Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 7, 2018

Host Your Own Writers' Retreat

Fae Rowen

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.

Good luck!

Have you hosted or participated in a do-it-yourself Writers' Retreat? What suggestions do you have? Do you have questions?


Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

26 comments on “Host Your Own Writers' Retreat”

  1. Fae, in August of this year with the cooperation of my local library I started a writers group. We've had an average of six attendees at every meeting with new ones every month. I can't wait to get to know them better and maybe introduce the idea of a retreat at my home which is just down the road from the library. Our meetings are two hour time slots bi-monthly, but I'm thinking ahead about how much more we could accomplish in a retreat atmosphere. Thanks for the idea and tips!

      1. Laura,I've wanted to do it for years and finally they hired someone who had the same vision as I did. Luckily, she's a writer too. I might mention that all of the writers write a different genre so it makes things interesting especially when critiquing.

    1. Good luck, M. Lee! Kudos to you for involving your library while growing your writing community. And, yes, a group with different genres adds much to the mix. Heck, if I had to find a strictly science fiction group, I'd still be looking!

    1. Thanks for renewing those memories, Fae - that was where our friendship started, I think!
      And I just paid her back, by hosting a writer's retreat at our cabin in New Mexico.

      I'm heading out Sunday for an annual retreat of the L&Ls (do not ask) - Susan Donovan, Lori Freeland, and I get to sleep with Darynda Jones! (they can put that on my headstone! 😉

      Yeah, I love retreats - working with other writers during the day is inspiring and kicks my butt in gear - at night? SLUMBER PARTY!

      1. That time in New Mexico is what prompted this post, Laura. Thanks for a wonderful, productive time in a beautiful setting! And for letting me (still) take care of the food.

    2. No need to study for long, Mary. Just jump in there and do it. Decide what you both want out of your time together and make it happen. Have fun writing and learning together!

    1. Longer retreats are fantastic, Tracy. I count myself lucky when that opportunity arises. It sounds like you've been point on making lots of good retreats happen with your writing sisters. Kudos to you!

  2. I am a HUGE fan of writer's retreats and have been organizing them for years. Started with my 6 person critique group going to beach condo for several days as people who were acquainted and came away as sisters. Due to Life, that critique group has disbanded but those retreats made us closer and I still enjoy hosting retreats for chapter friends and Golden Heart sisters. I love a 4-5 day writing getaway to be super productive and helping each other with plotting sessions and bonding with other writers. Love the idea of sharing resources. Have to add that idea for next time.

  3. I love writers retreats! A few years ago I went with a few members of my crit group to a retreat in the local mountains. Had a great time and actually got some writing done. A few take-aways: discuss the menu ahead of time so no one plans an elaborate meal or plans to make a dish they haven't tried themselves, and have a bit of structure (or not) to the retreat so certain expectations are addressed ahead of time. Thanks for the post, Fae!

    1. Thanks, Barb. You could have a great "day retreat" with your critique group! Thanks for sharing those valuable take-aways.

  4. Thanks for this, Fae! For a couple of years I've wanted to put together a retreat. Since I'm in L.A., I've thought one of the weekend cruise lines out of Long Beach would be a great getaway for writers. 3 days trapped on a boat with no wifi, lots of time, and each other for encouragement & writer talk. OR a cabin in the mountains or the beach is also an option. Your article just brought it all to the forefront again. Hmmm... the mind is churning!

        1. You two would have so much fun! Ummm, maybe too much. I'm not bailing anyone out of jail!

    1. Good for you, Debbie! Once you have the venue, I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding writers who want to participate. A cruise sounds divine. No meals or cleaning up or any responsibilities, and there are plenty of places to sit around a table in an out-of-the-way place. (I've never seen anyone in the library on a cruise ship...)

  5. I love writing retreats! I make so much more progress there. I've done two-person retreats, group ones, and our Houston RWA chapters are beginning to host write-ins—just a day-long event for any writers in Houston to come together and work. Your ideas are great, so I'll be looking back at this when it's my chapter's turn to host! Thanks, Fae.

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