Four things I Learned from a Writing Retreat

By Patty Smith Hall, @pattywrites

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending my first writing retreat. For those of you who aren’t sure what that is exactly, it’s a chance to get away with other writers for a short period of time and simply write without the concerns of home and job.

But it’s more than that. During my week at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I learned so much, it was almost like a mini writing conference! Here are four things I learned from my retreat:

  • 1 – Be Prepared

One of the great things about a writing retreat is actually getting to write! No dirty clothes calling to you from the laundry room, no boss peeking over your shoulder wondering what you’re doing. You just get to write!

But if you don’t know what you’re going to work on, you can waste valuable time. Before each of us left home, we’d each made our goals for the week and set our writing schedule. Some of us planned to get down as many words as possible, some did edits while still others needed to brainstorm scenes. The great thing about planning is we could lay out our goals to each other. For a week, we had live-in accountability partners to cheer and encourage when needed!

Being prepared also means bring those things that make your writing day easier. Need your office chair to be comfortable? Throw it in the back of your SUV! Can’t write without your favorite coffee cup? Pack it in your suitcase! This week is about getting down words, and if you need your Keurig to do that, then do it!

  • 2 – Be Ready to Learn

I’m ashamed to admit it but I’m the world’s most unorganized writer. It’s not unusual to find little piles of books, articles and notebooks laying around our family room on end tables or the floor. The worst part is digging through material takes away from the time I could be blogging or marketing my books.

When I noticed that one of my housemates had a whiz-bang way of organizing her materials, I asked if she could show me more. For the next hour, she walked me through her system, even sending me templates to use that would make my writing go faster. Just a week later, I can tell a huge difference!

But that wasn’t the only thing I learned. Because we had such a wide variety of experience in our group, we shared about writing programs (I’m finally sold on Scrivener! And OneNote—WOW!) and marketing tools that work over dinner or during a break in writing. And because we were together for a week, we could get together one-on-one and talk about what works and doesn’t work, be it in our stories or our writing world, then brainstorm ideas to fix the problem.

  • 3- Be Aware of Other’s Writing Styles

We had two distant groups in our house—the early morning crowd and those who wrote late into the night. The early morning group was generally up by seven and at their computers by eight. It wasn’t unusual that these guys were half-way through their word count by the time the night owls came out of their rooms.

Same thing goes for the night crew. There were many nights I’d peek out of my room to find one of the girls working out in the living room. These differences are reminders of how uniquely and wonderfully made we are. Be respectful of these differences and remember—just because someone goes to bed at nine doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It just means they’ve got to be up at seven to go to work!

  • 4 – Be Open-minded to New Ideas

One of the things I loved about the retreat was the location itself. The Outer Banks plays a part in the next book I’m writing so I had the chance to visit various areas where scenes might take place. But the more I learned about its rich history(did you know there’s a British cemetery there?)the more I found myself brainstorming ideas for other books that could be set there.

So get out and explore for a little while each day. Visit the nearby towns and villages. Talk to the locals. Tell them you’re a writer. You’ll be surprised what you might learn or who might be interested in helping you. I met a lovely lady who owned a small independent bookstore in a village not far from where we stayed who offered to host a book signing for me. A local historian gave me a list of names of people who might be helpful with the research on my next book. Put yourself out there. If you don’t feel comfortable going on your own, see if one of your housemates will go with you. Just think of all the brainstorming you can do in the car on your way!

By the end of the week, everyone had signed up for next year’s retreat. We’d worked, made friends, even been silly at times(ask me about the Russian in the Sound.)I’d barely pulled out of the driveway before I was looking forward to next October!

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Meet seven of Turtle Springs, Kansas’, finest women who are determined to revive their small town after the War Between the States took most of its men. . .and didn’t return them. The ladies decide to advertise for husbands and devise a plan for weeding out the riff raff. But how can they make the best practical choices when their hearts cry out to be loved?

Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published, award-winning author with Love Inspired Historical/Heartsong and currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. She currently lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her next release, New Hope Sweethearts will
be available in July on Amazon.

I Went to a Writing Retreat Without My Laptop and Survived

by Pamela S. Meyers

A log cabin writers
…the words jumped out of my computer screen as if to say, “Do
it!”  The picture of the cabin drew me in.
Spending a late autumn weekend in a cabin in my beloved
native Wisconsin woods sounded like a great way to plot a storyline for the
sequel to my new book.

The cabin was located about a three-hour drive from my
suburban Chicago home. Just far enough to feel like I really was away from
it all. I claimed one of the three bedrooms offered and made plans to attend.
I was told that Internet connection would be spotty but I could
drive to a nearby town to check for emails. Important since I was in constant communication with my editor for an upcoming book. The plans for the weekend were made.
I’d attend my Bible study the morning of my departure, then after lunch make
the drive to the cabin. Little did I know that the Chicago Cubs would clench
the World Series title the night before and I’d be awake until after two
a.m. thanks to my over-exuberant neighbors’ celebrations. Regardless, I had to
be up at the crack of dawn for responsibilities at the Bible study. No sleeping in for me.
That afternoon, with my eyelids at half mast, I hopped on
The I-90 Tollway and began my trek north. By the time I crossed the state line
into Wisconsin a little more than an hour later, my adrenalin took over.
The sight of the rolling Wisconsin hills, some still wearing autumn’s glorious
colors of reds and yellows, helped to regain clarity of mind. I couldn’t wait to
sit with my laptop and be inspired as I tapped away on the keyboard and the plot began
to emerge.
Then the thought hit me.
I’d left my laptop
at home. I don’t know how I knew without looking, but I did. Praying I was
wrong, I pulled off at the next exit and found a place to park. My computer bag
was not in the car. Which also meant my phone charger wasn’t in the car
I’d gone too far to turn around, so my only option was to
keep going. I did pack a notebook and a pen
for my devotions. And I could use them to scribble out ideas. Isn’t that how
authors of old wrote? As for the phone charger, I’d have to find a Walmart or
similar store. I turned it all over to God. If anything I could enjoy walks in the woods while the others wrote on their laptops.
Within minutes I spotted the familiar blue and white Walmart sign and pulled off at the next exit.

By now the sun was quickly setting and I’d
have to hurry if I didn’t want to be searching for a cabin in the Wisconsin
woods in the dark. I raced into the store and scurried the electronics
department. By then sleep deprivation had returned, and I could barely get the
words out to a rather disinterested clerk that I needed a phone charger. Stumbling over
my words, I explained I was sleep deprived from being up too late watching
the World Series. 

She gave me a blank stare and said she never watched sports.
I picked out what I needed and as we walked to the cash register I said, “Here
I am going to a writers retreat and I left my computer at home. What writer
does that?” I received another blank stare. Something we always joke about at
writing conferences popped into my mind. Remember, we aren’t the only ones in
the hotel. The other guests are “normals.” At least I didn’t tell her I was
coming to Wisconsin to plot how to kill someone off.

I made it to the cabin at dusk and stepped into a beautiful,
cozy room, complete with a large stone fireplace—perfect. Later, when I stepped
into my bedroom I was pleased to find a welcome bag containing a notebook and
pen. I wouldn’t need to use my prayer journal.
The next day, after some instruction on characterization, I
sat down with the notebook and pen and before long, I had a couple great plot
points for my hero. The endorphins kicked in and I wrote at characterizing my character for at least an hour. By
the end of the second day, I had a great start on putting a plot together and
had driven into town and took pictures of a unique old building I might use in
a story. Amazingly, I hadn’t missed my computer at all.

God taught me a lesson I should have known. Even when it
seems I am ill equipped, I really am not because the One who called me to this
gig called writing is always with me and He will provide using whatever is available.
In my case it was a pen and notebook and nothing more.


I Went to a Writing Retreat Without My Laptop and Survived by Pamela S. Meyers (Click to Tweet)

God taught me a lesson I should have known~ Pamela S. Meyers (Click to Tweet)

He will provide using whatever is available~ Pamela S. Meyers (Click to Tweet)

A native
of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago
with her two rescue cats. Her novels include Thyme for Love and her 1933
historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Her novella. What Lies Ahead, is part of a novella collection, The Bucket List Dare, which is now
available at Amazon in both print and Kindle formats. Second Chance Love from Bling!, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing
of the Carolinas, will release in January 2017. When she isn’t at her laptop
writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and
other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.