Writing Retreats – Are They Worth It?

by Alena Tauriainen, writing as Alena Wendall @alenawendall

My first writing retreat was a huge step of faith. I knew nothing about writing. I didn’t even know what a panster was or POV. I’m telling you I was the true definition of a newbie writer.

I found my favorite author Susan May Warren and looked her up. She had a writing retreat,  Storycrafter’s Retreat, scheduled that October (before she moved it to an online course). During that weekend, she taught story crafting in such a simple way that the mountain before me now seemed scalable.

Not only did I learn a ton about story crafting, something unexpected came from that retreat–friendships. There were only about a dozen of us at that first retreat, but we are still friends 7+ years later. In fact, some are my very best friends today. We room together at different conferences, became craft partners, email each other and text almost daily. So, yes, I believe writing retreats are worth the time, money and effort.

Observations of a Retreat Coordinator

Fast forward a few years and I’ve since become the Retreats Coordinator for MBT. I’ve noticed a couple of things over the past eight years of conferences. If you are considering attending a retreat/conference, can I offer some advice?

Prepare. People that prepare for the conference, get the most out of it. Your time is precious and so are your resources. Plan on giving it your all. Some retreats like the Deep Thinkers Retreat require prep work. Make the time to complete it and give it your best.

Take The Advice. If you are spending time and resources to attend a conference presented by a veteran author that you respect, then take their advice. I’ve seen many people refuse—not wanting to change the manuscript, etc. only to come back the next year and admit they should have listened after hearing from an editor or agent.

Minimize Distractions. When you attend a retreat, you’ve entered an atmosphere intended to maximize your learning. That phone that keeps going off or the text messages that keep beeping in, can cause broken focus. Life happens, trust me I know. But if you ask to only be called in an emergency, it will help.

Buy The Recordings. My Book Therapy sends you the recordings of the Deep Thinkers Retreat at no additional charge. But if you attend a retreat that offers them at a cost, they are typically worth it to reinforce the classes taught.

Hide. Schedule an extra day away before you return to the real world. Take the time to review your notes, type them up etc. Plan how you are going to implement what you’ve learned. If not, encapsulate your notes and plans on the airplane ride back home. This helps me put into action the things I learned.

I can honestly say, I’m agented and working on my third manuscript because of the skills I’ve learned from My Book Therapy and the retreats I’ve attended.

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Writing as Alena Wendall, Alena Tauriainen pens contemporary Christian romance novels that always end with a happily ever after. By day, she partners with her lifelong mate Clyde, to run the family HVAC business. She manages both business and family life with four lovable but crazy kids. She is the Retreats Coordinator for My Book Therapy. She is represented by Rachelle Gardner with Books & Such Literary Management. Visit her at alenawendall.com.  

The Starting Point for your Character’s Inner Journey

I am up north at the writing cabin this week, getting ready for next week’s Deep Woods Writing Camp.

It’s gorgeous here, quiet and last night I was able to catch up on one of my television indulgences, Blue Bloods. In the season premier, wise police commish Frank Reagan sat at the dinner table and talked about the loss of one of the main characters in a freak accident (I’m not telling you who). He said, essentially, that we sit for a while at the table, sharing the journey with our fellow hungerers, and it’s during this ‘meal’ we make an impact. When we leave, our empty chair is noticed, and not easily filled.

We sit among the hungry.

The book business can be overwhelming. I do a lot of “sample downloading” before a trip, then read through the samples to find the books I’m going to relax with on the plane, or on a boat, waiting to dive, or even early in the morning, on the beach. I’m picky with my time, my content…I want a book that will entertain, help me escape and leave me feeling nourished. The books that linger with me are those that leave me strangely healed, at least for the moment.

Healed. It’s not like I walk around with gaping wounds, but like everyone, I have little lies, painful emotional nicks and scratches and when I read a book filled with truth, whether it’s a romance, or general fiction, or suspense, I feel as if I’ve been fed. Someone at the table has offered me a morsel of nourishment on the journey.

Why are we here? More importantly, why do we write?

We sit among the hungry.

I attended a women’s retreat last weekend, and the speaker pointed out Matthew 9:36. When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Harassed. Helpless.

Hungry.

Hungry for grace. Hungry for forgiveness. Hungry for Hope. Hungry for love.

What have you hungered for? What has nourished you?

Grace? Hope? Redemption?

If you’ve hungered for grace—write a story about grace. If you ached for second chances—write a story of redemption. If you are hungry for hope…you get the picture.

Because if you hunger for it, so do others.

(and by the way, giving your character a hunger is the starting point for understanding his/her inner journey!)

Your job in this world, and especially as a novelist, is to pass the potatoes–to nourish those at your table with the nourishment you’ve been given.

Your seat at the table matters. Your story matters.

Go, write something brilliant.

Susie May

P.S. We are all about going deep in a novel, to understanding not just the plot and characters, but the life-changing themes a novelist layers into their work. If you want to learn how to write books that change lives, then you’re a good fit for our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat in Florida, Feb 23-27. We just opened registration. Payment plans available. Click HERE for more details.

When I Can’t Becomes I Can

by Kariss Lynch, @karisslynch

In high school, my band director erased can’t from my vocabulary. We had been a championship band, a finalist in the state for 4A high schools. But after two years, of mediocre performances, we were left wondering if we were has-beens that had become wanna-bes.

But he never settled for defeat. He delighted in giving us the most challenging routines and music while watching us rise to the occasion. And he tolerated nothing less than our absolute best, knowing that our greatest potential often lay just below our valid but weak excuses. It took training. Sweltering hours on pavement in Texas weather, running the routine over and over again until our clothes clung to sweaty frames. Then we hit the classroom, fingers meticulously skipping over the keys until we knew every note by heart and could play it standing or running in rhythm.

I remember trying and trying to get a note set correct and failing miserably (in front of fifty of my peers, by the way) on more than one occasion. After the fifth time, I quit trying.

“I can’t do it.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I can’t do it, Mr. C.”

“I don’t understand that word. Try again.”

It’s amazing what I came up with in the absence of that word. I’m having trouble. This is hard. How in the world do I do this? I don’t know how. But not one of those gave me the option to stop trying. And every excuse carried with it the opportunity to discover a new journey in the struggle.

He never let me quit in the classroom or on the marching field. Slow down, sure. Take each note one finger at a time, yep. But NEVER quit. Because he knew I could conquer the struggle if I set my mind to it, no matter the challenge.

Success lay just below the I can’ts just waiting to come to fruition with the acknowledgment of “I can…somehow.” And that lesson has shaped my writing journey. Rejections became detours. Can’ts became other challenges to conquer.

There have been many moments that I have been tempted to say “I can’t” in the middle of writing or editing or even marketing. But somehow, I meet the deadline every time, proud of the finished product.

Much like with marching or learning music, I keep writing until the words become an extension and enhancement of the story instead of simply an exploration to jog my creativity. Every time I finish, I know I CAN. I just have to discover HOW. I determined that I wanted it much more than I feared it.

Talent and passion may come naturally. But success as a result of those attributes NEVER comes without hard work and a willingness to push past rejection, defeat, and redirection. As soon as you purge the excuses, the story blooms, and it’s only a matter of time before others outside your circle begin to notice the beauty of the finished product.

By the way, when we purged the excuses, our band went on to place first in every competition that season and ended the semester and my high school career as 4A Texas State Champions.

This thing you keep attempting that you think is impossible? That next step you aren’t sure about? They’re possible. It just takes placing one foot in front of the other until you see the results.

TWEETABLES:

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Kariss Lynch writes contemporary romance about characters with big dreams, adventurous hearts, and enduring hope. She is the author of the Heart of a Warrior series and loves to encourage her readers to have courage. In her free time, she hangs out with her family and friends, explores the great outdoors, and tries not to plot five stories at once. Connect with her at karisslynch.com, or on Facebook, Instagram, or Goodreads.