This past weekend I hopped on a plane, left the Houston heat behind and escaped to 1440 Multiversity, a 75-acre campus beautifully nestled in the California redwoods near Santa Cruz. I—along with 600 other people—were there for the Brave Magic retreat taught by Cheryl Strayed and Liz Gilbert. For those that aren’t familiar with their work, Cheryl is the New York Times Bestselling author of Wild, Tiny Beautiful Things and others. Liz Gilbert is the New York Times best selling author of Eat Pray Love, Big Magic and many more. These two individuals are an absolute delight and just as incredible in person as they are in their work through their flowing words on a page. They spoke on different topics throughout the weekend such as the desire to create, looking deep inside yourself to find the inner truth and then exposing that truth vulnerably in your own words. “Surrender to your own mediocrity,” was something Cheryl said that resonated with me. For me there exists an overwhelming desire to create, the need to get a story out. But with that desire comes the feelings of doubt or fear of having to create something grand, as Cheryl coins it ‘the best American novel of all time,’ which ends up blocking any creation at all. It keeps the creator from creating. It’s when you learn to relinquish these expectations and simply write what comes to you—even if it’s horrible, that is a creation. And that creation when fully completed is enough.

our sleeping pods
the mother redwood tree










Cheryl and Liz also shared how they manage different competing ideas at once. As a writer you are always working on a current project and gearing up for another—whether it be a book, proposal, essay or tiny nugget of an idea. How do you choose what will be your next project?  As Liz shared, these endless flowing of ideas compete for her attention and she addresses it by making them submit a mini proposal. Often time an idea sounds sexy at first but really there might not be much there other than a sliver of an idea. That’s not to say it’s not enough for a story but it might not be the right time. “Keep an ideas document,” Cheryl advised, “and come back to it at a later time.” You will often be able to figure out if a sexy idea was just a tempting distraction or if it has the potential to develop into something bigger.

The problem of writer’s block came up, which Liz revealed that avoidance or procrastination is disguised and as fear manifesting itself before the writing. This goes back back to the idea of doubts and fear of being able to write something spectacular that interferes with being able to write anything at all. Liz shared that the way she handles fear, or any emotion that is interfering with her creation is to talk directly to them. She does this through letters. The idea being to write a letter to fear or doubt and ask them what the problem is. If you can get to the root of a problem, it will allow you to see it and work through it instead of avoiding it. Throughout the weekend we wrote letters to fear, power, enchantment, persistence, and even wrote a manifesto outlining our core values and field of honor. Many of these exercises I recognized that I still needed to flesh out. I couldn’t begin to cover all of my fear in just a 5-minute exercise. But I now have the tools and notes to go back and do some deeper self-discovery.

Cheryl listening to Liz, getting to be a participant in the Brave Magic retreat

On day three of the retreat, Liz was teaching a lesson on persistence, she had us write a letter to persistence recounting all the times she had been with me throughout my life. Persistence was the one who had saved my life in the hospital when I was alone and terrified on bedrest. Persistence was the one who helped me find writing and music as a way to push passed the pain. Persistence has been the key to moving passed all the rejection letters and pushing forward to this quest for publication. After five minutes of journaling, Liz directed us to find a partner to share our letter with. I was seated in the second row of the auditorium directly behind Cheryl. To be in the presence of someone who’s work you admire so much is like meeting a real life princess. Like an encounter with Kate Middleton. Similarly, to how I would be in that scenario if it ever happened—I almost stopped breathing. I was so nervous to speak to her.  It took everything in me to muster the confidence to say six little words, “Cheryl, can I be your partner?”  When she turned and looked up at me and responded “yes,” I did stop breathing momentarily.

Cheryl and I, sitting on stage, sharing our letters

We walked over to the stage and sat crossed legged facing one another. She listened as I read her my letter and recounted all the times in my life persistence had saved me. “Are your little girls okay now?” She asked me. “Yes,” I responded wiping a tear from my eye. “They are four years old and just started pre-K.” They are the sole inspiration and motivation behind my work Twin to Twin—which I shared with her would be a reality in December. She embraced me with love, kindness and respect, and I did the same to her as I sat silently and listened to her share her letter to her persistence. I was honored to listen to her open up her heart and share her letter with me. In that moment in time we were just Cheryl and Crystal, two individuals getting to share a special writing exercise at the brave magic retreat. As much as I would have loved to have snapped a selfie of us, or have her sign the stack of books I had packed of hers in my backpack I didn’t. I wanted to cherish and linger in those precious moments we got together as two writers. To me that means everything. I was able to leave the retreat the next day knowing I was going to leave and continue to do what she advised me to keep doing, which was to “create beauty from sorrow by surrendering to my own mediocrity.”

Storyboard by Orion Simprini