Tag Archives: Writers’ retreat

Guest Post: Host Your Own Writers’ Retreat by Fae Rowen

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Thank you to Fae Rowen for this article, which was first published on Writers in the Storm.

 

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Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

It’s been almost ten years since I hosted my first writers’ retreat. It was a low-key get together for my five-person critique group, which had been meeting for just a few months.

We already met weekly for face-to-face chapter critiques, but we wanted time to discuss writing, trade ideas and things we’d learned from books, conferences, and hard work. I volunteered my house and the food (breakfast and lunch).

I made sure all the food was prepared—a quiche and fruit salad for breakfast and a salad bar for lunch, with chocolate goodies for dessert. I wouldn’t have to spend any time “in the kitchen” other than to set out our meals, and I knew everyone would help.

It turned out that life interrupted and only two of us ended up spending our writers’ retreat day together. That turned out to be a really good thing. At that time, Laura Drake and I didn’t know each other that well.

I’d gone through my library and pulled out the craft books that I had duplicates of. I also had a Goal-Motivation-Conflict poster board, gridded off for placing sticky notes for plotting. I piled up my stack of RWA chapter newsletters, a couple of thesauruses, a dictionary and notes with craft and industry tips. Laura brought craft books she no longer needed and magazines, along with books she really liked.

We looked through each other’s offerings and pulled out things we wanted to keep. Actually I think I took all her stuff and she took all mine. It was like an exciting yard sale, because we got to share what we loved and convince each other of the value of our reference books. We talked about plotting—we’re both still pantsers—and GMC. We shared our dreams of getting agents and publishing lots of books.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Breath of Life

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Breath of Life

This past weekend I spent roughly 48 hours at a writers’ retreat at the Breath of Life Retreat House in the beautiful forested mountains of Pine, AZ. I’ve written about the Arizona Dream Weavers’ retreats before (see here and here). You may want to see the previous two articles about Breath of Life to get a complete picture of what a special place this is. I’m sharing the photos I took this year (plus one the proprietor took).

This is the view outside the gate. The retreat house is literally surrounded by forest.

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This view from the yard shows the mountains in the distance.

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Here are some views of the main house. This shot from the back shows the entrance to the frame workshop. Notice the birdhouse–there are birdhouses everywhere. It’s kind of a trademark.

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This porch extends from the dining hall.

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A large patio in the back of the house. There are several patios.

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Speaking of birdhouses (click on a picture to enlarge):

 

There’s a lot of statuary outside, including angels (lots of angels).

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Gardens–rock garden with a waterfall (at right):

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Vegetable garden:

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Pretty things are tucked in everywhere. The facility is a feast for the eyes.

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Outdoor fireplace on the main patio:

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The awesomest bench ever:

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One of many outdoor seating areas:

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On the walls of one of the patio areas:

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A visitors from the neighborhood:

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And an uninvited guest:

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Moving indoors, here is the meeting room:

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The snack room, also used for the buffet line at meal time. The food was fabulous! We all ate too much. And there were several varieties of coffee always available…

 

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…as well as ceramic mugs to use, and lots of different kinds of tea bags and creamers.

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Beautiful artwork throughout the house, this painting in the stairway:

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There’s also a chapel. This was the no-talking zone for the writers.

 

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In the hallway:

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The dining hall. Our thirteen participants fit along this table nicely.

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Shonna and Sara, don’t kill me. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of you concentrating so hard at work on your next novels.

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And this is the whole group of writers who attended, all from the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, many of whom have published books or books under contract. I’m second from the left on the bottom row (with my eyes closed).

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On the retreat, I made good progress on The Unicornologist, including transferring it from Word to Scrivener and writing “index cards” for each scene. I found a serious inconsistency, and I still have plot holes, but I have some ideas about what I need to do.

I spent most of my time writing/revising, when not taking pictures with my iPad. I attended some of the group sessions, and also enjoyed the socializing and sharing at meals.

What I learned at the retreat:

  • SCBWI is hosting a regional conference in Mesa, AZ, in September.
  • Several of the participants have collaborated on books with partners. Two ways to do this: for a short book like a picture book, both sit down at the same computer and pound it out together; for a two-character book, each writes from one character’s POV and alternate chapters.
  • If you do a signing at a bookstore, they can set you up with author visits at schools. You do it for free, but the bookstore handles the sales, and they require the school to order number of books (these count as reported sales).

I look forward to next year’s retreat, but as of this writing, we have no location. And here’s where my ulterior motive comes in. The Breath of Life Retreat House is for sale. If you’ve ever thought you might like to own a B&B or a retreat house up in the mountains, here’s your chance. The sooner you can take over, the better–the busy summer retreat season has begun, with lots of people wanting to get out of sweltering Phoenix. And Jim and Candy, the current proprietors, are willing to help you learn the business and pass on all their repeat customers, all of whom can’t wait to book their next retreat. On the Breath of Life website is a link to their Zillow listing.

Off the Beaten Track

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Off the Beaten Track

Today’s post is doing triple duty. On Sunday I mentioned I was at a writers’ retreat, and I’d love to share my experience. Also, I took a lot of pictures while I was there, knowing I could use them for two of my favorite photography challenges.

This was my second year participating in the Arizona Dreamweavers retreat. (I wrote an article about last year’s retreat.) We stayed at the same location, the Breath of Life retreat house up in the mountains of Pine, AZ.

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The grounds have lots of little places to sit and relax, or meditate, or pray (click on the small images to enlarge):

Arrivals started at 3:00 pm, with bunk selection, followed by a craft and optional henna tattoo. Then dinner (the meals were spectacular! I had the shrimp), and a brief introduction meeting, including a 35-word pitch for a current or finished manuscript. The rest of the evening was free so that we could do what we came to do–for most of us, that meant undisturbed writing. Besides a good-sized meeting room, the retreat house has lots of nooks and crannies to write in.

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That’s me in the center in the blue jacket.

The rest of the weekend was loosely structured around meals, with a few optional sessions to gather and talk or do stuff with the other writers. While writing Saturday morning, I felt restless, so I went for a walk with my camera and took photos for my two challenges. First, for the A Photo a Week Challenge, in response to the prompt Off the Beaten Track:

There was a walk scheduled for 3:00 that afternoon, and I had been looking forward to it, but my little photography walk convinced me to skip it. One, the roads were very steep. And two, I had to step carefully, because I’d injured my foot last Tuesday folk dancing. I’d have slowed everyone down.

These are my offerings for Tuesdays of Texture:

Another option for the 3:00 break was an idea session about queries, synopses, and any other writing-related topic of interest. I skipped it, because I was struggling with the project I was working on, and I wanted to push through. After dinner (I had the salmon), I participated in the Master Mind session on Building a Brand, then I wrote until 10:00, when I finished the outline of a middle-grade novel idea I’d journaled about in 2005. I was dead tired because I’d written until 11:30 the night before, and then not slept due to being in unfamiliar surroundings. I’m happy to say I slept much better the second night, despite the trumpeting of the local elk.

I got up at 5:00 the next morning, took a shower because nobody else was up, and drank five cups of coffee while checking in on my favorite blogs. (Candy, the owner of the retreat house had already prepared pump-thermoses of six different kinds of coffee!) Then breakfast was served (did I mention that the meals were fabulous?):

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Blueberry French toast, with Canadian bacon and boiled egg.

After breakfast we wrote until lunch. I ate way too much lunch. And there was so much dessert left over from the other two days (this decadent thing made out of ice cream sandwiches and pudding; two different kinds of apple pie; muffins; and cake) that I was compelled to choke down a slice of pumpkin spice cheesecake.

After lunch the group convened for debriefing. My take-aways from the group discussions were:

  • An email newsletter is your #1 marketing tool.
  • An author website is more important for a writer than a blog. Hmmm. I have to think about that.
  • Scholastic and other publishers recognize the need for high-interest, low-reading-level books for Middle Grades and Young Adults, due to the large number of English Language Learners in our schools.

I went to the retreat with the intention of spending as much writing as possible. All I had was a title and some 12-year-old notes–and Scrivener, which I am just learning to use. I managed to create a full outline, 23 scene index cards, and the first 221 words of the manuscript. It was hard going, and at one point I thought I was going to have to abandon the project, but I kept working, and the ideas came. Remember: don’t give up.

I also renewed some friendships from last year, and made some new friends, too.

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How about you–are you able to get off the beaten track periodically and just work on something you love, whether it’s writing or quilting or scrapbooking or art? Please share your experience below in the comments.

Sometimes You Just Have to Get Away

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Sometimes You Just Have to Get Away

My husband and I don’t travel much. The last trip we took together, in June, 2012, was absolutely fabulous—to Oahu! But we’re very content to stay in our comfy little home.

Nevertheless, a change of scene can reinvigorate your creativity.

When my friend Shonna Slayton invited me to the Arizona Dreamweavers writers’ retreat the last weekend in August, I jumped at the chance. It was held at the fabulous Breath of Life retreat house in Pine, AZ, up in the mountains. The change of scenery (and temperature!) from the Phoenix area refreshed us. (Click on the smaller image for enlargements and to see captions.)

When the thirteen female writers arrived at the center, they chose their bunks and got started making dream catchers. Throughout the weekend, writing and non-writing activities were scheduled: a critique group, appointments with a massage therapist, kick-start writing prompts, a hike, brainstorming, and an expert panel. Each attendee could participate or not. Some chose to write undisturbed.DSC02822

Friday dinner, three meals on Saturday, and Sunday breakfast were provided, as well as unlimited access to decadent or healthy snacks, coffee, and soft drinks. And the food was delicious. How wonderful to be able to write without meal preparation intruding on your thoughts.Retreat

I passed up on the massage, but I did go on the hike to Tonto Natural Bridge. It was challenging for me, but oh, so worth it.

The highlights of the retreat for me were the critique session and the expert panel.

Six of us participated in the critique group. It focused on the first 10 pages of our work-in-progress. We each emailed our manuscripts to the other critique partners in advance so we could read everyone’s work and make notes before the retreat. I sent in my first pages of The Unicornologist. The consensus of the group is that my story starts in chapter two, which I subconsciously knew but have been resisting. Hearing it out loud, along with suggestions about how to include the first chapter info later on, gave me the courage to work on revamping my opening.

At the panel discussion, two authors shared their publication stories, a publicist shared how she assists authors with their marketing, and a reader for a publishing house explained what happens to manuscripts in the slush pile. Their talks opened my eyes. Did you know that publishing house readers are unpaid, even though most have degrees in creative writing? The one on our panel signed on so she could see for herself the criteria that publishers use to mine the gems from the unsolicited submissions. Only the top 5% ever reach an editor’s desk. Agented manuscripts have a better chance, because they’ve already been approved by a gatekeeper.

The major drama of the retreat was provided by a centipede that invaded one of the bedrooms. Thanks to technology, it was immediately determined that this was a venomous centipede. I decided not to be part of the team that dealt its demise.

Another perk of going to a writers’ retreat is making a lot of new friends. Although everyone knew at least one person there, no one knew everyone. Yet they were an incredibly nice collection of people to share quarters with—fourteen of us in three bedrooms. (And everyone strove to be very quiet after 10:00 pm.) We’ve all promised to keep in touch—and come together again next year.

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Sometimes you just have to get away, learn something new, experience a change of scene, hang out with a group of women you’re not related to, and decompress. It refills the metaphoric creative well, so you have some depth to draw from again. Lots of ideas were generated at the retreat, and we all went home refreshed and inspired.

How about you—have you gone on a writers’ or artists’ or crafters’ retreat? Would you like to hold a retreat for your writers’ group? Share in the comments below.

How to Hold a Writers’ Retreat

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How to Hold a Writers’ Retreat

Have you ever found yourself stranded in Creative Badlands? You know, that parched place where you are just so dry that nothing trickles from your pen? Or what you write is so uninspired that it puts you to sleep?

Sometimes it helps to get away. A writers’ retreat could be just the boost you needed to refresh your writing.

Why have a writers’ retreat?

A retreat is a block of time you set aside for a specific purpose—without the distractions and routines of everyday life. It’s a time to get away from your usual surroundings, a time of refreshment, a time to refine your focus.

At a writers’ retreat you might work on your work-in-progress, brainstorm ideas, learn a new technology, or just share information. The retreat could be strictly centered on the process of writing, or it may also involve care of body and soul as well (or maybe even some tourism).

Linda, hard at work.

Linda, hard at work.

How is a retreat structured?

The retreat should be structured to serve the attendees. You can have a writers’ retreat all by yourself, or you can go to a group retreat. Some retreats are led by organizations, with speakers and a pre-planned agenda, almost like a mini-conference or workshop; some are just a cluster of writing friends who decide to go away together for mutual support.

How should a retreat be planned?

If you are responsible for planning a retreat, consider these questions:

  • Where and when will you hold the retreat?
  • What are the participants hoping to accomplish through the retreat? Writing many pages, free from distractions and interruptions? Learning a new skill? Expanding presence on social media? Resting and relaxing? Enjoying the scenery? Connecting with other writers? Exploring a new location? Eating gourmet food?
  • What are the financial parameters?
  • What will attendees be expected to contribute toward the retreat?
  • How will you schedule activities so that goals are met, while allowing for downtime?
  • Who will lead presentations?

I recently participated in a retreat with some of the ladies of Tuesday’s Children, my critique group. One of our members hosted us in her home in the forested mountains of central Arizona, a couple hours northeast of Phoenix.

Judy's house.

Judy’s house.

What we did on our retreat

In the weeks leading up to our retreat, we determined what we wanted to accomplish: strengthening and expanding our platforms. Each of us considered what we could share with the group. One week in advance, we decided what groceries each of us would bring, so that there would be plenty of healthy food and snacks. I also picked some CDs from my collection for background music.

Judy's street.

Judy’s street.

We arrived at Judy’s house around 4:00 on Sunday. As we unloaded our suitcases and groceries, the keys to our only car somehow got locked inside. (Note: be mentally prepared for unexpected mishaps. Flexibility and a sense of humor go a long way to diffusing minor setbacks.) We called AAA; an hour later, the keys were liberated, and we went to a local restaurant for dinner, separate checks. Afterward, we enjoyed each other’s company by socializing in our pajamas, sort of a grown-up slumber party.

The next morning (Monday), we took a two-mile walk around the neighborhood, which involved scaling hills and enjoying the gorgeous wooded surroundings. Then back to the house for breakfast and devotions. Because all of us are Christians, we each spent some time reading Scripture, then shared what touched us in our reading, and prayed together.

Then we set to work. The four women who went on our retreat have totally different professional backgrounds and publication histories. Three have published books, all have published articles, three write fiction, all also write nonfiction. We all contribute to a group blog, and some of us have personal blogs as well.

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Updating author pages.

Our platform-building sessions concentrated on internet opportunities, such as spiffing up personal websites and blogs, Facebook pages, and author pages on Amazon. I shared some of what I’ve learned from WordPress Blogging U’s Blogging 101 and 201.

We broke for lunch and dinner, made from what Judy had on hand and the food we’d each contributed. At some point, we went for another walk, off the beaten path and into the woods. After dinner, we drove to a neighborhood where apple trees grow and saw elk. (Who knew elk eat apples straight from the tree?) We spent the evening talking and checking email and social media on our laptops while listening to music. (Note: to see captions for any of the remaining pictures on this post, place your cursor on the image.)

Tuesday morning we repeated the pattern—walk (saw more elk!), breakfast, and devotions–and continued our platform building. Then we did a quick clean-up and loaded all our stuff, including the remaining food, into the car, and drove to the Mogollon Rim, a high ridge overlooking a wooded canyon. Judy showed us a spot that holds special meaning for her and her late husband; and then we drove to a picnic area to eat our lunch before returning to the metro Phoenix area.

This was actually Tuesday’s Children’s third retreat. We’ve figured out a process that works for us. We’ve been friends for decades, and relate well to each other. We recognize our individual strengths and deficiencies, and we can help each other navigate new territory. Other than a restaurant dinner the first night, whatever groceries we brought along, and a few bucks to our driver (Peggy) toward gas, we didn’t spend any money. We each pitched in our labor doing whatever had to be done. We are blessed that Judy opened her beautiful house to us.

We all learned something that we didn’t know before, and all of us went away with a new idea for an article, post, or book. I’d say our retreat was a success!

Have you had a great experience at a writers’ retreat? What made it especially worthwhile for you? Please share in the comments below.