appreciated it.