Brave Magic: Three Days With Elizabeth Gilbert and Sheryl Strayed

Photo Credit: Lee Davenport


Last weekend I spent three days at a retreat center high up in the hills of the Santa Cruz mountains with two of my favorite writers, Liz Gilbert and Sheryl Strayed!

Oh yeah, and there were 300 other women there as well.

I bought tickets to this event one full year ago. I don’t know what got into me–they were kind of spendy–but I just went ahead and hit, “Buy Now.” And just as well I did. Tickets to the event sold out in 48 hours.

I promptly forgot all about it–as I am wont to do when I make a purchase I “shouldn’t have” (like those shoes buried deep in the back of my closet).

Anyway, right around three weeks ago, I started getting emails, “gentle reminders,” that the event was around the corner and that I should “make preparations” if I had not already. What sort of preparations, I wondered . . . formatting a manuscript . . . full-body wax . . . oh shit! A plane ticket! Yeah, those kind of preparations. The event just got spendier.

Anyway, my procrastination had a happy ending because I got to the retreat center, 1440 Multiversity, early in the morning, which meant I got to spend the entire day just wandering around the campus taking in the trees and the trails and the beautiful infinity pool, falling off into the forest. Seriously, this place is gorgeous.

But I’m not here to tell you about the trees and the trails and the gourmet cuisine (avocado toast with a perfectly boiled egg for breakfast–to die for!); I’m here to tell you about Brave Magic.

What an aptly titled workshop series, given the women who were presenting it and their works.

Sheryl Strayed we all know from her best-selling book (and now movie), Wild. The story of her hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself and reinvent her life. Brave, indeed.

Then there’s Liz Gilbert. Most know her from Eat, Pray, Love, many from her novels like, The Signature of All Things, but I know her best from Big Magic. I think I’ve told you my Big Magic story before, about how I was determined not to like it (or her). But I did. And I do. A lot.

So last weekend, I found myself in the company of Brave Magic in the flesh, but also in spirit, and most especially in myself. To say the weekend was transformational would be only a slight exaggeration. It was beautiful and nourishing and full of little nuggets, some of which I have captured here:


On Magic:
Quoting Martha Beck: Magic is being able to feel what wants to happen next and allowing it, participating in it.

On the Difference between Magic and Intuition:
Intuition is critical to the practice of magic, but magic is outside of the self. Intuition lives within us but magic comes from outside us.

On Her Recent Relationship:
I don’t know anyone who couldn’t write the book, “Not What I Had in Mind.”

On Radical Truth Telling:
You think you’re going to be a pariah, but the world answers, “Me, too! Me, too! Me, too!”

On Why Her First Pieces of Writing Were for Men:
I was attracted to men because I wanted to be like men.

On One Piece of Advice She Would Give Women:
Start knowing. What are you waiting for to know? There is an ancient woman inside you who already knows. Don’t go within for your inner child; go for you inner crone.

On How She Wrote Eat, Pray, Love:
I kept a journal throughout my travels, and when I got back, I went through them, not meticulously–there was no time–but I skimmed through them, and whatever jumped out at me, I highlighted–this is good, this is good, this is good. Then I started writing.

On Finding Your True Self:
There is a self that’s defined by culture and trauma–where you were born and what happened to you. But there is self that is beyond that, and it’s connected to an infinite line of ancestors. It’s a knowing. It means you stop making statements that end in question marks:
Where are you from?

On Finding Your Purpose:
I don’t feel like I’m here to find my purpose. I feel like I’m here to participate in this really interesting thing.

On Telling the Truth:
The minute you know it, you tell it.

The truth is a weirdly relaxing place, even when it’s horrible.

Because the universe hates a lie.

Quoting Rayya: In the end, we’re always going to end up there (at truth) anyway.

On Saying No:
When you come to the realization that you are never going to please everyone, that someone is always going to be disappointed in you, you decide that the only one you want to please, the only one you can please is yourself.

Quoting Byron Katie: There is no such thing as a no because every no I’m saying to you is a yes I’m saying to myself.

On Fear:
My friend’s fear said to her, I’m just one of your staff. I give you information, but you don’t have to listen to me.

On Writing Memoir and Protecting the Privacy of the People within It:
The book you must write is not the book that you publish.

On Writing and Politics:
I was asked by Ms. Magazine if it’s an artist’s obligation to take a political stand, and I said, no. It’s a citizen’s obligation to take a political stand, but not an artist’s.

On Writing:
Write a book for one person. If you’re writing to everybody, you’re writing to nobody. When you write to one person, it helps to keep your voice human, intimate, real, and consistent.

Photo Credit: Lee Davenport


On Her Writing Career:
Writing is not a career. You don’t have a career; you have a life.

On Fear:
You think a storm happened to you, but you are the fucking storm.

You’re afraid that if you say no to one thing, nothing else will come your way.

On Writing:
I can’t write The Great American Novel. I can’t even write the book that sucks. I can only write my book.
The only thing worse than not writing a great book is not writing a book at all.

I had to surrender to my own mediocrity. I had no business judging my own writing. My was business was to write my book.

You are both things at once–awesome and terrible. You can only humbly do what you have the power to do–write.

On Memoir:
I didn’t have a story about an interesting time in my life; I had a story about who we are.

On Writing Memoir and Protecting the Privacy of the People within It:
You tell the truth in the beginning; Then you make intellectual decisions in the end.

On the Voices in Your Head:
You are a piece of shit. And you are also not a piece of shit.

On Challenges (Climbing the Mountain):
When you do the hardest thing, you are moving in the direction of joy and light.

Just when you think you’ve arrived, there’s more to go.

And so we wrapped up. At the top of the mountain. Moving in the direction of joy and light.











Categories: On Writing

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7 replies

  1. So much yes to all of this!

  2. hi, thanks for this article. I’m thinking of going this year. One of Liz Gilbert’s comment got my attention: “the book you must write is not the book you publish”. i’m not sure I understand what she means by that. Can you explain or add anything to help me understand?
    thanks, Camille

    • Hi Camille!
      If I remember correctly, her comment was in response to a question about how she writes memoir, knowing that some of the content might hurt some people or be objectionable to others. To which she responded, that you have to write the book exactly as it comes out. It may be that in subsequent drafts you may ask yourself, how important is this story/detail to the essence of the book, and it may be that you have to take it out and/or modify it for publication, but in the moment, in the writing of it, you have to write it exactly as it comes out.

      You should go! It was a fantastic experience.

  3. Hi Tina,
    I had to laugh when I found this review because I too signed up in Feb. and forgot all about it! I’m looking at plane tickets as I type this. I just wondered if you had any tips about things you wish you packed & didn’t. I was planning on coming in the afternoon of the event but now I think I will try the day before so I can have time to appreciate nature like you did. Did you stay longer & explore any other part of CA? I know the $$ are adding up as I make reservations – I almost thought of cancelling it but I was so glad to read your review.
    Also for the writing workshop did you just do pen & paper? Did many people have laptops? Funny for some reason I didn’t think it would be 300 people- wow! Were you able to connect with many people? Sorry for all the questions–just excited to see a review from somebody who went!!
    Thank you!!

    • Hi Bre!
      So glad you found the blog informative. 🙂

      Truly, it was an excellent experience. I’m getting excited just thinking of you being there!

      As for what to pack, definitely a sweater. It gets nippy out there in the mornings and evenings. A swimsuit if you’d like to check out their infinity pool and jacuzzi. It’s gorgeous. Wish I’d taken mine. Snacks if you’re the midnight muncher kind of person. The dining hall is open at mealtimes and they do have cafes for snacks and coffee, but I always like to have a little something in my room–chocolate, nuts.

      I did not stay longer, but you should if you can. The central coast-big sur, carmel, monterrey–are exquisite.

      The writing workshop is exclusively pen and paper–Liz will make the announcement right at the start–no electronics. I did take my ipad and used it outside of the workshops because internet. But really you don’t need it.

      It was definitely a big group, but I connected with many people. I made it a point to sit with a different group of people at every meal, so I naturally met a lot of people over the three days. It was easy to connect. Everyone who was there was already so open and the nature of the workshop was such that we opened up even more.

      Go! Have fun! Write about it!



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