Justine: Writer’s Retreat, A Newbie’s Guide, Part 2

There's no such thing as "too much chocolate" at a writer's retreat.

There’s no such thing as “too much chocolate” at a writer’s retreat.

As promised, I have a few notes from this weekend’s first annual Eight Ladies Writing Retreat, which I hope you can use to plan your own amazing writer’s weekend.

Overall, the weekend was fabulous. The weather cooperated, there was plenty for us to talk about, and we all had fun either seeing each other again or getting to know the Eight Ladies we’d yet to meet in person.

To piggy-back off of Nancy’s post about the five things she likes about a writer’s retreat, I’m going to share five things I learned hosting this one.

1. Make room assignments.

Some of the Eight Ladies snore. Some require absolute quiet. Some use a sound machine when they sleep. Some can sleep anywhere, on any type of mattress (or a couch, for that matter).

I learned this weekend that you can’t leave the bedrooms up to chance. Find out what your fellow writers need in the sleep department and do your damnedest to accommodate them.

At the same time, everyone needs to be flexible enough to make changes if something just isn’t working out. This may mean switching rooms after a night. No one should be offended if this happens. Simply work together to make sure everyone is comfortable.

And if you’re the attendee and not the hostess? Be honest about what you need for a good night’s rest. You don’t do anyone any favors by saying you can sleep with someone who snores when you can’t. No one will hate you for being straight-up beforehand, but you’ll probably aggravate your fellow writers if you complain about how loud your roommate was last night.

2. Cover the spread (out).

I’m fortunate that my house is large. There are five bedrooms, a formal living room, a dining room, a family room, an upstairs bonus room (aka my husband’s office), a decent sized kitchen, and a very large outdoor patio area. What that meant was we had lots of space to spread out.

The kitchen table ended up being a work area for some. A few of the ladies had plot-and-problem conversations on the patio. Some worked in my husband’s office upstairs, and some floated around wherever they wanted, starting in the recliner, then moving to a couch, then the kitchen table, then the patio.

Basically, ensure you have enough places for noisy conversations to happen at the same time as some serious (quiet) writing.

3. Plan on not planning much

Aside from an evening Skype session with Japan-based Eight Lady Michaeline (see #4 below), we didn’t have anything planned. Most of us are in varying stages of book writing, be it polishing, editing, finishing a draft, prepping for a new story, or brainstorming the next book in a series. What that meant for us was a lot of ad hoc conversations and work sessions.

Kay and Jilly spent a significant portion of Saturday plotting out Kay’s next book. I had a few problems to work through, for which the Eight Ladies totally delivered (at 10:30 at night). Because we didn’t have a firm schedule (breakfast at 8, lunch at noon, brainstorming at 3 p.m., etc.), we could move around, interact, and work on what was important to us or what interested us. The flexibility was liberating. I think we all live by a schedule way too much in our daily lives as it is, so to not have to adhere to one was wonderful.

4. Maximize technology

Unfortunately, not all of the Eight Ladies could make it to Phoenix. Michaeline, who lives in Japan, was unable to attend, but we made a concerted effort to include her by having nightly Skype sessions. Although the connectivity was a bit iffy (it went much better when I used my computer to Skype instead of my phone), it was great to hear her voice (for all of us, a first!) and to brainstorm with her some of the problems she’s having with her story.

The only suggestion I’d make related to this is that the person (or persons) you’re Skyping should have a list of things they’d like help with or would like to discuss. Those of us in PHX had the luxury of finding a live body at a nearby table and picking their brain throughout the day, but when we’re doing a one-hour Skype session, we all wanted to focus on what her issues were, yet I think she was concerned she was dominating the conversation. Yes, she was, but that’s what we wanted. Of course, we didn’t really figure this out until after our last Skype session!

There’s some great apps out there, too, that allow you to video conference with more than one person simultaneously. OoVoo is one such app, and although we haven’t used it, we plan to. So if there are several people in your writing posse who can’t make it to your retreat, research some ways to include all of them in some video conferencing sessions.

5. WCF

No, I did not mis-type “WTF.” I’m referring to the Holy Trinity of writer’s retreats: Wine. Chocolate. Food.

I made sure to load up on all three, but even so, some of the ladies came prepared (Clementine vodka, a few bottles of wine, and a very nice bottle of Maker’s Mark, which I received as a hostess gift). We drank A LOT. I’m sure the trash man raised his brows at the number of glass bottles rattling around in my recycle can today! Still, it was fun, we all got to be a little footloose and fancy-free, and because we didn’t go anywhere, we didn’t have to worry about who was going to drive home.

The meals were easy, designed for large groups (lasagna, pulled pork BBQ done in the crock pot, and pizza). They went a long way and there were plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day. I also had lots of snacks and a fruit and veggie tray to nosh on, as well. The Ladies were also very helpful in the kitchen. They kept the counters clean and the dishwasher going, which meant instead of playing hostess 24/7, I was able to get some writing time in, too. (Thanks, Ladies!)

As for chocolate…man, did we have chocolate. Lots of it. Surprisingly, I still have some left, and we ate A LOT. I’d suggest finding out what everyone’s favorites are. Turns out a lot of us like Reece’s PB cups…we had to make a second run to the store for more. Some of the other things I bought (Snickers and Milky Way, frex) I could have skipped.

A note on the chocolate, though…you can never have enough.

All in all, the weekend was a success and I think everyone had a wonderful time. I’ve already told my husband I want to host again next year and he’s agreed, so mark it in your calendars, my fellow Eight Ladies! The weekend before the Super Bowl!

I hope those of you planning a writer’s retreat learn something from our experience.

Happy retreating!

7 thoughts on “Justine: Writer’s Retreat, A Newbie’s Guide, Part 2

  1. It was a great weekend, Justine. I had a nagging problem with my ms. that every one of my beta readers has mentioned. With the Ladies’ help I got it fixed. I also know what has to happen to address my other big plot-hole. Add to that good company, great weather and lots of chocolate and it was the perfect mid-winter break. Thanks again for hosting.

  2. Everything Jeanne said :-). Another thing we did later in the weekend that (I hope!) made things a little easier was use paper plates and plastic ware. This would be especially important if the retreat were somewhere (like a cabin in the woods) that doesn’t have a dishwasher.

  3. It was great getting away. I was able to work on my story without having to think about hopping up to switch loads in the wash, make dinner, be Mom taxi, etc. The five things Justine listed are very important. We did some adjusting throughout the weekend to accommodate varying needs and it all came out very well in the end, I think.

  4. (-: I was so happy to be included! Originally, we were planning just one Skype session, but I think two worked out really well. I got to hear from you guys a little bit on Session One (and feel I was helping out!), and I got some ideas myself to sleep on. During session two, it was great to talk about my story, work through the stuff I’d slept on, and get some excellent advice.

    I realized that my story is HIGHLY influenced by the stylistic things of My Fair Lady (the movie — someone recommended that I take a look at it to help get unstuck). The time period of MFL is a little later, but when I went to find the ballroom scene, I was struck by the fabulous art glass everywhere on the set. (-: And I have a hapless Freddie in my story, too. Also, my story is about the up-and-comers. They aren’t the highest level of society, but they are struggling to better themselves in old-fashioned, American ways. Henry Higgins isn’t a lord, and he doesn’t give a damn about class except in how it affects accent and behavior.

    (-: I’m still working through other suggestions, and I think I’m unstuck now!

    One thing that was a little bit of a problem was that I couldn’t see everyone’s face very well. I’m a little blind (need to see my eye-doctor about old lady glasses or bifocals). But . . . maybe problem is too strong a word. I regret not being able to identify who helped me with what, but all of the ladies have wonderful, clear voices, and listening was a big thing. (-: I tried not to think too hard about what my big face must have looked like on the TV screen. Self-consciousness would not have been helpful. I think next time, I will try to get the camera set up on a tripod of some sort . . . . (I used my phone.)

    Also . . . Reeses peanut butter cups. OMG. Love those things. I have to make them myself because they don’t sell them here, but fortunately, they are one of the easier candy experiments. I think I modified Nigella’s recipe (-:. I may have to make a batch for a weekend writing blitz.

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