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April 2017

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Writer wrebooted

I'm back from my retreat, glowing, relaxed, and chock full o' new ideas.  And with a to-do list that's two miles long.

I started the trip with the New England SCBWI conference, which for the second year running has been the best writers' conference I've attended (well, I must give a nod to the Rutgers One-on-One Plus conference, which is also right up there with the best).  Then I joined two writer friends at the Fortress of Semi-Solitude for about five days of writing.

This trip was everything I could have hoped for.  Some of my good fortune was really outside my control: plain dumb luck (such as glorious weather) and the generosity of other people (kellyrfineman for inviting us and being such a gracious hostess;[info]angeladegroot for good company; Kelly's aunt and uncle for allowing us to use their secluded condo).  But aside from luck, here are the things I did to make the most of this week.  I'm listing them in case any of them appeal to you as things you might want to try:

At the conference:

1. Took a mix of craft
(J.L. Bell's session on narrative voice; Mitali Perkins's "Straight Talk on Writing Race"); business/promotional (Padma Venkatraman's class on public speaking), and creative-stretch classes (Jeannine Atkins's class on poetry; Laban Carrick Hill's class on verse narrative).  For me, poetry is a "creative stretch" because I tend to be much better at prose, and to spend much more time on prose.  The purpose of creative stretching is to bring new elements into my writing and keep me from stagnating.

And by the way, all of these classes were excellent.  As was Cynthia Lord's keynote speech.

2. Met new people.  I am not only an introvert but shy too, which makes meeting new people a challenge.  But at a children's writers' conference, you know that at least you have one thing in common with everyone else there: an interest in children's literature.  And so I smile and say hello, and often an interesting conversation springs up.  I was blessed with engaging lunchtime companions both days of the conference.

3. Took breathers.  Thanks to the hotel's fitness room and a solitary mid-day stroll, I was able to get some exercise and have short breaks from the large crowds.

At the retreat:

1. Stayed away from the internet, and other responsibilities and distractions.  I checked my email only once, near the end of the week when I already had a lot of work under my belt.  I didn't do anything else online: no blogging, no blog reading, no message boards.  I love all of those things and will resume them starting today, but my main goal for the week was to concentrate on my fictional worlds, my works in progress.

The other point of going away was to free myself from any other obligations: day job, laundry, bills, the dozens of activities that can fill up a day and edge out writing.  This week, the writing came first.

2. Brought plenty to do.  I brought a short story to mark up, a novel that's well underway, and the beginning of a new novel.  I revised the short story fairly quickly.  I had hoped to make progress with the first novel, but I brought the other in case I got stuck with the first or (laugh here) finished it.  As it turned out, I didn't need to touch the second novel; I made progress with the first and never bogged down.  But I was ready for the fickleness of the Muse; I made sure I wouldn't run out of things to do.  I also drafted a flash-fiction piece on the ride home, but that was a bonus.

3. Found excellent companions with common goals.  Some of this is luck, naturally, but Kelly and Angela and I talked about our goals before the first time we ever retreated together: 1) Write a lot.  2) Pool our efforts for dinner and usually lunch too, but keep the meals simple (we're here to write, not cook).  3) Relax together at the end of the day.  This meant that we respected one another's writing times and spaces; we'd exchange occasional remarks or jokes during the day, but most of the time, silence reigned.  Lunchtime and nighttime were our social times.

4. Took nourishing breaks.  One advantage to the Fortress of Semi-Solitude is its location in a mountain town, and the timing of our retreat in the off-season.  I took long walks in the woods every day.  We rarely saw or heard other people.  Every evening, after some seven hours of writing, we put on a movie--our tastes running heavily to Jane Austen stories but also including musicals such as "Mamma Mia!" which I would never be able to get my husband to watch.  (When you've spent all day writing a gritty YA novel, nothing cuts through the angst like ABBA tunes.)  I finished each day reading in bed.

I am glad (if a little wistful) to be back!


It sounds like a perfectly wonderful time. I love your approach to the conference. When I looked at your conference I was amazed at the sheer number of options you had available to you. We usually only have a few places where there are two classes at the same time. Makes me think, once again, your conference might be worth the airfare.

The retreat also sounds wonderful. Do you find it easy to write away from home? Have you always been able to do that? I used to be able to write anywhere when my kids were little but I am having trouble now. I need to learn how to do that.
The conference is excellent--I also have family in that part of the country, and the trip is long but not ridiculous, so that all weighs in its favor for me.

I can write almost anywhere. It's easier in my own home with all my familiar stuff, but I've gotten more versatile that way as I've gotten older.
That sounds like it was amazing. The retreat especially sounds like my idea of a good time. Friends, writing, productivity -- good stuff.
Yes, I highly recommend the retreat experience. Writers have enough distractions!
That sounds absolutely excellent. I would have loved the writing race classes in particular.

Maybe I'll have to check out the Rutgers conference one of these days soon. It's close to me, at least (and was where I did my Master's).
Mitali Perkins did a great job with her session. She created a relaxed atmosphere while at the same time encouraging people to step outside their comfort zones ... if that makes sense!
The Rutgers conference is usually in the fall, with the deadline for applications sometime in early summer, if I recall correctly.

What a week! Sounds perfect. And it was so nice to meet you in person. Shy, maybe, but aren't we all if we sit next to Kelly.

I love the Fortress of Semi-Solitude concept!
Nice to meet you, too! I enjoyed your workshop, and the idea about Prometheus that I came up with!

Kelly excels at getting to know people and putting them at their ease; she is such a genuinely nice person.
Ooh - I love the phrase "Fortress of Semi-Solitude". So very apt. You are a genius. But of course you know I already think that.
Thanks again for inviting me to the fortress! And for the compliment, though I make no claims to genius. You throw one heck of a retreat. Congrats once more on the Jane poems! :-)


I'd love to do the Rutgers One on One again this year. I missed the application deadline last year. And, since I am slowly conquering my driving phobia, I don't have to rely on the kindness of strangers to get there!

I think they have a public transit/shuttle option too ... but anyway, yes, it's a great conference, as you know!