If you read last week’s blog post, you know that we at All The Kissing had our very first writing retreat (hopefully the first of many). We met up in Austin, TX for fun, food, and lots and lots of writing time. While we didn’t have anything scheduled in the way of classes or instruction, we found time to discuss our writing, share what we were working on, and bounce ideas off one another.
For me, that was ideal—there was plenty of quiet time for writing and let me tell you, there is absolutely nothing like walking into a room to find six or seven other writers all focused on getting their words out onto the page. Whether someone was drafting a new book or editing/revising an existing one, the amount of focus in that room was unbelievable. Others chose to find a sunny spot outdoors, or sit on a deck, or take a room to themselves for complete and utter focus. Regardless of what anyone needed, I’m delighted to say that our retreat space had it.
We asked our community what some of their most memorable writing retreats were like, and especially what they liked best about them. Here, in no particular order, are the answers we got.
Our Memorable Writing Retreats
Cruise for Inspiration
“I just got back from a writers’ cruise a few weeks ago. My favorite session was about project management for writers. Super useful info, plus it put me on the track to learning how to plot ahead of time…I’m more of a pantser. Was really fabulous!” — ATK Community Member
“I have a local group here that offers writing retreats and I try to go once or twice a year. Apart from the material things (cozy cottage settings and these caramelized onion and rosemary scones that are heavenly) the retreats include long stretches of silent writing time that I really love. Having it structured and designated on the schedule means everyone plays by the same rules.
Sometimes I don’t even get a lot of words done, but just knowing the space is being held as quiet personal time is great.
Also, because not everyone who comes on these weekends is at the same place in their writing or career, there are usually some facilitated workshops where we write from prompts. Personally, I don’t usually need them as a way to jumpstart a project, but sometimes there are really remarkable bits that come from them that wind up being parts I love of a longer manuscript, and I don’t know if I would have come up with those words without that specific prompt.” — ATK Community Member
“I’ve been part of a retreat group for years. Everyone started it more or less at the same level (intermediate beginners). In the beginning, it was fantastic to have a couple of guest authors there to point us in the right direction—we submitted our first pages/chapters to each other & the author well ahead, then critiqued at the retreat the first 2 days (group first, then the guest author) and spent the rest working on any issues brought up. Later, we moved on to more free-form—it could be first chapters, an outline, a middle section, possibly even assigned reading or a movie/show that the author felt highlighted a skill perfectly—dialogue, grounding in a scene, character arc, etc. Now that all members have more time and experience under their belts, we don’t have a guest author, we just set aside time each day in case anyone needs to brainstorm, then the rest is dedicated writing time.” — ATK Community Member
“My group of four did a little homework ahead for discussion. We each listed 5 books we loved. Any genre. Also we wrote a line or two why we liked the book. Then, we discussed the lists and how we could implement the things we liked about our favorites into our own writing. We brainstormed actionable items. If it was something that would take a lot of time to learn, a longer term goal could be made to work on that thing.” — ATK Community Member
“All the retreats I’ve done with my local RWA chapters over the years and a few friends have been unstructured. I tend to prefer that to agenda-based ones because everyone seems to be at different stages (drafting, revising, editing, plotting). But I always feel like I can pull people together to talk through things and brainstorm. With one group, we use shared meal times for brainstorming.” — ATK Community Member
The Right Space
“One thing I loved about the last retreat I just went on was how we used the space. One level of the house was more a chatting area, for brainstorming or just talking, but the basement was what we called the “deep work room” where people went to really concentrate and get shit done. Headphones help too when people get too chatty and you just want to write. Round table discussions are great for mealtimes, where we can bounce ideas or talk about things like self-publishing or querying, where people with less experience can ask questions and those with more experience can answer.” — ATK Community Member
Another RWA Chapter Experience
“The first two retreats I went on were through my local RWA chapter, and we had round-table critiques of three or four 5k-word openings, led by (some really amazing) published authors. It was a fantastic experience for me because here were these authors whose books I’d read and admired, sitting at a table and reading *my* scribbles. Heady stuff.” — ATK Community Member
RWA Retreats Doing it Right
“Our annual RWA chapter retreat is something we look forward to every year. We always choose a beautiful Alaskan setting and we help each other with our WIPS and members do presentations on a list of topics we choose ahead of time. Last fall we helped each other with our first chapters, queries, blurbs, and synopses. It paid off, as my critter group of 5 did several of the Twitter pitches and all of us had likes and requests.” — ATK Community Member
Structure Time for Writing
“I really like having structured writing/quiet times. Board game nights were a big hit at my last one, especially the MEME THIS game. We did some exercises I loved like setting goals based on how you wanted to FEEL vs what you wanted to achieve. We went through lists of different feeling words to choose the ones we wanted to shoot for.” — ATK Community Member
Plotting and Brainstorming
“On our chapter retreat we had a plotting afternoon where we brainstormed plot points as a group for each author who needed help. It was a great way to get unstuck and see the different perspectives everyone offered.” — ATK Community Member
Don’t these all sound fantastic? The last retreat I went to before Austin was a small, unstructured writing weekend where I got to stay at a haunted hotel. I didn’t know it at the time, but that setting took root in my brain, While I’m not using that exact locale for my current work in progress, I am sticking with the theme of “haunted” for this novel. Would I have gotten there without my writing retreat? I don’t know, but I do know I’m grateful for the experience.
I do see one common theme in all these favorite writing retreat moments: writers going out of their way to help other writers. That’s certainly one of my favorite things about our Austin retreat. I spent time one afternoon brainstorming story ideas with one of my fellow writers. Those kinds of activities get our brains moving in ways we might not even realize until later. I know my own productivity was spurred on by that creative hour or two, and I ended up with two very successful writing days.
Being around all those other writers really worked for me, because I was completely stuck before I got there. I had no idea where I was going with my story, even though it’s loosely plotted (what I call a soft outline, mostly ideas here and there without the connecting threads). I made a lot of progress. From the looks on the faces of the other writers who attended, we all got something out of it.
Writer’s cruise, anyone?
If you have a favorite writing retreat experience, feel free to share it in comments. We love to hear from our readers.
My heartfelt thanks to All The Kissing community members Kristin Bales, Dylann Crush, Jen DeLuca, Michelle Hazen, Viv Jackson, Lisa Leoni, Stephanie Scott, Lois Simenson, Allison Temple, Alisha VIncent, and Janet Walden-West for contributing to this post.