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.  

That time we changed the world in our pajamas…

So, every time I teach someplace, people say to me–Hey! when are you going to publish a course on how to write a romance?

Good question. I LOVE teaching on how to write a romance. Because writing a great romance isn’t just about a boy who meets a girl, falls in love and lives happily ever after. A powerful, heart-tugging romance goes deeper. The romance that moves us is the one that heals the deep wounds of the characters, grants hidden dreams and helps them become better people.

Makes an impact on our world.

Image result for braveheart romance


C’mon–even BRAVEHEART has a romance. Deep down we all love a romance that overcomes dire obstacles and wins the day. And because of that, a great romance is about the expectations. We expect to fall in love, just a little. To feel something when we close the book.

And yet, people think romances are easy to write, simply because there are so many of them. (did you know that romance is the #1 selling genre?) And yes, there are plenty of bad, sappy, poorly written romances out there. But, there are also romances that deeply move us, change us, spark hope in our jaded hearts. And those…the ones that matter…take thought, deliberation and skill.

But here’s the truth..yes, romances all use the same powerful ingredients. How they are combined, along with powerful characters and an author’s unique voice makes each romance a different story. Still, it behooves us to learn the ingredients and how to combine them to deliver that powerful story.

A few years back, I gathered aspiring romance authors together and taught them all my secrets. Many of them are now published. (Waving to you, PT Bradley, Beth Vogt, Melissa Tagg, Lisa Jordan and so many more.) But as my schedule got crazy, and hotel prices went up, I thought…there has to be a better way.

What if…what if taught a class on line? So students didn’t have to leave their homes. They could even, I dunno, wear their pajamas to class.

And, I could make it cheaper, because no one has to travel!


I’m super excited to announce an online course on How to Write a Brilliant Romance! (Excited? Me too! Click here for details!)

Learn in your pajamas. In your house. Or cabin. Or apartment. Or dorm room…wherever you are, right?

If you want to learn how to write everything from a thread of romance to a full out romance, this course is for you!

You’ll learn:

  • How to structure your romance
  • How to create heroes and heroines readers will fall in love with
  • How and when your hero and heroine should meet
  • How to make two characters fall in love
  • How to write a sizzling kiss
  • How to create believable conflict
  • How to keep the tension high in the middle of a story
  • How to put romance on every page

Most of all, how to write a romance that makes an impact.

AND, amazing, brilliant, NYT best-selling author Rachel Hauck to help me. SUPER AWESOME!

Click here to read more about the Brilliant Romance Seminar.

This was first presented as a seminar, so it’s like we’re having a conversation –a fun one, with you on how to write that romance.

AND, here’s the best part…Since this a brand new course on Novel.Academy, we’re offering it at $100 off the regular price!

To make this easy, simply click HERE for your IN on that awesome discount!

And…that’s not all!! Scroll down on the page to see the EXTRAs you get with this amazing course. (classes to make your story brilliant, compelling and off to a great start!)

Your romance matters! Let’s write something brilliant!


Susie May


When The Journey Seems Long

I like to think of myself as a patient person. I think we all like to believe we possess the characteristic of patience. But what happens when we’re faced with a huge virtual stop sign that holds up our plans?

That’s what I’m facing right now as a writer. As I struggle with the daily-ness of raising my family, supporting that family – circumstances become an unsurpassable roadblock living out my writing dreams.

Mind the Timeline

When we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband planned a surprise weekend in the hill country of Texas. (Yes, we have some hills.) While there, we stopped by this amazing prayer garden called “The Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden” in Kerrville, Texas. It’s 23-acres garden, that contains a 77-foot steel cross, along with many other works of donated art.

The garden has a huge sign that delineates the time frame from conception of the idea to its completion. I couldn’t help but notice the time span: December 2001 to July 2010.

Then I thought about Biblical heroes who had to wait for their promises. You know that guy Noah? He built an ark and waited for rain. Conservative estimates are at 75 years. He carried out the task of building the ark and didn’t even know what rain was! He served faithfully with a looooonnnnggg wait time included. Hmm … is my wait really that long?

Recently, I bemoaned how little time I have to write and my ever-present competing responsibilities. My writer-friends gently encouraged me to see outside my narrow gray-colored lenses. Okay, it was more like a loving whack upside the head, but hey, it worked. I thought I would pass their insights on to you.

  1. Write. Keep taking baby steps. Write that sentence. Write the next sentence. Write the paragraph. Write the scene. Write the chapter and then the next. You will soon have a book. Large blocks of writing time in this season of my life won’t happen. (I’m writing this as I wait for my daughter at the dentist.) Take whatever time you can. Write from your phone if you have to, but write.
  2. Don’t compare. Several friends started on this writing journey at the same time as me. Today, some of them have an even dozen books written and published. God had to remind me, my timetable is not His timetable.
  3. Prioritize your priorities. My Mom went to heaven when I was two years old. That event has colored every aspect of my life today. She had four young children and within a year cancer had taken her life. I know we are not guaranteed tomorrow and I cherish the time I have with my kids. For me, during this season, writing comes after time with my children.
  4. Leave the rest to God. I’m striving for obedience to the calling He’s placed in my life. To write the stories He’s given me. I’m working to do what I can, learn what I can, and leave the rest in His hands.



When it just isn’t fair…

You know that feeling you have when your best friend gets asked out by the cutest guy in school, the one you’ve been in love with since second grade?

Or gets picked for the promotion, or the cool project, or is awarded the teacher of the year award, and you’ve been doing exactly the same thing, working just as hard…or harder than your friend?

I remember watching, my heart sinking, as my son struggled year after year to inch his way ahead of a friend/competitor in track. He’d always lost just by a hair.

Even though they were both half a track ahead of everyone else.

And the worst part was, my son worked harder than his friend, giving every morsel of talent he possessed.

It just wasn’t fair.

This past year, we’ve had quite a few MBT/Novel.Academy authors who’ve inked new deals, first time deals or won accolades.

My best friend got a starred review from Booklist. And made the NYT for 7 weeks.

I love it.

But when those happy accomplishments pass you by, it’s hard not to say… really, what’s wrong with me?

Why am I not getting published? Winning awards? Landing on the NYT?

And of course you’re truly thrilled for your friend. But even while you’re cheering, the negative voices inside say…you’ll never be enough.


You could remind yourself that publishing is not magic…it’s hard work. And that there are seasons for your career, including the season where you simply do the work, no accolades, no awards. You just keep running.

Keep believing.

And you don’t criticize yourself for not attaining what your friend attained. Yes, you look at your work and ask…can I write better? If so, give yourself some goals. (This self-evaluation is not a bad thing, if you don’t let negative voices shout the loudest!)

But, if you are putting in the time, learning the craft and writing, then you are doing everything right.

By the way, when you’re writing your story and you’re looking for a way to motivate your character through Act 2, try adding this moment in for your hero. A scene at the beginning of ACT 2 where he sees a friend achieve what he wants. My guess is he’ll dig a little deeper, fight a little harder.

I’ve learned that the good will you give others will come back to bless you, someday.

And, if you’re a person of faith, you get to add in the ingredient that there is a plan for your good, even if you have to wait for it.

Waiting doesn’t mean you sit on the sofa with the remote. Waiting means training so you are ready for that moment when it’s your turn to ink the deal.

With my son’s hard work, he eventually went to the State track championship in two events.

This week, I found out my latest book had earned a Publisher’s Weekly starred review.


But even more awesome, now I get to turn around and cheer those running with me.

No, life isn’t fair. But maybe that’s okay. Because it requires us to dig deep, self-evaluate and keep training. Stick with it, and your time will come.

Train well. Write well. Win well.

Your story matters.

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

Susie May




P.S. Sometimes you just need some storycrafting advise to get yourself started. We have a FREE Starter Kit for Aspiring Novelists!

And, if you need help plotting your novel, try The Story Equation. “The Story Equation is pure genius.” — Randy Ingermanson, author of Writing Fiction for Dummies