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.

1 Comment
  1. Sounds like you chose well for your first retreat. Kate Messner visited a Highlights workshop I attended. She’s lovely. My idea of a perfect retreat would be a small cabin with a fireplace and wi-fi, no telephone or TV, on the coast of northern California for two weeks by myself. Someday…