A Working Writers’ Retreat

by Sparkle Abbey

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.

Writing Retreat Websites

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.

They love to hear from readers and would love to connect with you via their website at: sparkleabbey.com or on Facebook or Twitter.

The latest book in their mystery series is Raiders of the Lost Bark.

20 replies
  1. Unknown
    Unknown says:

    I went to a scrapbook retreat years ago and loved it. Also had a workshop at my house which was fun. Love to do adult coloring, it is a great stress reliever.

    • Sparkle Abbey
      Sparkle Abbey says:

      It is a great stress reliever, especially when you get to focus on something creative like writing or scrapbooking!

  2. Brooke Showalter
    Brooke Showalter says:

    I would love to go to a book lovers retreat. 🙂 Especially somewhere warm and tropical.

    brookeb811 at gmail dot com

  3. Daniele K
    Daniele K says:

    I've not really done any retreats but did do an overnight ceramics "lock-in". I've also done similar overnight singing things. Thanks so much for the chance to win. Dogs and cats + coloring = heavenly relaxation. Dmskrug3(at)hotmail(dot)com

  4. diannekc
    diannekc says:

    Love this adult coloring book! I haven't tried one yet, but dogs and cats would be a great place to start. I haven't been to any retreat weekends, but I'm sure they are a lot of fun.

  5. Czech7985
    Czech7985 says:

    I'd love to win an adult coloring book, especially since it features cats and dogs, two of my favorite animals. I haven't been to any weekend retreats but hope to in the near future.

    • Sparkle Abbey
      Sparkle Abbey says:

      There's such a variety of different ones out there but this was the first one we'd seen that featured both dogs and cats. 🙂

  6. Not really
    Not really says:

    Haven't bought any coloring books lately. Still have a good supply. All animal ones. Off and on I do several crafts. But my main thing for unwinding is music. Easy listening variety with the sound of the waves or thunderstorms Have not yet had the pleasure of reading this series. It is on my TBR. The blurbs on them are really intriguing. Della at deepotter@peoplepc.com

    • Sparkle Abbey
      Sparkle Abbey says:

      Music is great for unwinding! We both love many different types of music and definitely find the sound of the waves relaxing. Our books are set in a beach town which gives us the opportunity to imagine we're near the ocean even when we aren't. 🙂

  7. Sparkle Abbey
    Sparkle Abbey says:

    And the winner is… Daniele K! We've sent you and email. If you'll reply with your mailing address we'll get your prize in the mail. Congrats! And thanks, everyone, for participating.


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