Everything is a Story: Reflections and photos from the 2022 Spanish Flash Fiction Retreat

From Nancy Stohlman:

Wow! The Spanish retreat was an incredible experience. The combination of novelty, space, time, and total immersion with other creatives, spending a week with your tribe, pushed and encouraged, detoxing from the usual distractions to enter that space of raw creativity is both deeply healing and deeply inspiring. On a retreat we remember that everything is a story waiting to happen.

writing (photo by Chelsea Stickle)

We had a wide range of amazing writers—from published to unpublished, brand new to flash all the way to flash veterans; we had a pair of friends reuniting from two different countries, a pair of sisters reconnecting in the yurts, and people representing California, Baltimore, Texas, New York City, Portugal, France, Spain, Qatar, and of course Denver, doubly represented (by Nancy and Kathy).

There was a group hammock, fiery sunsets, and (multiple!) spontaneous performances of the Grease soundtrack. There were massages and hikes in the Sierra Nevada mountains. And there were surprises of course, part of any good adventure. From the exploding chairs to the nudist beach to the historic heat wave that swept Europe during our retreat (!), all that material filtered through our bodies and onto the page. We risked both vulnerability and connection and we bonded and played and ate and wrote—a lot.

workshop (photo by Lizzie Woolfenden)

And we were fed—oh yes. The food was as beautiful as it was delicious and all vegetarian. We were so inspired that we wrote a group poem (and sang a song!) to the many cooks and kitchen angels who spoiled us all week.

the food! (photo by Nancy Finston)

We were the first group of writers to visit House of Light, and they learned as much about us as we did about them—including the copious amounts of coffee and wine consumed (sangria happened!)—and we were delighted that the owners joined us for our final night reading.

Salon night (photo by Nancy Finston)

We reconnected with our writing and remembered that inspiration often comes at the crossroads between novelty and play. If we are too comfortable, or too serious, the words get stuck. After a week in Spain the words, ideas, and friendships are flowing!

I’m so grateful to my co-facilitator, Kathy, and to each one of the amazing writers who said yes to an Andalusian adventure. I raise my pen to all of you!

cheers! (photo by Nancy Finston)

From Kathy Fish:

The House of Light in Órgiva was a unique, magical space for us to gather. We were fed meals almost too beautiful to eat, we woke to birdsong, and ended our days with late sunsets bathing the hills in gold. Our group quickly gelled and became friends and encouraging cohorts. I found myself inspired by their energy and enthusiasm and all the beautiful stories they created, and cheered by the conversation and laughter at mealtimes and around the pool. The highlight for me was (as always) our salon night. The resident cats and dogs came around, too, as if they’d been invited or they were just curious about what us humans were up to. The readings that final night were superb. All in all, this retreat was an amazing experience I won’t soon forget. Thanks to everyone who took part.

workshop (photo by Lizzie Woolfenden)

from Cheryl J. Fish:

From Cheryl’s blog: “Thinking about the flash fiction workshop I just experienced feels like a re-birth. So much of what I know about story was reinforced, and yet there’s much more to realize and expand into. In flash you don’t explain. Inunendo rules in fiction that comes in under 1,000 words. It’s an opportunity to prove less is more. After twice-a-day workshops and prompts with Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman, and a wonderful group of writers from all over the place, I am ready to up my game in the micro and flash fiction worlds.”

the view (photo by Cheryl J. Fish)

From Philippa Bowe:

The Andalusian retreat with Nancy and Kathy was a delight from beginning to end. Workshops were enriching, enlightening, fun, creative, productive. Add in fabulous food, sunshine and company and you have an experience that, as a writer, is pretty near heaven on earth.

Writers and friends (photo by Chelsea Stickle)

From Pedro Ponce:

You will leave this retreat well-fed, rested, and, most importantly, inspired! Thank you Nancy and Kathy!

Workshop (photo by Lizzie Woolfenden)

From Marina Pacheco:

I learned a great deal at the retreat. Nancy and Kathy were fantastic tutors who took me on a journey of discovery that resulted in handfuls of new flash writing for me.

writers and friends (photo by Chelsea Stickle)

From Dorothy Rice:

What a wonderful group you brought together! I had such a great time and I feel really good about the writing I accomplished as well. The stories I wrote are so different from what I usually do, and there was something very freeing in that.

writing with a view (photo by Nancy Finston)

More photos from our gallery:

Salon Night (photo by Kathy Fish)
The view (Georgiana Nelsen)
At the beach! (photo by Georgiana Nelsen)
Consultations (photo by Lizzie Woolfenden)
the food (photo by Nancy Finston)
the beach (photo by Georgiana Nelsen)
Salon Night (photo by Cheryl J. Fish)
The light (Georgiana Nelsen)
food! (photo by Georgiana Nelsen)
Group Hammock (Georgiana Nelsen)
writing (photo by Lizzie Woolfenden)
windows of inspiration (photo by Nancy Stohlman)
food with a view (photo by Nancy Stohlman)
Andalusian sunset (photo by Nancy Stohlman)
workshop (photo by Lizzie Woolfenden)
salon night (photo by Nancy Stohlman)
Kathy and Nancy (photo by Chelsea Stickle)
Sangria and see you next time! (photo by Lizzie Woolfenden)

Next: August Flash Fiction Retreat in Grand Lake, Colorado!

2023 Retreats will be announced in the fall—get on the waiting list for first access!

Chatting about flash fiction on the Reading and Writing Podcast

Speaking of flash fiction, thanks to Jeff Rutherford for inviting me to return as a guest on the Reading and Writing Podcast!

On this episode we talk about the changing landscape of flash fiction, the re-release of Going Short, and what it was like to narrate an audiobook in one day! We also have a lively discussion around the emerging flash novel as a form–one of my favorite topics, especially with After the Rapture releasing for pre-orders at the end of the summer!

22 minutes LISTEN NOW

Ready to Virtual Retreat with me in Spain? Ask me a question:

Consider this a personal invitation to join me on my teaching and scouting adventures this summer to Spain, England, and Colorado!

If you have virtually traveled with me in the past, you know how much I LOVE traveling/writing and sharing inspirational discoveries, photos, and the strange workings of my brain when I spend too much time alone! (And I’ll be scounting future retreat locations too: shhh!)

And I’m excited to give you a sneak peak into what goes on during a Flash Fiction Writing Retreat–without interrupting all the privacy and creation happening, of course!

So hang out with me and other amazing writers this summer! It’s the next best thing to being there in person!

Follow the adventures on:

Instagram and Facebook and Facebook Retreats Page

And (NEW!) since I will be creating lots of content all summer, I would love for you to Ask Me A Question (like these) I can answer for you while traveling…and it might even end up in a future workshop.

This can be a question about flash fiction, travel, writing, the writing life or process, craft, what I’m reading: you name it. I will try to answer all questions LIVE in Spain–we’ll see how it goes!

First Stop: Spain! (photo below from my scouting trip in 2021).

“See” you on the other side!

Happy traveling and writing, ya’ll!

xo

Nancy

Embracing Audacity: What would you create if you had no doubts?


First the bad news: All writers deal with doubt. 

I repeat: If you’re an artist committed to your craft, you will experience doubt. 

The “what if” doubts: What if my writing isn’t any good? What if no one wants to read it? What if nobody wants to publish it?  

The comparison doubts: They’re all better than me! What am I even doing here? I’m an imposter. I’m a hack.

And the deep, dark night of the soul doubts: Maybe I’m not supposed to be a writer after all. Maybe I should quit.

And all these doubts boil down to the big one: I’m not good enough.

Doubt also comes for the musicians, the painters, the filmmakers, the actors, the dancers, the comedians, the photographers:

All of them–ALL of them--experien doubt.

Making art, especially if we are embarking on something big like writing a book, keeps us endlessly humble. Was Margaret Atwood pinching herself as she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale? I doubt it. Was Toni Morrison feeling like TheBomb.com while she was writing Beloved? Was Pollock patting himself on the back as he poured paint? Or were these three, and every artist before and after, seized with doubts and insecurity as they wondered what kind of monster am I creating?

I’m guessing the latter.

So if you are wracked with doubts, especially if you are out in the deep waters and taking real artistic risks–remember: doubt comes with the territory. 

Or does it?

A movie I love that puts doubt in brilliant perspective is Florence Foster Jenkins,which is based on the true story of the woman by the same name. Florence (played brilliantly by Meryl Streep) fancies herself an aspiring opera singer. But she is terrible. Awful. But she’s also rich, and a patron of the arts, so she forges ahead—doubt free. A sort of “ignorance is bliss” situation. And, in the course of her “career”, she records albums and even fills Carnegie Hall in New York City—without ever knowing she can’t sing.

Here she is singing the “Queen of the Night” aria: hilarious.

I would argue that while her operatic performance was not good, the standing ovation she receives is genuine–the people of Carnegie Hall were not applauding her beautiful voice (as she mistakenly thinks) but they ARE enthusiastically applauding her brazen courage. Her absolute shining, all-in heart. Despite her lack of talent, we can all find something to love in the pure audacity of her art—the child singing at the top of their lungs before they have ever begun to doubt themselves.

And, if lack of doubt made a woman like Florence bold enough to sell out Carnegie Hall, imagine what too many doubts might do to a person instead?? Most of us don’t have a team of advisors shielding us from bad reviews or paying audiences not to laugh.

Doubt keeps us from being all in. We hang out around the edges, circling the pool but never getting all the way in.

Which begs the question: What would you do if you had no doubts?

What might you write if you could be as bold and fearless in the creative arena as the child who has never learned to judge her work? Who just boldly grabs a marker and claims a piece of blank paper: I am here. I exist. 

What might you create if you could had the courage to risk boldly and fail beautifully? What would happen if you went out into the deep waters of your own artistic possibility, far enough out that you could no longer see the shore? What could you create from there? And what if feeling doubt means you’re close; maybe the stronger the doubt…the more important it IS to proceed?

Now I don’t mean to suggest we should be oblivious to the quality of our own work or make no effort to improve. But most of us are not in danger of overindulging our creativity–most of us exist on the other end of that continuum, strangling possibility because we don’t know how it will be received, drowning the seeds of potentiality with doubt because we don’t know what might grow. Most of us are battling the Monkey of Doubt on our backs, not the other way around. 

So again I ask: What would you write if you had no doubts?

And…what if you could begin today?

Wishing you radical inspiration and creative audacity in everything you do.
xoxo
Nancy