A Writer’s Retreat - Kay Lyons

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A Writer’s Retreat

A writer’s life is never as we’d like it to be, is it? Life is hectic and noisy with impossible schedules to keep, and we’d all like to retreat to a quiet location where needy family members, bosses, telephones and emails can’t disturb us.

Luckily not long ago I was able to do just that—retreat to a friend’s house for some much needed writing time to not only work on my current manuscript, but to plot my next. And dedicate two whole days to the craft of writing—with friends who understand it’s okay that I hear voices in my head. 😉

I took the essentials—chocolate and my AlphaSmart along with lots of popcorn for the all-favorite time in the late evening when we stopped brainstorming plot twists, character arcs, and Deb Dixon’s Goal Motivation and Conflict in exchange for watching and critiquing a movie or two.

We laughed, we talked—but most importantly, we wrote! And when the time came to pack up our things and head our separate ways to our lives of husbands and kids, jobs and responsibilities, we hugged each other tight knowing the precious time we had spent together would never be forgotten. How could it? We have pictures! (big grin)

Now that the weekend is over, I’m back at my usual pace of squeezing writing time in as much as possible, and dreaming of the next time I can sneak away for another retreat so in case you’re wondering what you should take with you if you get the chance to run away and write, I’ve compiled a list to help you out:

1. Plenty of pens, markers, dry erase boards, poster board or sketch paper, post-its, paper, laptops or AlphaSmart. Any essentials you need to plot out a story from beginning to end.

2. Know your characters before you go to the retreat. (But remember fellow writers can help with character development as well if there’s a problem with characterization.) As a character-driven plotter, I’ve found that my story is much easier to write when my characters stay true to themselves. Knowing that your character likes to eat for breakfast, what kind of car they drive, even how they’d react if someone flips them off may seem trivial, but knowing their reactions will prove vital to their growth throughout your story. To me, being able to predict their actions and reactions is key to getting my characters on paper correctly and keeping the story flowing.

We go to our retreats with our characters and the gist of the story in our heads—and end with a work plotted from start to finish while leaving plenty of leeway for pantzers (those who write by the seat of their pants). Which brings me to the next tip.

3. Decide in advance how much plotting you’re comfortable doing so when you’ve got enough twists and turns to suit you, the group can move on to someone else.

I fall somewhere between a heavy plotter and a pantzer. I don’t like knowing every minute aspect of my book in advance, but I do need to know where the story is headed. I must have certain plot points set to guide me along the way before I ever sit down to type the first page. Writing this way allows me to take any journey I want, but also pulls me back on track if I begin to stray too far off course.

4. Enjoy yourself. Your muse cannot strike if you’re tense and edgy. Take some time out beforehand or when you arrive to enjoy a hot bath or a stroll in order to get into a writing frame of mind. For that weekend alone, nothing matters except your writing.

5. Be picky. When planning a retreat, invite writers who are professional enough to give you constructive criticism, but nice enough to chose their words carefully and tactfully. No one wants their work slammed as unworthy, just as someone whose work may sound perfect to you would still like suggestions on improvement. The mix of people is important, so chose your retreat-mates carefully.

That’s it. Simple, isn’t it? All you need to do is pick a weekend, book a location (or if you’re like us, invade a friend’s home), invite writer’s like yourself who are serious about writing and accomplishing certain goals, and go for it.

With luck, the friendships you already have with your fellow writers will deepen, and you’ll come home with a great book begging to be written. The weekend may even rejuvenate your writing if it’s stalled. And if none of the above happen?

Go for the chocolate.

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