One of the great things about Scrivener is that it allows you to divide up your work into scene - or chapter-sized “chunks” (usually documents). This means you can tag those documents to keep track of just about anything you want.
What would you like to be able to track about your documents in Scrivener? Here are a few ideas:
- Point of view (POV) character
- Storyline (e.g., Main, Secondary)
- Other characters in the scene/chapter
- Story structure element (e.g., Dark Night of the Soul)
- Writing/revision status
- For blog posts/articles: site, status, suitability for publication in a magazine, topic, etc.
Information about an object is called metadata, and Scrivener has several types of metadata you can use to tag, color code, search for, and organize your files. I’ll discuss how Label, Status, and Keywords differ and how to use each.
Labeling Your Files
The Label field is my favorite in Scrivener because it has the most visibility. (Yes, I’m the kind of dork who has a favorite type of metadata.) Labels have colors associated with them, which can be turned on in the Icons, Binder, Corkboard, and Outliner. Label values can also be viewed as a column in the Outliner, or from any tab in the Inspector.
How I use it: During my fiction drafting phase, I like to use labels to track POV (since I always have more than one POV character).
I often switch it to track revision status during edits. Knowing a file’s stage of revision helps me quickly see where I need to start working when I open my project, and serves as a visual progress meter.
For blog posts, I use labels to store which website the post was written for.
Pros and Cons
+ Color can be turned on in multiple locations, very visible.
+ Label values are chosen from a list, thus reducing errors from typos (helps with searches).
+ The Label title can be changed to match whatever you’re tracking (e.g., POV, Status, Stage, Site) and the new title will appear in menus.
- Only one value is allowed per document.
Working with the Status
Despite its name, the Status field can be used to track anything you want. Status is basically the Label field without any color, which makes it less visible. I’d use this one for something you want to track, and maybe search for, but don’t need to see as easily.
The Status value can be viewed as a watermark on the Corkboard, a column in the Outliner, or from any tab in the Inspector.
How I use it: Sometimes I use this for revision status as intended (though I usually change the values), but usually I use it to note the scene’s setting.
Pros and Cons
+ Status values are chosen from a list, thus reducing errors from typos.
+ The Status title can be renamed to match whatever you’re tracking (e.g., POV, Status, Stage, Site) and the new name appears in menus.
- Only one value is allowed per document.
- No color; less visible.
So far we’ve talked about metadata types that only allow one value per document. But what if you want to apply more than one value? For example, if you’re tracking story structure beats, sometimes a single scene may hit multiple beats. Or, if you’re tagging all the characters who appear in a scene, you might have multiple values.
The beauty of keywords is that you can also have multiple sets of values, and even organize them for easier access.
So, you could have a set of keyword values associated with Settings, and another associated with Characters, and you can apply any or all of them to a single document.
Like labels, keywords have associated colors, but they can only be viewed in the Corkboard and Outliner. Keyword values are visible in an Outliner column, or on the Metadata tab in the Inspector.
How I use it: When I use them, it’s generally to keep track of the elements of story structure a scene satisfies.
Pros and Cons
+ You can have as many keywords and keyword categories as you want, and apply as many as needed to a single document.
+ Keyword values can be chosen from a list, thus reducing errors from typos. (NOTE: If you try to add an existing keyword in the Inspector’s Metadata tab by typing it out, and you mistype it, you’ll end up with a new, misspelled keyword.)
- Limited color use and Inspector tab location make it less visible.
Understanding Custom Metadata
Scrivener also has offers Custom Metadata, which I don’t have space to get into in detail. (But feel free to ask in the comments section!)
If you’re already using the Label and Status fields, but still need more single-choice fields, you can create one with custom metadata (List). You can also create text box fields (Text), a single checkbox item for yes/no, true/false, on/off fields (Checkbox), and date/time fields (Date).
You may create as many custom metadata fields as you need, name them whatever you’d like, and even choose an associated text color for text fields. To do so, go to Project>Project Settings>Custom Metadata.
Modifying Label and Status
The process for changing the Label and Status fields is the same, except status values have no colors.
Here’s how to modify them:
- Go to Project>Project Settings and choose Label List or Status List.
- (Optional) In the Custom Title text box, type a new field name, e.g., POV, Revision Status, Storyline, Site, etc.
- Add or remove a value by selecting it and clicking the + or - button, respectively. You can also double-click any existing value to change it.
- To make a value the default (automatically assigned when a document is created), select the value and click Make Default.
- (Labels only) Double-click the color box to choose a new color.
- Click OK to save changes.
Applying a Label or Status Value
Now that you’ve created your values, you can apply them to existing files. Here are two ways to do it:
- Select the desired document and choose a value from the Label or Status field at the bottom of the Inspector.
- Right-click a document, point to Label or Status (or whatever you renamed it) and choose a value.
- Make sure the Label or Status column is displayed in the Outliner (go to View>Outliner options to choose), and click on the line for the desired document to add/change the value.
Viewing Label Colors
Label colors are not turned on by default, so even when values have been applied, you won’t see the colors outside of the Inspector or Outliner column unless you turn them on.
You have several choices for where to display the label color. You can turn on more than one of them simply by repeating the steps below.
- Go to View>Use Label In.
- Choose one of these options:
- Binder: In Scrivener 3, this puts a color dot to the right of the file name. In older versions, it puts a bar of color across the line for each file.
- Icons: Fills in the file’s icon with color, throughout the project.
- Index Cards: Colors the file’s associated index card in the Synopsis section of the Inspector, and in the Corkboard.
- Outliner Rows: Fills an item’s row with the color, and is visible even if the Label column is not displayed.
- Scrivenings Titles (Scrivener 3 only): Colors the title line for each file when viewing a folder in Scrivenings (multiple document) view.
- Show as Background Color in Binder (Scrivener 3 only): Similar to the older version’s Binder option above, this option puts a bar of color across the line for each file.
(See the first graphic under “Labeling Your Files” for examples of label color display options.)
You can also view label colors in the Corkboard as a bar along the left edge of each card by going to View>Corkboard Options>Show Label Colors Along Edges. NOTE: You must be in Corkboard view for this option to be available.
Displaying Status Values in the Corkboard
Status values can be viewed in the Corkboard as watermarks across the cards. To turn them on, go to View>Corkboard Options>Show Status Stamps. NOTE: You must be in Corkboard view for this option to be available.
The easiest way to create keywords is in the Project Keywords panel. To view it, do the following:
- Go to Project>Show Project Keywords. The Keywords panel opens.
- To add a keyword, click the + button at the bottom left of the panel. TIP: If you have an existing keyword selected, use the leftmost + button to add keywords at the same level. Use the second (slightly right) + button to add “child” keywords, which are indented from the “parent” to create a hierarchy to help keep your different groups of keywords organized.
- To change a keyword’s color, double-click the color box. NOTE: These will not automatically link to Label colors, even if you use the same value names.
Adding Keywords to a Document
To add a keyword to a document, do one of the following:
- Drag the keyword from the Keywords panel onto the document title in the Binder. TIP: For multiple documents, select the desired files in the Binder and drag-and-drop a keyword from the panel onto any of the selected files.
- On the Metadata tab of the Inspector, click the gear button in the Keywords pane, point to Add Keyword, and choose the desired keyword.
Removing a Keyword
To remove a keyword from the entire project (and all tagged documents within that project):
- Open the Project Keywords panel.
- Select the desired keyword.
- Click the - (minus) button.
To remove a keyword from a document only:
- Select the document in the Binder.
- Open the Metadata tab in the Inspector.
- Select the keyword to remove.
- Click the - (minus) button in the Keywords header.
Viewing Keyword Colors in the Corkboard
Keyword colors must be turned on if you want to see them in the Corkboard. They show up as color chips along the right edge of the card.
To turn them on, make sure you’re in Corkboard view, then go to View>Corkboard Options>Show Keyword Colors.
Thanks for sticking with me! What questions can I answer about metadata, or anything else in Scrivener?
* * * * *
Brace yourself! (Spoiler alert: there is good news coming.) But first . . .
Here’s a hard fact: 97% of writers never finish a first draft.
Here’s an even harder fact: 96% of those finished manuscripts are rejected by agents and publishers.
And the indie route? Statistics show that the vast majority of self-published books sell under 100 copies. Mostly to family and friends. Who, ahem, say they’ve read it. Look, a squirrel!
Sadly, I am not surprised. I’ve spent my career working with writers, manuscripts, story, and in that time I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I’ve read where if you asked me, “What’s it about?” I’d say, “It’s about 300 pages. I have no idea. It’s just a bunch of things that happen.”
Which neatly answers the question: Why do so many manuscripts fail?
It’s not because the writer didn’t know how to “write well” or that the prose wasn’t polished enough or that the plot wasn’t rip roaring enough. It was because the manuscript was nothing but a bunch of things that happen.
But what does that mean?
It means there was no cause-and-effect trajectory – internal, external, escalating or otherwise -- so nothing to anticipate, nothing to care about, nothing to root for. Instead, it was: this happens, and then that happens, and then . . . wake me when it’s over.
And to make matters worse, the two most popular “schools” of writing tacitly encourage exactly that.
Pantsing is the worst culprit; plotting a close second. Why? Because both methods start by focusing on page one, when the story itself – the place from which all meaning and all plotting springs -- starts long before that. After all, a story is about how someone solves a problem they can’t avoid. And let’s be honest, as real life has taught us, even though it can feel as if problems spring out of the blue, the truth is they take an awful long time to reach critical mass – that place where we have to pay attention to them.
Besides, the story isn’t about the plot anyway, it’s about how the external problem the protagonist faces causes her to make a long needed internal change. In other words, the plot comes second – the first goal is to figure out what internal change, scene by scene, it must force your protagonist to make. All of which is created, in story-specific detail, before you get to page one.
Pantsing ignores all this, promoting the killer misbelief that if you have “talent” the story will simply come. Head hits desk. Heart breaks. It doesn’t work that way.
Plotting, on the other hand, by focusing on the plot first (big mistake!), tries to create a cause-and-effect trajectory, but the problem is, it’s merely a surface cause-and-effect trajectory. It’s math. And faulty math at that. For two reasons.
- It’s just a string of external events. Readers don’t come for what happens, they come for why it happens, hoping to pick up a little inside intel that will help them navigate their own lives. And the reason why anything happens inherently lies in the past. Which is why, as Faulkner so brilliantly said: The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past. Meaning you have to know WHAT the story-specific past IS, not only in order to understand the WHY behind what’s happening, but to know what’s happening in the first place. Make no mistake, it’s the “why” that creates the “what.”
- Which brings us to the second reason plotting relies on faulty math: The WHY stems from the characters, not the events. Why would your protagonist do that? Hell, why would any character do what they do? Without knowing that -- and getting it on the page – the things the pre-ordained plot will force your protagonist to do won’t make any sense. And guess what, then neither will the plot!
But what if you ARE a dedicated pantser or plotter, and committed to beginning on page one of the manuscript come hell or high water, what can you do? How can you make sure your WIP doesn’t turn out to be nothing but a bunch of things that happen?
Yep, we’ve reached the good news! There is a method you can use to help make sure you’re not writing yourself out into a big, empty, directionless (albeit beautifully written) field:
As you write forward, approach each scene by focusing on one of these three words: Because, But, Therefore.
Because: Just focusing on the “Because” gives you a head start – because you’re focusing on the “why.” Again, readers don’t merely want to know what your protagonist does, what we’re hungry for is why she did it. Why did that happen? By focusing on “Because” you’re developing the ongoing causal connection between what’s happened in the past, and what’s about to happen now.
But: Stories are like life – they’re about how we navigate the unexpected. Think: unintended consequences. Collateral damage. Often the “But” is something the protagonist could have foreseen if only she hadn’t been so focused on something else. Sometimes it’s a total shocker. But always, when the protagonist stops to think about it, in retrospect it’s explained by the story-specific past.
Therefore: What is the consequence of what just happened? How does it play forward? What change did it spur? Often the “Therefore” is internal, as in: as a result of what happened, the protagonist realized this, and so decided to do that.
Want an example? This is from a brilliant, dedicated and savvy client of mine, who sent me a shorthand outline of what we’ve been working on for months, and thus inspired this post. She’s writing contemporary fiction, and has already written all of the below in scene form, and it goes deep. She’s now working on the last third of her novel, and decided to quickly synopsize what she has so far. The full document is far longer than the snippet here. Note that it begins long before the novel starts.
- Because her friends pushed her to do it as part of a Cosmo quiz, high school senior Emma finally bares her heart and writes a secret love letter to Ryan, thinking he'll never see it.
- But her friend betrays her and gives it to him.
- Because she’s is humiliated by the letter, when her dysfunctional mom announces they’re moving out of Texas that very weekend, Emma is relieved and doesn't look back, never calling friends. She disappears from their lives, believing you can’t trust anyone.
- Therefore as soon as Emma graduates high school, she moves to New York and focuses on her career.
- But because she deeply craves a family connection she’s never had, she becomes an event planner, so she gets to be close to families, but not in them. No risk of hurt.
- But what she doesn’t know is that Ryan loved her letter, and was heartbroken when she disappeared.
- Because Ryan thinks that Emma will reach out to her hometown BFF Natalie at some point, he becomes friends with Natalie and her boyfriend, Frank.
- But he finds he really likes these people. And as the years pass, even though he’s moved to London, their friendship becomes genuine. He's uncle Ryan to their 3 kids.
- But Ryan can’t forget Emma. Now the successful CEO of a tech startup, he still has that letter and every once in a while checks FB searching for her. He finally finds her new, very successful company’s FB page.
- But when he Ryan reaches out to Emma on FB, her assistant, who handles all social media, not knowing who he is, dismisses him. Ryan believes it was Emma who blew him off.
- Therefore he decides it was just a stupid letter, and that he’s been nursing a ridiculous fantasy, so he asks his girlfriend of four years to marry him. She's been dropping hints, they’re living together already, all their friends are getting married, and he feels maybe it doesn't get any better than this. I have it good.
Here’s where the novel starts:
- But when unforeseen circumstances force both he and Emma back to their Texas hometown, he discovers the spark is still burning bright -- in both of them.
- Therefore each one must confront . . .
And with that the novel is off and running, fueled by what happened in each character’s past, barreling toward what each one entered the story already wanting, already fearing. And those “unforeseen circumstances”? For both Emma and Ryan, they were the culmination of a long and, in retrospect, inevitable series of events.
My advice? Whether pantsing or plotting, focus on those three key words: Because, But, Therefore. Don’t write any scene that begins with the deadly, “And then . . .” If (make that when) you find you need to go into your protagonist’s past to dig up the reason “why?” – the because -- do it! Because that’s where meaning, depth and the real truth that you’re writing about is buried. And that is what hooks readers. Story is about an internal struggle, not an external one. The plot? Without the internal story driving it, that’s just a bunch of things that happen.
Are you a pantser? Plotter? Can you see how, either way, this can help?
* * * * *
Lisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. Her video tutorial Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story can be found at Lynda.com, and her TEDx talk, Wired for Story, opened Furman University’s 2014 TEDx conference, Stories: The Common Thread of Our Humanity.
Lisa has worked in publishing at W.W. Norton, as an agent at the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency, as a producer on shows for Showtime and Court TV, and as a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency. Since 2006, she’s been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and she is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts MFA program in Visual Narrative in New York City. In her work as a story coach, Lisa helps writers, nonprofits, educators, and journalists wrangle the story they’re telling onto the page. She can be reached at wiredforstory.com
Whether you are a participant in NaNoWriMo or not, all of us have (most likely) experienced what it is like to hit the middle of the story and . . .
Some call it a brick wall, others talk about being stuck in the muck, and still others may not have a name for it but simply refer to the weeping and wailing that happens when the story is just stuck.
There are probably others who have written about why we get stuck in the middle, but I want to suggest some tips for getting out, based on how I FINALLY emerged from a draft that took me three times as long as anything else I’ve ever written.
1. Stop letting your desire for perfection become a form of procrastination.
I think all of us know that the really good writers are really the solid editors and revisers, but a lot of times knowing something and believing something is really far away from each other. There is a temptation to get so caught up getting the setting and the characters and the emotional impact and the pacing just right that knowing we aren’t makes us spin our wheels – or worse – stop writing in the first place.
Dear writer? It is okay to leave yourself notes. It is okay to suggest to yourself that double-checking a research point or the emotional chords you want to play even if at the time you are writing them, you aren’t in the headspace or the heartspace to write that during that draft. Remind yourself what you want to the reader to feel or experience at a certain place, and continue with the parts of the story that you know.
2. Write the story out of order.
Chances are, twenty years ago, this would have been really difficult. I had a professor who realized, after he’d written his doctoral thesis, that things were in the wrong order, so he cut it up, a paragraph at a time, and took over the living room, placing different thoughts where he thought they needed to be realigned. He also told everyone not to open the front door.
Now? Whether you are a Word writer or a Scrivener writer, moving scenes around, or even whole chapters can just be one more step in the revision process. In the case of my most recent draft, I knew how the story ended. I wanted, so much, to wait to write those as a dessert for the work that I was doing, but I couldn’t move on. So, I wrote the last two chapters (it’s a dual narrative story). I made the theoretical tangible and it absolutely unlocked something within me. (I didn’t write THE END then. That’s a mental celebration that I knew wasn’t authentic yet.)
3. Readjust how you think about the remaining work.
When I got really stuck, I was at 67,000 words. Most of my first drafts are right around 90,000 words, so I knew the math I was shooting for. (Okay, I may have double checked it a few times with the calculator – don’t judge me.)
Then I was having a conversation with a colleague who is also a writer and asked him about his current WIP, asking how many words he had left. And what he answered fundamentally shifted how I think about my work.
He said he didn’t keep track of how many words were left, or even how many words he’d written (not all the way). Instead, he’d blocked out how many scenes were left, and he knew how many of those he needed to write.
I plotted how to get from where I was to where I knew I needed to be in sense of chapters, and I discovered I had 18 left. That’s a lot easier to think about than 23,000 words. And the work became simply to write that chapter.
4. Create boundaries to protect yourself.
This is one of those pieces of advice that I am really good at giving to other people, and less than stellar at following myself. I was involved in lots of conversations that would occur throughout the day, and I didn’t realize how much emotional and mental energy I was tossing out to all sorts of people, thinking it was my job.
Yes, there are certain boundaries I don’t get to set on my own. I have three teenagers, I work full time, I’m married to an entrepreneur, I’m about to start an MFA program, I’m running unopposed as president of my favorite a writing organization. I signed up for those things, I need to follow through with the various obligations that come with them.
But what I realized recently was that I have also been taking on a lot of things as obligations that just aren’t. Part of this aha came at the same time that my primary religious leader issued a challenge to participate in a 10-day social media fast. I uninstalled all social apps from my phone and started to feel the weight of all kinds of things lifting from me. I saw the ways I could sneak in little things that could allow me to nurture the writing part of me, and I even allowed myself moments to sit and be still. This last part is essential for my mental health and allows me to better connect with the creative side of me.
Social media is back on my phone – it’s how I engage with some of my dearest friends who live all over the place, but I don’t get notifications for any of them. Not a little badge, not a banner, nothing. I have declined to help some people with things that I previously would out of guilt, and allowed myself, instead, to use that time to write. This is not to say that I live a fairy tale writing life with inspiration and opportunity and rainbows and unicorns. But I am done breaking promises to myself (inspired significantly by this book). I am done violating the trust my creativity has placed in me. And I’m slowly working on having less guilt for isolating myself to pursue the writing that I love.
Do you have any suggestions for how to negotiate inspiration or motivation when your book feels stuck?
* * * * *
Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity, is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association,and trusts in the power of Diet Coke. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.
My father had his own set of proverbs that he dispensed like wisdom from the mountaintop. Even though it’s been decades since I lived in his house, I can still hear his voice in my head sharing such tenets as:
“A thing worth doing is worth doing well.”
“Leave a place as good as or better than you found it.”
“Stupid is as stupid does.” – Oh wait, that one’s not his.
But the adage I’ve been thinking about lately is “Sail into port with all your flags flying.” My dad was reminding me to follow a project all the way through, so that I could stand proud at the end—knowing I’d given it all I had.
Yet here I sit in November looking at my progress for the year and thinking my flags look a little sagging and tattered. Maybe you feel the same.
I haven’t followed through on all the projects I had intended to get done, and the countdown to the end of the year has begun! Not to mention that we all know how time-sucking the holidays can be, so good intentions about writing a novel in the week leading up to Christmas are probably just that—good intentions.
How can I possibly get my flags back up the pole and sail into the end-of-year port with my head held high, feeling great about my writing in 2018? Here are some tips for me, and for you:
1. Aim a little higher than do-able. It’s hard to say where your aim should be, because some of you are optimists, some are pessimists, and some are realists. (And no, you pessimists do not get to claim that you’re realists.)
Consider your own tendencies and set a goal that makes you stand on your tiptoes and reach, not one that you can grab while prone on your couch or one that requires stilts and a reaching hook. You want something that you can accomplish, but only with some extra effort.
2. Off-load the less important stuff. What are you currently doing that you really don’t have to do? There’s something you could put on the back burner or toss out with tomorrow’s garage. It might be an obligation someone else put on you that you struggle to pass up. But your writing career hereby gives you permission to say no.
Think of life this way: What am I doing that must be done or leaves the legacy I want to leave? Sure, I have to launder clothes or I will nothing to wear (and I am not becoming a nudist—you’re welcome), but outside the must-dos, which tasks meet your life’s mission and which are time-fillers? Ditch the latter. Or at least move them down the priority list. Clearing that space can give you more time and energy for writing.
3. Plan your days. Whether you’re the type to keep a color-coded calendar or a to-do list floating around in your head, you need a plan. Think about which personality you are, and then decide what will work for you.
You could plan out the rest of the year, or just wake up each day and plan out that particular day alone. But as another man who loved proverbs said: “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” (That was Zig Ziglar.) No matter how detailed or general, whether it’s the whole novel or just the next scene, have a plan.
4. Invite accountability. You know when I got the most done? When I reported to my children. Seriously, there’s nothing quite like disappointing your own kids. “I know I said we’d all do our homework, but I found this Netflix show that was totally binge-worthy, and then I spent an hour trying on dresses to see which ones covered up my midsection best.” Yeah, I never wanted to say anything like that to my own kids! What kind of horrible example would I be setting?
They’re grown and gone now, but I can find others to keep me accountable. And so can you. Tell someone else what you’re working on and then report periodically how it’s going. Then you’ll have someone to share your successes or give you the stink-eye when you need to get back on track.
5. Celebrate progress. Speaking of successes, celebrate your own. I once rewarded myself for completing a novel edit with a roller coaster ride. Given how much I love roller coasters, that was a great motivator. I also have a friend who keeps a tiara in her house to put on when she meets a big goal.
Others celebrate with dinners out, small or big purchases, or a mini-vacation. Make the celebration whatever you want, but reward yourself for keeping your flags up as you sail into port.
What project are you trying to finish before the end of the year? And what tips do you have for sailing into port with all your flags flying?
Although she grew up in Corpus Christi, Julie Glover has never sailed a boat. She did, however, recently come off a cruise ship where she enjoyed the gorgeous ocean and a wonderful conference/retreat with Cruising Writers.
When not at sea, Julie writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. She is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency.
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.
Then we wrote, working on our WIPs for the next critique group. Laura took her laptop outside to one of my lounge chairs. I wrote on my "big" computer in the house. After lunch, we printed and read each other's work.
We had more time to dig into word choice, GMC, setting, dialogue and emotions then we did in our regular critique group meetings. By the end of the day, we agreed that we'd had a productive day, with lots of takeaway to be discovered in the weeks and months ahead with our "new" books and magazine articles.
Not only did I get to learn more about Laura as a person, I was energized by her enthusiasm, our sharing, and the hope of more DIY Writers' Retreats to come.
We still "do" writers' retreats at conferences, classes, and at her house and my house. We share what we've learned since we last saw each other. I remember how excited she was after reading Lisa Cron's first book! I look forward to her excitement and enthusiasm when I'm feeling stuck. I enjoy the challenge of working together on sticky plot elements of her stories. But most of all, I enjoy spending time with a friend who really gets what it means to be a writer. Who doesn't look shocked when I talk about my characters as if they are real.
Looking back, we were very much beginners, even though we'd both finished three books. We knew some things, others not so much.
Why did our DIY Writers' Retreat turn out so well?
- We had no expectations of what the takeaway would be
- We were open to learn and share
- We were excited about our writing
- We were committed to our writing
- We were open to building a friendship
- We had gone through our own resources to pick out the best to share
- We weren't afraid of what the other would think since we'd been in a critique group together for a few months
- After our retreat, we continued to talk about what we learned, from each other's materials to new ideas that entered our larger writing community
I bet you have materials in a closet or a box in your garage that you could share with a small group of other writers. If you're in a critique group and haven't tried a day or afternoon/evening writers' retreat, think about putting one together. You might be pleasantly surprised at how it can energize your group.
If you're not in a critique group, try to find one to three writers who are in your same general skill area. Genre doesn't matter. Invite three or four people to your home. Schedule at least four hours. Six is better, depending on the number of attendees. I think a good rule of thumb would be to plan for two hours per person, so everyone has time to share and feel heard without rushing. The fewer distractions at your meeting place, the better. You don't have to supply all the food, everyone could bring something for a potluck lunch for a retreat that starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m.
Have you hosted or participated in a do-it-yourself Writers' Retreat? What suggestions do you have? Do you have questions?