A Retreat for Writing

Last weekend I participated in a writing retreat held in Traverse City, Michigan. I’ve attended the Mid-Michigan RWA Chapter’s “Retreat from Harsh Reality” more than twenty times—even chaired it for a few years—but this was a totally different experience. This was truly a writing retreat. Rather than sneak away from activities to write, writing was the activity.

Of course we did leave our rooms and computers occasionally, primarily for meals and some socializing, but most of us were there to work.

I arrived at the motel around 3:30 p.m. Friday and checked in. To my surprise, this was a large motel right on the main drag (though east of the central part of Traverse City). Our group was checking in along with scores of cyclists in town for Saturday’s Iceman Cometh Challenge race (http://www.iceman.com/) and another large group (no idea why they were in town) and individual travelers. Management did group our rooms along one hall, but the place wasn’t exclusively ours.

At 4:00 p.m. I found Peg Herring (www.pegherring.com) in the lobby. She was the hostess of this retreat. She handed me a goody-bag of treats (chocolate, 2 snack-size bags of chips, and a string cheese), I asked if there were any changes to the schedule she’d emailed the day before (there were none), and I returned to my room. There I set up my computer, checked emails, and prepared to write. A little after 5:00 I returned to the lobby where some of the other retreat participants were gathering.

All in all, 11 of us participated in this retreat: 9 writers (a mix of published and not yet published), one reviewer, and 1 free-lance editor. Friday night 8 of us headed for the Red Mesa Grill, where we were met by editor/designer/book publisher, Mary Jo Zazeuta, who lives locally.

The Red Mesa Grill was jammed. Thank goodness Peg had called ahead. Even though the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, they had a table ready for us. The restaurant was noisy, making conversation difficult, but the food and drinks were good. After the meal it was back to the motel where some gathered in one room for sweet treats that one of the attendees had brought. I, and a few others, went back to our rooms and worked.

Saturday morning it was breakfast (provided by the motel), some socializing with those who came to the breakfast area at the same time, then off to our rooms to write. Several went out to lunch at noontime (and were joined by another local writer), but I’d had enough food at the breakfast buffet, so I stayed in my room and worked. At 5:00 we again met in the lobby (there were 9 of us now staying at the motel) and went to an Italian restaurant/deli Mary Jo had talked into staying open so we could have a quiet place to eat and talk. She joined us there.

This time we had a room just about to ourselves and no noise. We ate, drank, and talked and talked, and talked. After dinner, back at the motel, a few of us gathered in the motel’s “breakfast area” and had more sweet treats. I finally returned to my room, worked a little, read a little, and then crashed for the night.

In the morning I left Traverse City soon after breakfast. (We needed to check out by 11:00 and it was snowing with about 2 inches of accumulation already). The retreat was over.

Positive and Negatives:

1) Even though I’d had a month of solitude while my husband was off on his boating adventure, when I was at home I had other obligations that interrupted my writing: house chores, scheduled meetings and events, grocery shopping, laundry, etc. At the retreat it was write (or eat and socialize with other writers). No other interruptions.
2) Socializing was with others connected to writing, so conversations primarily focused on the business, in one way or another.
3) Since I’d gone to write, that’s what I did. No procrastination.
4) Definitely inexpensive. No fees or retreat costs other than the driving costs, room/motel cost, and food/drinks at restaurants.

1) It would have been nice to have had the place to ourselves and had a general meeting area or break area.
2) More time would have been nice. Basically all we had was Friday night and all day Saturday. Another full day would have been great, or, at least, most of Sunday.

Personally I would have liked (1) a short bio (writing oriented) regarding those attending, and a picture to go with that, prior to arrival; (2) to hear each attendee’s goal for the weekend…and if that goal was reached on Sunday; and (3) a quiet place to eat and talk the first night.

The group is talking about holding two of these a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. They’d like to vary locations around the state. It looks like it will be Grand Rapids next March. For more information, email Pegfish@yahoo.com

I liked the experience and accomplished my goal. I think others did, too. This group is not affiliated with any official organization, although most of us belong to Sisters in Crime and it was advertised through that organization and through the MysteryinMichigan yahoo group. Not everyone attending was published or writing mysteries.

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23 Responses to A Retreat for Writing

  1. Diane Burton says:

    This sounds like a great event. A time to just write without interruptions.

  2. I have a full-time job, two kids, a husband and dishes that multiply exponentially every time I think about sitting down to write. This retreat sounds like heaven! I’m going to email to see if I can be included on the invite list. 🙂

  3. Kristen, good idea. Thanks Maris.

  4. The retreat does sound like a good idea. Most of us have many responsibilities. We can’t always write as much as we’d like. This gives you a chance to focus, plus you get to meet other writers in person.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I only knew 3 of those attending, and even at that, I didn’t really know much about them. I met a couple writers I’d now like to read, and I may take Mary Jo up on her editing service if I decide to do any self-publishing.

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience at the retreat, Maris. I told Peg I really would have liked to go this time, but just couldn’t get away. The possibility of such a retreat in GR would be great. Hope it happens. I would like to go to the meetings but they’re always in Battle Creek and usually same day as MMRWA.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Loralee, contact Peg Herring and make sure your name is on the list. I guess this retreat is not actually associated with the Battle Creek group. I do think they’re fairly positive about having one in Grand Rapids in March.

  6. As others have said, this sounds like a fabulous retreat. In fact, what we originally had in mind with the Retreat From Harsh Reality. Even with an empty nest, my writing time can be at a premium. Would love to join this group.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Yes, I was surprised that my writing time actually became more difficult to schedule once the kids were gone. I think it’s because I started doing more things for myself (joined groups) and said “Yes” too often. Margo, do call Peg. She’ll put you on the list.

  7. Melissa Keir says:

    Wonderful. I will also jump in on the chance. I like the idea of time set aside for writing. 🙂

  8. Sandy Parks says:

    My hubby is away at work a lot, but I still find it hard to get work done with other various distractions. TImes away with no chance to get distracted doing laundry, cooking, dishes, etc is helpful.

    • Maris Soule says:

      That’s exactly what I discovered, Sandy. Even the TV in my room didn’t work. I was going to get it fixed, then decided not to. It would have been a distration…an excuse not to write.

  9. This sounds just about perfect! I might consider this next year myself! Glad you enjoyed yourself, Maris, and got lots of writing done!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Alyssa, it was great, but now that I’m home, I haven’t gotten any writing done. Well, that’s not true. I’ve been doing blogs, reviews, etc., but I haven’t had a chance to get back to what I worked on last weekend. Frustrating.

  10. Lucy Kubash says:

    You would think with no one home during the day I would get lots of writing done, but it just doesn’t always happen. The pets need attention and like you said, chores and errands to run. But I may think about that GR retreat in March. I would LOVE an entire weekend to just write. Glad it was a success for you.

  11. Gale says:

    The Austin RWA chapter holds a retreat almost every year. We have gone to camps or conference centers where we have space we can gather together but we are all writing (or almost all!). We do have some scheduled events like brainstorming or small critique groups if you want to participate, or you can just go and write. It’s fabulous and well attended. I really like the group work setting because if I was just locked in my room by myself I would probably end up napping!

    This year, because RWA was in San Antonio and we wanted as many Austin people as possible to attend that, we didn’t have our normal retreat in February, but ended up doing a mini “Writers on Rails” to kick off NaNoWriMo. I wasn’t able to attend but heard wonderful comments from the folks who did. They took the Antrak train from Austin to Dallas (5.5 hours) on Saturday, stayed the night at a hotel and had a workshop on craft, then rode the train home Sunday for about 6 hours. That’s 11 hours of train writing time plus more in the hotel. They seemed to have a great time.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Gale, what wonderful ideas. I’m going to copy your comments and email them to the two who organized the retreat I attended. It may give them some ideas. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  12. Paula says:

    Maris, I’m glad you got most of what you hoped for, especially achieving the goal. Did you think about sending someone your thoughts on how it could be improved with those “negatives” you mentioned and the other things you would have liked to see regarding the other writers? Perhaps the planners of the next retreat would consider these suggestions. I think I might get in on this list!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Paula, I did forward the blog info to this year’s hostess. And do contact Peg Herring. I guess several people have. I was certainly glad I received the information about this year’s location and time.