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?