Posts Tagged Writing Retreat


A few years ago I was awarded a Residency from Playa, Summer Lake. Cue the universe. First, in the form of a wild fire
that postponed my much anticipated Residency for one year. Then, Covid, which is still postponing pretty much everything. But this month, the stars aligned, and I was able to pack a bag, some food. and my laptop for a much-needed internet-free retreat.

Armed with some wonderful advice from Therese at Writer Unboxed (if you are a writer and aren’t familiar with this blog, be sure to check it out!),
Jen Louden’s The Women’s Retreat Book, and my N95 masks, I set out for the Oregon’s Great Basin to do some much needed healing – of my manuscript, sure, but
also of my soul.

I was not disappointed.

Playa is a haven on Summer Lake – a  desert lake in Lake County, Oregon. The Great Basin landscape is a unique mix of ponds, dry lake bed, and wetlands.

It is magical.

It was the perfect place to rest, repair, and rejuvenate my writer self.

I spent my mornings watching the sun rise, journaling, and writing.

I took long walks. Sometimes I made notes about my novel using my phone’s voice recording app. Sometimes, I just walked.

I sat. (I honestly cannot remember the last time I just sat down and took in the world. It was marvelous).

I read.

I spent a not insignificant amount of time lying on my back on a bench by the pond, looking up through the trees, and feeling like a kid.

I wrote.

I did self-hypnosis.

I watched a hawk hunt, a woodpecker peck, and a flock of goldfinches flutter.

I spent my evenings watching the sun set, journaling, and writing.

I listened to coyotes sing.

I looked at the stars.

I felt my writer self expand. Which is magic in and of itself.

I can’t really articulate the value of my experience. 5 days, solely dedicated to your artistic self is a luxury that not many of us can afford – even in the best of times.
I’m not sure when I will be able to make such time again – let alone spend it in such a magical place.

But if you do get the opportunity to spend some time alone, dedicated to your writing self, I have a few tips to offer – one for each day of my Residency:

1. Be generous with yourself. If you are on fire to write, by all means write. But if your soul is crying out to sit, to wander, to play, to rest, please let yourself do those things. They all fill the writer well. They all count.

2. Bring music. I don’t listen to music at home when I write. But, I brought some with me, just in case. I was so happy I did. I played music off and all all day – when I wrote, when I needed a dance party break, when I did some yoga stretches. I was surprised by how much simple joy it brought.

3. Bring something great to read. I brought two writing craft books and my Kindle. I had borrowed a middle grade novel, some poetry, and a short story collection from the library’s Ebook library before I left. The poetry was great for starting and ending my day. The middle grade provided some nice afternoon reading on the deck and not a small amount of inspiration. I never touched the collection of short stories (sorry Hilary Mantel. I know it’s wonderful and I will read it. May you RIP).

4. Bring some art supplies. I’m not an artist by any means. But I did throw in some old watercolors and some fresh pens before I left just in case. I was glad to have them. I doodled and created some laughably terrible and totally fun watercolors several times during the 5 days. It was surprisingly freeing to just let myself be bad at something and have fun doing it.

5. Bring food, but don’t get too precious about it. (Unless food is really your thing. Then do you). I looked at some retreat tips before I left and so many people mentioned food. Elaborate food. I kept it simple because I didn’t have time to prepare something wonderful. I’m glad I did. It turned out I just didn’t care that much about what I ate. I had toast and fruit most mornings, crackers and cheese, raw vegetables, and salami for lunch most days, and fruit and bread for dinner most evenings. Soup and sandwiches filled in the gaps on other days just fine. I did have a few pastries (nothing special) and some cookies as treats which were nice when I wanted them, and a tiny bottle of Prosecco to acknowledge the experience. One thing I wish I had brought was better coffee. That’s it.

Now that I am home and back to the regular world of laundry and grocery lists and empty cat bowls, I am eager to weave the learning and magic I gained from this Residency into my everyday writing life. I left the Playa with a plan for my current work in progress and for myself. I’m excited to get started on it.

Huge thanks to everyone at Playa who made this possible, with extra thanks to Carrie and Kris for being so gracious and wonderful and accommodating <3

Writing Retreat 101

Seven years after I took my first writing for children class, I went on my first writing retreat this November, run on the gorgeous shores of Lake Champlain by the fabulous duo of authors Kate Messner and Linda Urban.

The view from a writing retreat on Lake Champlain.  Don't you feel inspired?

The view from a writing retreat on Lake Champlain. Don’t you feel inspired?

I went because I wanted to meet Kate and Linda, and because it seemed like something that writers “do,” but I did not have any other idea of what to expect or how to prepare.  After going on this retreat, here’s what I would tell other newbie retreaters:

  1. Expect to really focus on one manuscript. We went through many writing exercises that pushed us to think more deeply about our characters and plot structure.  For this reason, I think writers who came with a manuscript they had been working with (instead of one that they pulled out of a drawer) were able to hit the ground running on the writing exercises.  You’ll have more questions in your mind about your manuscript, and a better sense of what you want to address.
  2. It helps to know the works of the people running the retreat. While Kate and Linda referred to a wide variety of books, their most personal and in-depth knowledge came from, not surprisingly, their experiences with their own books.  For example, in a writing exercise about plot, Kate took us through her process for looking for plot holes in her book, CAPTURE THE FLAG; knowing the story ahead of time helped me understand exactly how the exercise should work.

    Having read CAPTURE THE FLAG, made Kate Messner’s writing exercise more meaningful.

  3. Expect to make a bunch of new friends! You’ll meet a fascinating array of people who share your passion for children’s literature, and you’ll be sharing your precious work with them.  I loved hearing about other writers’ journeys, and how they expressed their passion for books and writing.  Participants included children’s book fair organizers, the head of a non-profit giving books to children, a co-host and founder of the #mglitchat Twitter discussions, and a leader in writing pedagogy.
  4. You won’t just work on your manuscript – you’ll work on your craft and your ‘writing life.’ While I thought I had exhausted the depths of books on writing craft, going to the retreat showed me that I was just getting started (and that I needed to take a second look at some of the books I already had, including The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp).  I also loved learning about the writing habits of other writers and what made them strong, consistent writers.  As an extra bonus, Linda shared her excellent #WriteDaily30 program with us, which I’ll write about in a future post.

    Linda Urban found so much inspiration in this book – I decided I needed to take a second look.

  5. You won’t want to leave. The retreat was three days long, and around the middle of the second day, I had the horrible realization that I would have to leave.  Luckily for me, I was going to a conference in a few weeks were I would see some folks from the retreat.  But my big take-away from this was have an exit strategy.  Get the  names and e-mails of your new friends (or Twitter).  Treat yourself to a new book on craft to look forward to.  And as Linda urged us, have one small, concrete step in mind for your manuscript to tackle when you get home.

And of course, you can start planning your next retreat!

Wendy Shang’s next book, THE WAY HOME LOOKS NOW (Scholastic), will be released in April 2015.

Share your favorite retreat tidbit in the comments below.