What do you think of when you think of a writing retreat? Do you imagine exotic locations? Maybe a mountain escape? Or a beachside resort? Or maybe an isolated lake cabin? We found some wonderful ones listed in this article from The Write Life. All incredible places we’d love to visit, but we’d argue exotic is not necessarily required for a successful retreat.
We recently did a weekend plotting retreat with three other writers who are members of our long-time critique group. And it was a bit different than the ones listed in the article.
Our purposely not exotic location was a nearby town. We had adjoining hotel rooms, a breakfast bar, and restaurants in the area that delivered. We know our limitations and just how easy it is to get distracted if we leave the retreat. (We also brought way too many snacks, but that’s another story.)
We had white boards, flip charts, post-it notes, plenty of markers and this time we also brought magazines and poster board. It can be extremely hard to switch off the day job work week mind and move your brain to creative thinking, so we decided to start the retreat with vision boards.
Each writer chose a particular project (story) to focus on for the retreat and with stacks of magazines by our sides, scissors and glue sticks in hand, we dove in. Each of us created a vision board of images related to our stories. For some it was a story not yet started and for others a story in progress. The main idea of this exercise is not to over-think the selections. To pick out images or words you’re drawn to. As you sort through them you may discard some, add others, move pictures and words around. And through the process, you may discover some new things about your story. Things that may have been lurking in the back of your mind.
The next morning we hit the breakfast bar and then we begin the hard work part of the retreat. Each writer (or in our case writing team) gets a two-hour time slot for plotting. We need to add here that some in the group are hardcore plotters and others, well, not so much. So each writer starts their time with setting the boundaries on what kind of help they’d like during their time slot.
We work. We brainstorm and eat snacks. We take notes and often photos of the notes we’ve made on the white board. And then we move on to the next writer’s story. With a break for lunch, we begin again. Brainstorm, notes, snacks, photos. Then dinner is delivered because we don’t want to change from our yoga pants and sweatshirts. And then…repeat.
By Sunday morning we’ve covered a lot of ground and after hitting the breakfast bar for a dose of energy and much needed caffeine, we’re ready for wrap-up. Each writer gets an hour of clarification or additional brainstorming time because sometimes after you’ve slept on that brilliant idea you find that it’s full of holes.
Other writers’ groups do retreats in different ways, but we’ve found this to be a productive and fun way to work out the kinks in a story idea and to support each other. We’ve done this for several years and it works for us. Still..the beach or the mountains would be nice, right? Maybe next time.
Have you attended a retreat and, if so, what type? A writing retreat? Something to do with your job? Or perhaps something creative like a quilting or scrapbooking retreat? We’d love to hear about your experiences!
And for a little creative get-away at home, we’ll draw from all who leave a comment for this great Cats & Dogs adult coloring book.
Doesn’t it look like fun?
Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often write at ML’s dining room table or at the Starbucks up the street. If they could write anywhere, you would find them on the beach with their laptops and, depending on the time of day, either an iced tea or a margarita.
The latest book in their mystery series is Raiders of the Lost Bark.