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.

TWEETABLES:
Tweet: Writing Retreats-Are They Worth It? by @alenawendall https://ctt.ec/7ENXn+ #writing

Tweet: 5 Tips to Make the Most of #Writing Retreats by @alenawendall #amwriting https://ctt.ec/Y60e3+ 
 

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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.  

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:

Tweet: When I can’t becomes I can by @KarissLynch via @NovelAcademy #writing #encouragement https://ctt.ec/906Gs+

Tweet: “Every time I finish, I know I CAN. I just have to discover HOW.” by @KarissLynch via @NovelAcademy #writing https://ctt.ec/2d6XL+

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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.

 

An Introvert’s Guide to Writers Conferences

by Connilyn Cossette,@ConniCossette 

Last week was the annual ACFW conference, which, for many writers, is one of the highlights of the year. Let me tell you, stepping out of my comfort zone to pursue a writing career was scary enough, but going to that first conference to mingle with hundreds of people I didn’t know was terrifying. If you are an introvert like me, then the prospect of small talk with strangers is a little like nails on the chalkboard, but if you have a plan you can face any writers conference with confidence.

The best way I’ve found to push past my natural bent to clam up during writers conferences is to brainstorm conversation starters in advance. Open-ended questions are best, so try to avoid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type questions if possible. Here are some great ones to get you started:

  • How long have you been writing?
  • Which genre do you write?
  • Which sessions are you attending?
  • What are you hoping to accomplish this week?
  • Tell me about your work in progress.
  • Who are your favorite authors?
  • What got you started writing?
  • What great tips have you learned so far this week?
  • What’s your elevator pitch? (This has the benefit of helping people practice!)
  • Which agents/editors are you meeting with?
  • How are your appointments going so far?
  • Which critique group are you a part of?

The possibilities are endless! Write a few of them down if you are nervous and scan over them before you head to a meal or a class to keep them fresh in your mind. And don’t forget to bring your business cards wherever you go, exchanging cards is a great way to break the ice.

Also, keep in mind that the writing industry is full of introverts. We are, in general, a very introspective sort, which is a great strength for a writer. Start out by assuming that most of the people in the room are probably feeling a lot like you, a little out of sorts, a little insecure, and more interested in making strong connections than meaningless small-talk. At my first conference, I was at a table all by myself, feeling like a fish out of water, when two gals purposefully sat down on either side of me and engaged me in conversation. That breakfast was the beginning of two very precious friendships and writing partnerships for me. So make an effort to search out someone looks a little uncomfortable or is standing alone, you never know if that person is a future writing partner, a future best friend, or just someone who will help you practice your pitch or pray with you before an appointment.

So relax fellow introvert, plan ahead, keep yourself open to divine appointments, and keep in mind that all of us writers are just a wee bit different than the “normals,” anyhow.

Tweet: An Introvert’s Guide to Writers Conferences by @connicossette via @Novel.Academy #writing https://ctt.ec/c09bu+

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Connilyn Cossette is the CBA Best-Selling author of the Out from Egypt Series with Bethany House Publishing. Her debut novel, Counted with the Stars, was a finalist for both an INSPY Award and a Christian Retailing’s Best Award. There’s not much she likes better than digging into the rich ancient world of the Bible, uncovering buried gems of grace that point toward Jesus, and weaving them into an immersive fiction experience. Although a Pacific Northwest native, she now lives in a little town near Dallas, Texas with her husband of twenty years and two awesome kids, who fill her days with laughter, joy, and inspiration. Connect with her at www.connilyncossette.com.

Your Spiritual Packing List

by Angela Arndt, @aearndt

The 2017 ACFW Conference starts in the next week or so and the tension is already in the air. (My air, at least.) Will I get the appointments I want? Will I talk to the editors who publish the type of book I write?

Worry hangs like a backpack for weeks before the conference. Will I come home with a request for a query? A proposal? A full? Or, empty-handed?

I worry about my professional presence:

  • Does my One Sheet reflect my book well enough?
  • Is my elevator speech interesting?
  • And those pesky business cards: can I find them, should I update them, do I even need them?

I worry about getting there:

  • The TSA regulations, what should I carry on and what should I pack?
  • Which shoes are the easiest to get on and off?
  • Will I be able to get to the correct gate and make my connecting flight in time?

Sound familiar? I would do better to focus on this list, too:

  • Prepare to do the best I can.
  • Make a list of things to do and take.
  • Check off the items as I go.
  • Then forget it.

By that I mean stop worrying. (Yes, I’m talking to myself as I write this.)

  • Stop worrying about how people look at you.
  • Stop worrying if you’ll get an agent, an editor, or a contract.
  • Stop worrying if you’ll get a request for a query, proposal, partial or full.

Some of you may think this is your last conference, your last chance to accomplish your dream. I’ve been there, too, but you never know what God has in mind. Open your heart and mind to His leading. In order to do that, you (and I) need to make one more checklist.

Here’s your Spiritual Packing List.

  • Focus on how the conference will bless you. Remember, you’ll be with thousands who have a common goal of glorifying Christ with their story. When we sing, it’ll be like a tiny slice of heaven.
  • Okay, that’s a given but if I were to post all the things we could pray about, the list would be a whole post by itself. Thankfully, the ACFW staff and volunteers have prepared a 40 Days of Prayer for the ACFW Conference in the ACFW loop emails.
  • Bless others. How? Listen with your heart and watch for those who need encouragement. Find someone who is more nervous than you. Invite a lone passenger into the elevator, even if you have to crowd to get him or her in. If someone’s standing alone in the dining room, call them over your table. Pray with someone who is visibly upset.

After the conference is over when you’re tired and ready to go home, remember the ways you blessed someone and you’ll never remember being nervous.

Click to Tweet: Attending an upcoming #writers conference? @aearndt shares your spiritual packing list #writing https://ctt.ec/0xUHa+

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Angela Arndt writes women’s fiction with a thread of romance. Stories of strong, independent women in difficult situations set in small Southern towns are her favorite. She and her husband live outside one in the middle of a big wood with thousands and thousands of honeybees. Visit her at www.angelaarndt.com