Attacking by Retreating

This past weekend, I indulged in a writing retreat with two fellow writers.  We gathered at one writer’s home on Friday afternoon, and we left on Sunday afternoon.  While there, we talked about writing, ate, talked about the world, ate, talked about reading, ate, and worked on our various  works-in-progress.  (One of us was re-reading a prior book in a series, prior to writing the current book.  One of us was writing the final scenes for an almost-finished manuscript, adding the bits prompted by her penultimate read-through.  One of us — OK, me — was creating a writing synopsis, a pitch synopsis, and the first chapter of a new, currently-unsold project.)  All of us are published authors — some with e-presses, some with a variety of print publishers.

Before I wrote full-time, I dreamed of going on retreats like this.  I longed for the ability to devote entire days to my craft.  I longed for being disconnected from my office-tied BlackBerry.

Now that I write full-time, the allure of  day-long writing has faded somewhat.  Frankly, there are too many deadline-driven days where all I do is sit in my chair and write, without any true breaks.  Nevertheless, I looked forward to this retreat for months (literally — we planned it in September), and I was not disappointed this weekend.

Writing is, almost always, a solitary act.  (Yes, there are collaborations, and there are shared world activities, but the vast majority of writing is done alone.)  Retreats, though, pack in sociability around the solitary writing.  Meals offer physical breaks and sustenance, but they also offer companionship, conversation, and the invaluable confirmation that other folks are walking this same, challenging road.

My dream retreat would last an entire week.  We would go to a place near nature — either the woods or the ocean, with adequate trails or beaches to provide one-hour  excursions.  Our accommodations would include individual rooms for each attendee, complete with ergonomically appropriate writing desks, and comfy reading chairs.  We would define times for meals, with timers set to ring at agreed-upon times to return us to our work (one hour for breakfast, two hours for lunch; late dinner would segue into break-from-writing activities, with campfires a special bonus extra.  I wouldn’t mind a movie or three in the evenings, but I’m not interested in talent shows or other rah-rah activities.)  We would have a dozen participants, all of whom write genre (but not necessarily all of whom write fantasy and SF).  We would have no Internet access, and cell phone/3G access would be limited to the far end of the exercise range — i.e., I could be in touch with family, friends, and the Interwebz, but only if I walked for half an hour, first.

The retreats I’ve enjoyed in the past have had bits and pieces of these ideas, but not all of them in one place.  (Mind you, I’m quite grateful for the retreats I’ve managed to attend so far!)

What about you?  Have you been on one or more writing retreats?  Do you think retreats would work for your writing style?  If so, what are the elements of your ideal retreat? (And okay, those of you who don’t write:  Do you think that there’s a place for “reader retreats” — for like-minded readers of genre to get together to read intensively and to socialize intermittently about the experience?)

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  1. 1. Deborah Blake

    When you arrange this dream retreat (I vote for by the water!) you’d better include me in!!!!

    I’ve never been on a writer’s retreat, but with the right (write) people, it would be wonderful.

  2. 2. Mindy Klasky

    See, that’s another whole line of reasoning… Who would we invite on our dream writers’ retreat?!?

  3. 3. Elias McClellan

    Who you would want on that type of excursion is more important than the local, activities, and food. The writer’s group I’m in now is highly disparate bunch. One is a little, white-haired, grandmother and highschool teacher. She’s writing historical fiction and pitching how benign slavery was. Another is a misogynistic-racist I’ve already put in check twice; only been in the group since December. I (being the quick-temptered, socially challenged one in the bunch) am sure I wouldn’t be on anyone’s short list for a retreat or the long list either.

    Maybe its different when working with people you admire. But when I consider the writers I admire, I don’t know that I’d want to hang out with them. Or, for that matter, they’d want to hang with me. I consider writing a solitary pursuit and I have to consciously turn it off when I’m around the ray of sunshine (sanity, love, life) that is my Mrs.

    Maybe its different for women since, by and large you do mature quicker than men, but thats assuming that we ever mature at all. Personally, I think the mature man is a myth constructed by women to force us to aspire beyound our natural state of silliness.

  4. 4. Mindy Klasky

    Hmmm… I’d have a hard time getting through a two-hour writers group meeting with racists and misogynists and other people with whom I disagree so strongly – much less an entire weekend or week of writers retreat! While I’m sure that -ists *can* provide good critiques of writing, I’d find it difficult to accept their perspectives and listen to the core of what they have to say.

    (as for the maturity of the male in the species – I smiled when I read your words. I know some men who are mature, but a lot who aren’t. And some who use the “impossibility” argument as an excuse!)

  5. 5. Elias McClellan

    @4, I’ll have you know I resemble that remark! But as fatherhood approaches, I’m trying harder not to lean on that crutch. As for the group. We three are the exceptions to an otherwise very productive/instructive bunch. I tone out those two and they do the same with me. Plus, I’m learning to behave myself rather than act a total 12 year old, resorting to scuffles to articulate my point.

Author Information

Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of eleven novels, including WHEN GOOD WISHES GO BAD and HOW NOT TO MAKE A WISH in the As You Wish Series. She also wrote GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, about a librarian who finds out she's a witch. Mindy also wrote the award-winning, best-selling Glasswrights series and the stand-alone fantasy novel, SEASON OF SACRIFICE. Visit site.

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