A Writers’ Retreat

Anne here, and I'm just back from my annual writing retreat. That's the view from my room, and the balcony where I did a lot of writing. IMG_4707
It's the thirteenth year we've done this, always with the same small group of around eight or nine, so we must be doing something right. (I say eight or nine because one of us now lives in France and can't come every year.) And for the last eight years we've come to the same place. With  views like this, who could resist? As well as the gloriously ever-changing vista of sky and sea — and beach activity — I particularly love the sight of the high-rise buildings of the Gold Coast seeming to float in the distance, like the remnants of some lost dystopian city. FloatingSurfers


When our group first came together, not everyone knew each other — it was an attempt to help break down some of the "tyranny of distance" that many people experience in Australia. For instance when we started, the closest one of our members lived to another published romance writer was the distance between London and Moscow — and they both lived in the same state.

Now, of course, it's changed, with many more people here being published, and the close, if virtual, contact made possible by email, FaceBook and other methods. But face-to-face is still the best. And our retreat is very special to us all.

I've blogged about our retreat before on the Wenches, here and here, but this time I'm going to talk in a little more detail about some of the things we did. We're all working writers — that means we make our living from our writing. We're all multi-published, and two of us have written more than 100 category romances — each. We all started our careers writing for Harlequin, through a few of us have diversified. I'm the only one who writes historicals.

DawnontheBeachWe've developed a routine that works for us. The morning is many people's best writing time, so we generally don't meet until lunchtime, though some people like a dawn walk along the beach and others take an early morning dip in the sea or the hotel pool.

At lunch time, we bring our lunch to the meeting room, and though it's social while we eat, we then do something for professional development. You might imagine that with more than 500 books between us, we wouldn't need any professional development, but in fact we do.

Publishing is a constantly changing business, and we need to a) keep up with new developments and b) keep our writing fresh.   Often the topic for discussion is something we know quite well, and some of us have even conducted workshops on it, but having someone else present it, perhaps from a slightly different angle, and applying it to one's current wip (work in progress) can be quite inspiring. 

We generally start talking about the topics we want to discuss well before the retreat, and on the first night, over fish and chips (or in this case pizza, because the fish shop we like had closed) and wine, we plan the program for the week. 

Some sessions were conducted at lunchtime, and then we went back to writing (or shopping or swimming or reading.) At 6 (aka wine o'clock) we reconvened for nibbles, cheese, wine and chatting, followed by dinner, and after dinner there was another professional development session.

This year, these were our topics: 

* The Snowflake Method of plotting 

* Creating character empathy

* James Scott Bell's method of plotting from the middle.

* Using dictation to write (which a lot of writers are doing now, whether to increase their speed of production or because they're battling with injury.)

* Marketing — sharing techniques we use. Though actually not all of the group gets involved in marketing.

* One night we watched a video of a writer we all admire talking about his process.

* Another night we just sat back and watched a movie for no other reason except entertainment

* We had a session of playing with tropes — tropes being reader-favorite set ups, like a marriage of convenience, or Cinderella, or a road trip romance (where the hero and hero take a journey), the innocent and the rake, the pretend fiancée — that kind of thing. Our session involved twisting the trope or merging several tropes to come up with something fresh and different. I realized during that session that in my second book, Tallie's Knight I'd combined four tropes — Marriage of Convenience, Cinderella, Road Trip, and Secret Child — though I didn't know it at the time, being a newbie writer.

* We discussed a book that's been very successful, and half of us disliked it and didn't finish it and several of us enjoyed it and were amazed that the others didn't like it. That's usual with this group — we have quite different tastes.

* We had a hands-on session on using Instagram.

* We had a workshop on the Pixar/Invisible Ink method of plotting, watched a few short PIXAR films on-line and used the format to create an outline of our current wips.

* And of course, given the huge growth in independant publishing (ie self-publishing) we talked about that.

Not all of the sessions "spoke to" everyone there, but we all got something out of them.

And all the time, from dawn to dusk, we watched the shifting magic of the sea and sky outside our windows. We watched storms come in over the sea, and brilliant blue sky and sea water turn sullent and brooding.
GloriousDawn-byFi

After one blustery blowy grey day we were treated to a glorious double rainbow, followed by a stunning sunset. We sat out on the balcony and drank wine and oohed and ahhed and took a heap of photos, none of which did credit to the actual glory of the sky. Above is the dawn sky, taken by an early morning person, and below is a sunset after a grey blustery day. Magic. I'm amazed we got any writing done at all.

Sunset6

PS: You might have heard that some of the wenches (Mary Jo, Andrea, Susanna and I) are appearing on a panel at the RWA conference in New York in July. The other exciting news is that seven wenches are getting together for a retreat afterwards.  We're looking forward to it. Stay tuned. . .

So, what do you think of our program? Do any of these topics interest you? As a reader, do you have a favorite trope? Or a favorite PIXAR movie?

125 thoughts on “A Writers’ Retreat”

  1. What a lovely spot you chose. The retreats that I attended over the years were always religious in nature. It was always wonderful to get away from the world for a few days.
    Your topics sounded very interesting. But I found myself wondering what a Snowflake or James Scott Bell method of plotting was.
    As for tropes – I like them all. But with romance books, I especially like the ones that focus on character development.

    Reply
  2. What a lovely spot you chose. The retreats that I attended over the years were always religious in nature. It was always wonderful to get away from the world for a few days.
    Your topics sounded very interesting. But I found myself wondering what a Snowflake or James Scott Bell method of plotting was.
    As for tropes – I like them all. But with romance books, I especially like the ones that focus on character development.

    Reply
  3. What a lovely spot you chose. The retreats that I attended over the years were always religious in nature. It was always wonderful to get away from the world for a few days.
    Your topics sounded very interesting. But I found myself wondering what a Snowflake or James Scott Bell method of plotting was.
    As for tropes – I like them all. But with romance books, I especially like the ones that focus on character development.

    Reply
  4. What a lovely spot you chose. The retreats that I attended over the years were always religious in nature. It was always wonderful to get away from the world for a few days.
    Your topics sounded very interesting. But I found myself wondering what a Snowflake or James Scott Bell method of plotting was.
    As for tropes – I like them all. But with romance books, I especially like the ones that focus on character development.

    Reply
  5. What a lovely spot you chose. The retreats that I attended over the years were always religious in nature. It was always wonderful to get away from the world for a few days.
    Your topics sounded very interesting. But I found myself wondering what a Snowflake or James Scott Bell method of plotting was.
    As for tropes – I like them all. But with romance books, I especially like the ones that focus on character development.

    Reply
  6. Thanks, Mary. Yes, there’s a reason we keep returning to the same place.
    “I found myself wondering what a Snowflake or James Scott Bell method of plotting was.”
    They’re a little too involved to explain here, but you can google them. And I agree with you about stories that focus on character development.

    Reply
  7. Thanks, Mary. Yes, there’s a reason we keep returning to the same place.
    “I found myself wondering what a Snowflake or James Scott Bell method of plotting was.”
    They’re a little too involved to explain here, but you can google them. And I agree with you about stories that focus on character development.

    Reply
  8. Thanks, Mary. Yes, there’s a reason we keep returning to the same place.
    “I found myself wondering what a Snowflake or James Scott Bell method of plotting was.”
    They’re a little too involved to explain here, but you can google them. And I agree with you about stories that focus on character development.

    Reply
  9. Thanks, Mary. Yes, there’s a reason we keep returning to the same place.
    “I found myself wondering what a Snowflake or James Scott Bell method of plotting was.”
    They’re a little too involved to explain here, but you can google them. And I agree with you about stories that focus on character development.

    Reply
  10. Thanks, Mary. Yes, there’s a reason we keep returning to the same place.
    “I found myself wondering what a Snowflake or James Scott Bell method of plotting was.”
    They’re a little too involved to explain here, but you can google them. And I agree with you about stories that focus on character development.

    Reply
  11. What a beautiful place to go. And yes, I would have found the beauty both distracting and inspiring.
    Even though I don’t create fiction, I am always fascinated by the process. I will be looking up the Snowflake and James Scott Bell ways of plotting.
    Thank you for a wonderful description of your working getaway.

    Reply
  12. What a beautiful place to go. And yes, I would have found the beauty both distracting and inspiring.
    Even though I don’t create fiction, I am always fascinated by the process. I will be looking up the Snowflake and James Scott Bell ways of plotting.
    Thank you for a wonderful description of your working getaway.

    Reply
  13. What a beautiful place to go. And yes, I would have found the beauty both distracting and inspiring.
    Even though I don’t create fiction, I am always fascinated by the process. I will be looking up the Snowflake and James Scott Bell ways of plotting.
    Thank you for a wonderful description of your working getaway.

    Reply
  14. What a beautiful place to go. And yes, I would have found the beauty both distracting and inspiring.
    Even though I don’t create fiction, I am always fascinated by the process. I will be looking up the Snowflake and James Scott Bell ways of plotting.
    Thank you for a wonderful description of your working getaway.

    Reply
  15. What a beautiful place to go. And yes, I would have found the beauty both distracting and inspiring.
    Even though I don’t create fiction, I am always fascinated by the process. I will be looking up the Snowflake and James Scott Bell ways of plotting.
    Thank you for a wonderful description of your working getaway.

    Reply
  16. Thanks, Sue. I think you’ll be particularly interested in James Scott Bell’s approach which, in a nutshell, suggests that there is a mid-point in most movies (and possibly books) where the main character has a “mirror moment,” a realization about him or herself, and from that point, begins to change.

    Reply
  17. Thanks, Sue. I think you’ll be particularly interested in James Scott Bell’s approach which, in a nutshell, suggests that there is a mid-point in most movies (and possibly books) where the main character has a “mirror moment,” a realization about him or herself, and from that point, begins to change.

    Reply
  18. Thanks, Sue. I think you’ll be particularly interested in James Scott Bell’s approach which, in a nutshell, suggests that there is a mid-point in most movies (and possibly books) where the main character has a “mirror moment,” a realization about him or herself, and from that point, begins to change.

    Reply
  19. Thanks, Sue. I think you’ll be particularly interested in James Scott Bell’s approach which, in a nutshell, suggests that there is a mid-point in most movies (and possibly books) where the main character has a “mirror moment,” a realization about him or herself, and from that point, begins to change.

    Reply
  20. Thanks, Sue. I think you’ll be particularly interested in James Scott Bell’s approach which, in a nutshell, suggests that there is a mid-point in most movies (and possibly books) where the main character has a “mirror moment,” a realization about him or herself, and from that point, begins to change.

    Reply
  21. Anne – Thanks for the wonderful post. I wish I could go there. I loved the pictures and I would have been the one with wine & cheese reading all your wips!

    Reply
  22. Anne – Thanks for the wonderful post. I wish I could go there. I loved the pictures and I would have been the one with wine & cheese reading all your wips!

    Reply
  23. Anne – Thanks for the wonderful post. I wish I could go there. I loved the pictures and I would have been the one with wine & cheese reading all your wips!

    Reply
  24. Anne – Thanks for the wonderful post. I wish I could go there. I loved the pictures and I would have been the one with wine & cheese reading all your wips!

    Reply
  25. Anne – Thanks for the wonderful post. I wish I could go there. I loved the pictures and I would have been the one with wine & cheese reading all your wips!

    Reply
  26. I am so jealous! I would love, with every atom of my being, to do something like that. How inspiring, both artistically and practically! Of course, I might also have trouble staying inside and writing with that beautiful beach out there. Lol. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  27. I am so jealous! I would love, with every atom of my being, to do something like that. How inspiring, both artistically and practically! Of course, I might also have trouble staying inside and writing with that beautiful beach out there. Lol. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  28. I am so jealous! I would love, with every atom of my being, to do something like that. How inspiring, both artistically and practically! Of course, I might also have trouble staying inside and writing with that beautiful beach out there. Lol. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  29. I am so jealous! I would love, with every atom of my being, to do something like that. How inspiring, both artistically and practically! Of course, I might also have trouble staying inside and writing with that beautiful beach out there. Lol. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  30. I am so jealous! I would love, with every atom of my being, to do something like that. How inspiring, both artistically and practically! Of course, I might also have trouble staying inside and writing with that beautiful beach out there. Lol. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  31. It looks like Utopia!! You must have had a wonderful time. I enjoy lots of tropes. I just read read and then read some more. Lovely post.

    Reply
  32. It looks like Utopia!! You must have had a wonderful time. I enjoy lots of tropes. I just read read and then read some more. Lovely post.

    Reply
  33. It looks like Utopia!! You must have had a wonderful time. I enjoy lots of tropes. I just read read and then read some more. Lovely post.

    Reply
  34. It looks like Utopia!! You must have had a wonderful time. I enjoy lots of tropes. I just read read and then read some more. Lovely post.

    Reply
  35. It looks like Utopia!! You must have had a wonderful time. I enjoy lots of tropes. I just read read and then read some more. Lovely post.

    Reply
  36. Shauna, it’s a wonderful experience, which is why we’ve lasted for 13 years. But please don’t think we huddled inside ignoring that gorgeous beach — we didn’t. Swimming, walks along the beach, wading and paddling all enrich the muse and refresh the spirit.

    Reply
  37. Shauna, it’s a wonderful experience, which is why we’ve lasted for 13 years. But please don’t think we huddled inside ignoring that gorgeous beach — we didn’t. Swimming, walks along the beach, wading and paddling all enrich the muse and refresh the spirit.

    Reply
  38. Shauna, it’s a wonderful experience, which is why we’ve lasted for 13 years. But please don’t think we huddled inside ignoring that gorgeous beach — we didn’t. Swimming, walks along the beach, wading and paddling all enrich the muse and refresh the spirit.

    Reply
  39. Shauna, it’s a wonderful experience, which is why we’ve lasted for 13 years. But please don’t think we huddled inside ignoring that gorgeous beach — we didn’t. Swimming, walks along the beach, wading and paddling all enrich the muse and refresh the spirit.

    Reply
  40. Shauna, it’s a wonderful experience, which is why we’ve lasted for 13 years. But please don’t think we huddled inside ignoring that gorgeous beach — we didn’t. Swimming, walks along the beach, wading and paddling all enrich the muse and refresh the spirit.

    Reply
  41. I loved reading about the structure of your retreat days but perhaps the most important thing I am taking Way from reading this post is the need to constantly revisit, polish, twist and improve your craft. It’s wonderfully reassuring to learn that established authors such as you are open to and enthusiastic about the same things that people like me are learning – the snowflake method, twisting tropes and so forth. And what a glorious setting for a retreat!

    Reply
  42. I loved reading about the structure of your retreat days but perhaps the most important thing I am taking Way from reading this post is the need to constantly revisit, polish, twist and improve your craft. It’s wonderfully reassuring to learn that established authors such as you are open to and enthusiastic about the same things that people like me are learning – the snowflake method, twisting tropes and so forth. And what a glorious setting for a retreat!

    Reply
  43. I loved reading about the structure of your retreat days but perhaps the most important thing I am taking Way from reading this post is the need to constantly revisit, polish, twist and improve your craft. It’s wonderfully reassuring to learn that established authors such as you are open to and enthusiastic about the same things that people like me are learning – the snowflake method, twisting tropes and so forth. And what a glorious setting for a retreat!

    Reply
  44. I loved reading about the structure of your retreat days but perhaps the most important thing I am taking Way from reading this post is the need to constantly revisit, polish, twist and improve your craft. It’s wonderfully reassuring to learn that established authors such as you are open to and enthusiastic about the same things that people like me are learning – the snowflake method, twisting tropes and so forth. And what a glorious setting for a retreat!

    Reply
  45. I loved reading about the structure of your retreat days but perhaps the most important thing I am taking Way from reading this post is the need to constantly revisit, polish, twist and improve your craft. It’s wonderfully reassuring to learn that established authors such as you are open to and enthusiastic about the same things that people like me are learning – the snowflake method, twisting tropes and so forth. And what a glorious setting for a retreat!

    Reply
  46. Thanks, Shelagh. Professional tennis players still practice, top ballet dancers still exercise and rehearse, and multipublished authors still need to work on their craft.

    Reply
  47. Thanks, Shelagh. Professional tennis players still practice, top ballet dancers still exercise and rehearse, and multipublished authors still need to work on their craft.

    Reply
  48. Thanks, Shelagh. Professional tennis players still practice, top ballet dancers still exercise and rehearse, and multipublished authors still need to work on their craft.

    Reply
  49. Thanks, Shelagh. Professional tennis players still practice, top ballet dancers still exercise and rehearse, and multipublished authors still need to work on their craft.

    Reply
  50. Thanks, Shelagh. Professional tennis players still practice, top ballet dancers still exercise and rehearse, and multipublished authors still need to work on their craft.

    Reply

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