Writing Retreats: The Secret Ingredient

Big Fella with his harem.

You’ll see in Donna, Talia and Katy’s posts how valuable we all found the weekend in Colorado. From work sessions to laugh sessions to critique sessions—we went from fun to fun to fun.

You want to know the secret to a great writers’ retreat? Listen up, because it’s simple but important.

It’s the people.

If you’re thinking of retreating, more than schedule, location—more than any consideration--try to find the right people to surround yourself with. Make a list of what matters to you as a writer. Respect? Creativity? Motivation? Retreat with people who possess those important qualities.

Here’s what I value:

People who make you laugh. We Muses crack each other up, I’m not gonna lie. I think we have a combined maturity level of your average sixth grader. Combined. (As in, we are all somewhere around first to second grade.) With all that laughing, I will say that some of the best laughs came from our critique sessions. Some people are funny and write funny. Banter. Razor-sharp wit. Consider yourselves warned. There's some funny books coming out of this bunch.

People who make you cry. Estes National Park, Colorado is stunning. The Aspens were just starting to turn. The elk were bugling, the bulls daring young challengers to take their harems. (Yes. Harems. I learned a lot about elk this weekend.) We saw coyotes prowling through brush. We saw deer and waterfalls that dropped hundreds of feet and lakes that take your breath away. None of that made me cry. I teared up because of one of the Muses has written a character who is so real and beautiful inside and out, that her triumph moved me deeply.

People who make you stretch. We did not do yoga at our retreat (although a yoga conference was arriving as we were leaving.) But my writing mind was stretched when I heard portions of one of the Muses’ new stories—just in its infant stages—so limitless in its imagination that my heart pounded as I pictured the possibilities. I could see it. More so, I wanted to see it. That kind of creativity is infectious, and I am lucky to have been… ummm…. Infected. You get what I mean.

People who make you love words. There’s one particular Muse who is so artful in his-or-her use of language that you just want to sit back and close your eyes when she reads (OK, it’s a she, but I’m not saying which she.) We work in words, and this particular person is a master. I can’t wait for her book to come out so everyone can enjoy what I have privilege of hearing in advance.

People who fill your tank. Let’s just be frank here and admit that it’s hard to share your work. Even to your closest friends. I think as writers, we’re always in a love/hate with our stories, our characters, our prose. (Maybe it’s just me. If so, just skip ahead.) One of the best things I got out of this weekend was validation. We all feel reassured when told that, yes, you’re heading in the right direction. In critique, we right our compass by learning what we need to improve or change, but we fuel our tanks when we hear, “This part was great.”

People who make awesome raspberry pancakes. Just making sure you were still paying attention. But Donna does make awesome raspberry pancakes.

I hope you have friends/writers who can offer you these things. If you don’t, don’t despair. Really. Save the despair, because you can find great people, it just takes a little effort.

Get out there. Go to conferences. Join a local critique group. Print some business cards and be ready exchange information with people who might make a good match. Get involved. The writing community is full of interesting, talented and supportive people. Get out there and claim some of them your friends. You don’t even have to bugle or lock horns like elk do. See how easy you have it?


Thank you all so much for your comments about your writer's retreat. You have inspired me to get a group of writer's together for a retreat of our own to be held next weekend at Lake Barkley Lodge here in Kentucky.

If you all are interested, you can visit our blog on October 3rd to see some awesome pics of our retreat and how your influence is already making us better writers.

With all the photos of elk you Muses are sharing, I'm relieved to know that the secret important retreat ingredient is NOT elk.

In all seriousness, this totally resounds with me. I've never done a retreat with my critique group, but I know every month I'm looking forward to our meeting because that face-to-face exchange with those wonderful writers is golden.

Funny, Beth. The elk were a big part of the trip : ) And so glad the Muses have inspired a retreat. Hope it's great!

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