First Writer’s Retreat…and I think I’m addicted
Last weekend, I attended my first writer’s retreat. Four story tellers gathered at a lake view property in Rancho Viejo, TX. We left friends, with better stories and shared camaraderie. I think I’m addicted.
Just outside of South Padre Island put the house five hours from my home in Houston. Too close to fly (or to pay for a plane ticket, in my case) and too far to drive alone. At first, I thought I couldn’t make it. Ha! Like not being able to do something has ever stopped me before! I wheedled a ride with Fern Brady, Executive Director of The Houston Writers Guild, and Dorothy Tinker, self published author of three epic fantasy books.
The drive down gave us the opportunity to get to know each other, theoretically preventing excessive talking time while writing or revising. Since we arrived early Thursday night, the three of us had a few extra hours to work. Once we unpacked the car, we found our comfy spots on the couch and attacked our WIPs. We survived until a bit after midnight.
The next morning, I sprang out of bed around 6am. It’s amazing how easy it is to wake up when the only thing you have to worry about that day is revising your first draft. We reclaimed our seats on the couch with full cups of steaming coffee and some pastries from the spread provided by the retreat. We did talk for a few minutes while the sun rose over the pond and the birds ate their breakfast. Then we worked for a few hours. My productivity level was at an all time high.
All three of us write genre fiction, specifically in the fantasy sub-genre. Fern led us in a building worlds workshop around lunch time, then we worked a few more hours. We took a break to drive to the airport for our last comrade, Belinda Everette, who writes children’s fiction and is working on her memoir. The group decided to eat lunch out which gave us an opportunity to get to know Belinda.
For the rest of Friday, we took turns reading our twenty page selections from our WIP out loud while the other participants took notes. I am not part of a critique group yet. (It’s on my to-do list. I’ll get there.) Having other writers comb through my first draft chapter with positive observations, as well as suggested changes, encouraged me to keep going. I could be on to something.
Saturday consisted of more workshops, shared meals, and tons of revising time. Sunday, we dropped off Belinda at the airport, worked a bit more, cleaned the house, and tried to bully Dorothy into staying an extra day. (Which didn’t work, because she assured us she enjoyed eating and having a roof over her head, so she had to go to work on Monday.)
Here are the things I LOVED about the writer’s retreat:
- Inexpensive, at least this one was and there’s no reason why they can’t be. You can usually procure a friend’s rental property or vacation home or time share they’re not using right now for free (if they’re a REALLY good friend) or at an extremely low rate. You don’t have to host the event at a fancy hotel or five star resort. A comfortable place with multiple bathrooms and a full kitchen will do.
- Writers had different levels of expertise and eagerly shared their experiences. If each attendant was a multi-series published author who had no interest in helping fledgling writers, what would be the point? If each attendant was brand new to the business, what could we learn from each other?
- The location, with a peaceful view of a pond teeming with birds and fish, provided a relaxing place to focus on my work. The coastal atmosphere differed from East Texas enough that I could forget my home responsibilities for hours at a time.
- The small number of attendants allowed enough support when self-doubt crept in. Yet, it wasn’t crowded in either space or personality. I don’t think I would attend a retreat that had more than six writers. I would also not attend one that had only two. Judging by the dynamic we established seamlessly, too many voices could have caused excessive strife. Not enough voices and you might as well be at home.
These are the things I would like to see:
- More established schedule. I don’t mean 6am wake up, 6:30 am shower, 7am walk around block. That’s kind of ridiculous and completely unfit for the creative mind. But it would be nice if meals were set. If you did not want to eat at that time, no worries. You’re an adult. Fix yourself something later. But it’s easier for me to judge starting and stopping time if I know when the grub is coming.
- The least productive time of day was early afternoon. I’ve noticed this pattern when I’m home as well. I even read an article describing authors as morning writers or evening writers with the afternoon a big creative black hole. Therefore, I think lunch would be the best time to take a break and go out to eat. We’d get time to talk about our work and/or our lives. We blow off steam out of the work space. Then the group returns to hit the WIP.
- Divided spaces for silent work or talking out problems. If the house you’re in is too small, maybe quiet times can be established. Again, this was my first retreat; so, my suggestion might be naive. I know sometimes our conversations went on too long for all of us, but we didn’t know exactly when to stop. Any area or time guidance would end the confusion and increase the productivity of the writer who needs more quiet time.
Overall, I can’t wait to attend my next Writer’s Retreat. This one was hosted by Inklings Publishing. I would recommend considering this adventure if you need some time away to get your writer on.
What Writer’s Retreats have you attended? Did you have some awesome experiences? Or did your event need some improving? Tell me below.