Wine and Chocolate: My One Life Writing Retreat Experience


By Terra Bruhm

In April of 2019 I received amazing news – I was the chosen recipient of the One Life Writing scholarship to attend the Write by the Sea writing retreat. Naturally, I was over the moon. The scholarship, valued at $875, would give me an opportunity to devote five uninterrupted days to my manuscript The Robin’s Egg. I felt like I had just won the lottery.

Anyone who has ever written a book will tell you how difficult it can be to find pockets of time to write. This is particularly true of your first book. You haven’t yet earned the right to blow off family engagements, time with friends or work functions to bang out a few extra pages. You’re not a writer yet. It’s just a hobby until you ‘make it real’.

I headed off to Prince Edward Island to ‘make it real’ on a hot, sunny day in June. Driving over the Confederation Bridge, I could feel the stresses and responsibilities of life melting away as my thoughts turned to what I hoped to accomplish. My manuscript was in desperate need of structure. With so many events, characters and flashes between the 80s and 2000s, I needed to find clever ways to advance my narrative that made sense and were easy to follow. It was the one element standing between me and a completed first draft.

The retreat exceeded my expectations. Between the one-hour personal session I booked with Trevor and the conversations I had with the other talented, knowledgeable retreat participants, I was able to establish a structure that worked. The daily morning workshops Trevor conducted taught me things I didn’t even realize I needed to know – things about character development, scene setting and the psychological and emotional reasons why writers put words on paper. Joshua’s meditation and yoga helped me reconnect with the feelings and motivations driving my project, giving me the strength and introspection needed to write some of the more difficult chapters I had been avoiding. The Orient Hotel was an inspiring place to write, nestled within the majestic village of Victoria by the Sea. With pink, purple and white lupins peppering the fields surrounding the in, set against the backdrop of red sands and rolling oceans, it was like stepping into an alternate universe. It was a truly transformative experience.

What I could not have anticipated is how close I would become with my fellow retreat participants and how much they would teach me by telling me about their projects, their processes and their writing struggles. So many literary insecurities were laid to rest over late-night glasses of wine and delicious home-made chocolate from Island Chocolates. These moments drove home the importance of connecting with other writers. My week on the Island taught me that writing is actually a group sport. You need to establish a tribe of talented people you trust who will help you work through those problem areas. Like with children, it takes a village to nurture a book into existence. Write by the Sea provided me with that village.

I finished draft one of my manuscript that week, taking me closer to my goal of ‘making it real’. The support, assistance and encouragement I received from Trevor, Joshua and my fellow retreat participants gave me the strength, courage, focus and time I needed to achieve that milestone. If you’re looking for a quiet place to nurture some phase of your own project into existence, consider venturing to the Island for a transformative retreat experience with One Life. And, of course, make sure you carve out a little time for wine and chocolate.

Congrats Terra Bruhm, 2019 Write By the Sea scholarship winner

Terra Bruhm.jpg

Congratulations to Terra Bruhm of Halifax, this year’s winner of a full scholarship to the Write By the Sea writing retreat!

We received many incredible applications for the retreat. Writers from across the Maritimes submitted strong excerpts from their fiction, memoir, and poetry projects. Terra’s work impressed us for its savvy and nuanced portrayal of a raucous family holiday meal. Equal parts humour and drama, her excerpt is evidence of a highly accomplished work-in-progress.

Terra Bruhm is a nonfiction writer and poet from Moncton, New Brunswick. She holds a Combined Honours Degree in Journalism and Early Modern Studies and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from the University of King’s College. She currentlyworks as a Student Success Advisor at Dalhousie University.

Asked about the award, Terra says that life and financial commitments can make it difficult for writers to complete major projects.

“This scholarship will give me the time, space and support I need to take my manuscript to the next level. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.” 

Terra will be working on her debut memoir, The Robin’s Egg. It outlines the details of her life from the time she was kidnapped by her mother in 1983 until she was reunited with her father in June of 2008. It chronicles the aftermath of the reunion, and the impact it had on her life and on the lives of her biological and honorary family members.

Write By the Sea is a five-day writing retreat set in Victoria-by-the-Sea on PEI’s South Shore, June 23-28. Hosted jointly by One Life Writing and Yoga with Joshua, the retreat allows writers dedicated time to work on particular projects, focus on elements of craft, and delve into supplementary workshops like yoga for writers and mindfulness activities. Stay tuned for our dates and announcement for next year’s retreat.

Surrendering to the mystery

Photo credit: Ann Millar

Photo credit: Ann Millar

Reflections on the 2018 Victoria Literary Festival

The Victoria Literary Festival wrapped up last weekend, and I'm full of inspiration and humility. It's always with joy and awe that I step into a workshop space. I wonder at the folks who will arrive. What stories they carry, what goals and dreams lay just below the surface. 

I love the feeling of surrender that we share when we work together. There's a surrendering to the creative process itself, trying to sidestep the urge to censor and allow the stories that need to be told the space to come to life. There's the surrendering to a sense of awkwardness and vulnerability. What if I make a fool of myself? What if I say something ridiculous?

Each time I facilitate a writing workshop, I am reminded of how few opportunities there are for adults to come together with what might be called "beginner's mind"--that wide-open, non-judgemental space where new ways of seeing come to life. It's important for me as a facilitator to cultivate a space of safety, where we're able to take risks together and feel the pulse of creativity come to life.

The workshops at the Victoria Literary Festival vibrated with life. We dove in deep, cultivating stories from our lives, writing tiny memoirs, breathing together, crafting haikus. We danced and played. We held silence. Most of all, we remembered that when we come together with openness and curiosity, incredible things can happen.

Reading from "Emily and Me" during the VILF evening review (Photo credit: Ann Millar)

Reading from "Emily and Me" during the VILF evening review (Photo credit: Ann Millar)

I'm grateful to have served as this year's VILF as writer-in-residence, and thankful to all the folks who took part in this year's workshops and the evening review. Thanks also to the local Island media for such great coverage of the festival. Here are a few highlights:

Award-winning writer says self-confidence is the key ingredient to success (Journal-Pioneer)
Weekend of writing by the sea (The Guardian)
Victoria Literary Festival opens (The Guardian)
Writing and yoga part of Victoria Literary Festival (Journal-Pioneer)


If you missed the festival and are hoping to dive into your writing early this fall, I'll be hosting a one-day retreat here on PEI on September 22. It's filling up quickly, so if you're hoping to join us, get in touch soon to reserve your space. 

In the meantime, enjoy these last days of summer, and happy writing.