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Tag Archives: writing retreats

A retreat. Sylvan peace and lots of writing.

Sort of. That’s what I was doing last week, at a writers’ retreat in NC (and I have to say it, but the south is weird. Just weird. Sorry, y’all. But that’s not what this post is about).

woodsThere were trees. Lots of trees. Mountains. Fresh air. And at 3000′ you don’t need AC. It was incredibly quiet, too. I consider that I live in a quiet place although there is a constant hum of traffic, and on the weekends a lot of screechy power tools as neighbors beautify their surroundings. We even have more birds here. The dawn chorus up in the mountains was fairly restrained.

sunsetLovely sunsets and spectacular storms. This pic captures both.

Also lots of wildlife. We were told not to hike the trails alone because there had been bear sightings, although I’m not sure if anyone had told the bears not to come onto the tarmac. We didn’t see any. I saw deer and wild turkeys that did not stand still long enough for me to take their pics, altho this sleeping beauty, a lunar mothmoth, allowed itself to be photographed. It was quite big. There is nothing to indicate scale here except that it is on a window sill. Now if that was a piano keyboard in the background it would be a truly monster moth.

The other wildlife was the writers, a friendly bunch who liked to party. I’d post the pic of the pirate party but inexplicably it’s upside down. Just imagine.

This wasn’t a romance writers event and so there were no editors or agents and it was a time for people to write, critique, and talk about writing. There were also readings, again generally a non-romance thing. I had some notoriety as someone who wrote filthy stuff and considered reading a spanking scene aloud until I realized that to do so I would have to use three different dialogue voices, and decided against it.

So was it worth it? Definitely, yes. Do you really need to get away into a different environment with minimal internet and (mostly) no phone to  crank up your writing? I’m undecided. If I wanted to lock myself up and write write write this wasn’t the place to do so, since there were classes to attend or audit. (I chickened out midway through the week and drove to the nearest Burger King to read my emails.) But it was a good place to take a breath and plan what to do, and where my writing should go next.

Have you been on a retreat? Did you find it useful?

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Elena_Laura_T_FallsI recently went on my annual writers’ retreat, and it was wonderful as usual. Here I am with one of my friend writers, the lovely and talented Laura J Bear, who’s working on her next book. Laura’s debut women’s fiction novel, Where the Heart Lands, came out in March and deals with the relationship between two intriguing and troubled female characters.

The basic formula for retreat success is the same every year: an idyllic lake house, a group of caring, supportive writer friends, lots of good food, wine and chocolate, romantic films to watch in the evening, and lots of time and space to write.

What could go wrong?

For many people, not much. If you’re a well-adjusted, happy person who can be spontaneous and creative without guilt, the above is more than enough to ensure a happy, productive weekend.

If you are a neurotic, self-flagellating nut sensitive soul who has at times been made to feel guilty about her creative life, it’s also important to bring the right mindset.

The challenge of having a perfect setup is that it creates a lot of pressure to be productive. It would be very easy for me to set crazy-high productivity goals. Such goals work well for people who are sane enough to be happy when they achieve say, 75-80% of their target. For me, setting the bar too high can make me choke, or at least to feel disappointed if I don’t manage to clear it.

There can also just be pressure to make every moment count. Being as starved for free time as I am, sometimes when I get some I worry about how best to use it. (OK, maybe “neurotic nut” is the right term.) I could also easily fall into the extreme of self-indulgence: too much chocolate, too much wine, too much watching videos into the night. Followed by guilt over not having achieved anything regarding the writing.

The key, I’ve found, is to aim for a happy medium between rigorous discipline and wild self-indulgence, and to focus on the process rather than the output.

This year in particular, I’m grappling with personal issues. Since I couldn’t write before the retreat and knew I wouldn’t be able to write for some time afterwards, I decided to use the retreat as a traveler through the desert uses an oasis: a place to refresh, renew hope, and gather energy for the next part of the trip.

Lakehouse_Sunrise_2015I made sure to spend some time every morning doing the complete wellness routine I wish I could do every day. This includes journaling, yoga, and meditation. I also made sure to exercise, either hiking and/or taking a kayak out for a paddle. I allowed myself to enjoy all that good food and the wine, neither bingeing nor denying myself.

Instead of striving for wordcount, I used my writing time to brainstorm new stories. I now have a lot of detailed notes that will be very helpful when I’m ready to start writing again. Just as importantly, the retreat reminded me of how good–and very right–it can feel to be creative.

Do any of you do retreats of any sort–writing, spiritual, crafting, etc…? Any particular tips and tricks that help you get the most out of them?


I am in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, today, finishing up a weekend writing retreat that was incredibly productive. We’re in a vacation rental surrounded by forest and, listening to the birds during the day and the cicadas at night. It has been a lovely consolation for missing RWA.

So…no time for a proper blog today! It’s our last day and there is lots to do before leaving.

Here’s a photo from the restaurant where we ate dinner last night, which gives you an idea of the landscape around here (although it is a lot greener than it looks in this photo).

But, I wonder, would I rather be writing someplace like this? Malvern Hall as painted by Constable?
Well, my head has really been in Regency London:

Where are you today, in your head and in reality?

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So this weekend I was off with 3 writing friends on a retreat to an adorable Victorian cottage in Eureka Springs!  (no pics at the moment–we spent most of the time wearing sweats and messy hair as we wrestled with our WIPs…).  It was a wonderful time, with lots of work done and lots of wine on the big front porch in the evenings.  I am in the middle of my newest project, the first in my Elizabethan-set mystery series (coming out from NAL next year!!), and this was a great way to get a few thousand words ahead.  Plus it was fun!

So I started wondering if authors of the past did something like this.  All I could remember was how in high school a friend of mine (another future English major) had an old, grainy VHS tape of a movie called Haunted Summer, about the time Byron and the Shelleys (and others) spent a few weeks together at Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where a dare on a rainy night gave birth to Frankenstein.  This is what IMDB says about that movie:

 In 1815, authors Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley get together for some philosophical discussions, but the situation soon deteriorates into mind games, drugs and sex.

My own retreat was not nearly so interesting….

As I looked around this morning trying to find more info on this famous writing retreat, I found a great article from the NYTimes’ travel section–it’s really fascinating and makes me want to go to Lake Geneva right away:  Lake Geneva as Byron and Shelley Knew It

Where would you want to go on retreat?  What authors would you take with you??  (I think Byron and Shelley would be fun, but probably not so conducive to getting much work done!  I might go with the Brontes…)

Last weekend, my friends Kathleen and Therese from Writer Unboxed and I went on our fifth annual writers’ retreat. This time, we invited a couple other friends. Picture five mommy writers descending on a vacation house in the Finger Lakes armed with food, laptops, writing notebooks, wine and chocolate, for a weekend away from family responsibilities. A weekend of self indulgent, blissful companionship and writing.

On these retreats, we aim for the perfect balance of productivity and fun. We ate meals together but the rest of the day we focused on writing activities: brainstorming, plotting, drafting, whatever was appropriate for each individual. My personal goal was to get a good start on the 4th draft of my balloonist story. We also took the occasional break for a thinking walk or (my favorite) paddle. The first evening we ate in (Kathleen made a wickedly good pulled pork, black beans and mango salsa-yum!) and the second night we went to a restaurant at a local winery.

In the evenings we got on our jammies, refilled our wine glasses and watched North & South. After all the raves I’ve heard from people about N&S, I knew I’d enjoy it but was also prepared for a slight letdown. In this case, all the hype could not prepare me for how good it was. We did discuss how, as writers, we could learn from the way the external historical events were intertwined with the romance and the character arcs. But mostly we just swooned over Richard Armitage. (Note to self: must use him someday.)

As to productivity, I came away with about 27 pages, having completed Chapter 1 and getting well into Chapter 2. And I’m very pleased with how the story is coming along.

As to the fun, see for yourselves. This picture was taken Saturday night after our winery trip by Therese (on the right) holding her camera at arm’s length and doing her best to get us all in the picture.

It’s fun to imagine us Riskies having a retreat at some gorgeous English country house. But until we are all pulling in the requisite six digit advances, a retreat like this is very doable. Split enough ways, a house or cottage rental will not break a modest budget. Just add good writing buddies, chocolate and wine and your muse will thank you. I highly recommend it!


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