Retreats, Short Stories, and Networking
I have become a fan of writer’s retreats. You can focus on your writing, write something different if you want, and also meet other writers, making new acquaintances, and maybe even a lasting friendship or two. In fact, I just returned from five days at the Rainforest Writers Retreat, held annually at Lake Quinault in Washington State’s magnificent Olympic Rainforest. The retreat was founded in 2007 by Patrick Swenson, author and publisher of Fairwood Press. Rainforest now runs for three back-to-back five-day sessions each year, from just after Presidents Day until the second Sunday in March. Thirty or so writers attend each session.
My first Rainforest was in February 2019, Session 2, and I’ve attended three more, always Session 2. I also attended the virtual Rainforest retreat in 2021 when Covid canceled the in-person event. Usually I work on a novel while I’m there, but last year I wrote several short stories. The energy at the retreat is always inspiring, and in fact Patrick encourages those drafting fiction to post their word counts, for a fun way to motivate ourselves, and enjoy a little good-hearted competition. Most of the attendees are writing science fiction, fantasy or horror, but there are mystery and romance writers at work there as well. You can also hang out with other writers, attend one-hour workshops, share group meals together, and (weather permitting) take a literal hike in the woods.
So, with that in mind, today’s Words of Wisdom finds three relevant excerpts from TKZ archives. First up is Laura Benedict on the power of the writing retreat. Then, Jodie Renner gives tips on writing short fiction. Last but certainly not least John Gilstrap discusses networking for writers. The full posts are linked at the end of each excerpt and are well worth reading.
Way back in early January, I needed to get some serious, concentrated words on my WIP, which was due on Valentine’s Day. ( I wrote a bit about it a few Wednesdays ago on my 10K-A-Day post.) I love my family, but if there are other people in the house, my concentration flees. Sometimes I’m able to shut my office door, but I’m always wondering what’s going on on the other side of it. So I often find myself doing things that are not writing during the daylight hours, and only writing after ten p.m. when everyone has gone to bed. I love the quiet. No voices. No music. Not much happening on FaceBook. Snoring animals. Owls outside my window. Those are perfect writing conditions for my ADD brain. Sadly, the not-perfect part is that I routinely go to bed at 1:30 and get up at 7:30. It wears on a body.
So, last January I got myself an AirBnB apartment in St. Louis for several days. It was on a cul-de-sac, and very quiet. Blissfully quiet. Lonesome, even. The chair was uncomfortable and kept me upright. I was paying lots of money to be there, so I was mindful. I only had to cook for myself. (That was weird.) I didn’t stay up all that late, and I wrote in 2-3 long sessions each day. It was my second-favorite writing retreat I’d ever taken, after a solo week at an inn on Ocracoke Island in 2002. (In fact I think it was only my 2nd writing retreat, period.)
But I did get in another writing retreat this year. Over Labor Day Weekend, I went to the Nashville home of another writer—along with four other women. That was something I’d never done before. (Though I did go to a scrapbooking lake retreat around 2004. I didn’t and don’t scrapbook, but I journalled and did needlepoint. On reflection, it was probably a little odd that I went. Still, there was wine and the women were friendly.)
Writing in a crowd felt awkward at first. There was plenty of room to spread out, so we didn’t actually even have to see one another if we didn’t want to. But eventually I adjusted. Everyone was serious about getting words done. Then we gathered for meals, taking turns cooking. In the evening, there was wine and much discussion and much laughter. We talked about our careers and the industry and craft, and told stories that were harrowing or hysterically funny. It was a completely different kind of retreat.
Laura Benedict—October 5, 2016
- Your character needs to react! Show your character’s emotional and physical reactions, both inner and outer. And to bring the character and scene to life on the page, evoke as many of the five senses as possible or appropriate, not just sight and hearing.
- Every page needs tension of some sort. It might be overt, like an argument, or subtle, like inner resentments, disagreements, questioning, or anxiety. If everybody is in agreement, shake things up a little.
- Dialogue in fiction is like real conversation on steroids. Skip the yadda-yadda, blah-blah, and add spark and tension to all your dialogue. And make the characters’ words and expressions sound as natural and authentic as you can. Each character should speak differently, and not like the author. Read your dialogue out loud or role-play with a friend to make sure it sounds real and moves along at a good clip.
- Build the conflict to a riveting climax. Keep putting your protagonist in more hot water until the big “battle,” showdown, or struggle—whether it’s physical, psychological, or interpersonal.
- Go out with a bang. Don’t stretch out the conclusion – tie it up pretty quickly. Like your first paragraph, your final paragraph needs to be memorable, and also satisfying to the readers. Try to create a surprise twist at the end – but of course it needs to make sense, given all the other details of the story.
- Provide some reader satisfaction at the end. It’s not necessary to tie everything up in a neat bow, but do give your reader some sense of resolution, some payout for their investment of time and effort in your story. As in novels, most readers want the character they’ve been rooting for all along to resolve at least some of their problems. But be sure the protagonist they’ve been identifying with succeeds through their own courage, determination, and resourcefulness, not through coincidence, luck, or a rescue by someone else.
Jodie Renner—July 28, 2014
You need to meet other industry professionals. Pick a conference, any conference. They grow like weeds around the country–around the world, for that matter. I can’t speak to other genres, but in the world of mysteries and thrillers, you could spend virtually every weekend at a conference. Yes, they cost money, but before you complain about that, remember that writing is a business, and every business requires investment.
- 100% of all business at a conference is conducted in the bar. You don’t have to drink, but just as lions on the hunt target watering holes for their dinner, smart rookies scope out the bar at the conference hotel to meet people. Authors of all stature are there to hang out with old friends and meet new ones. Agents and editors are there to develop relationships with existing clients and to scope out new ones.
- Have a plan. Are you attending the conference to simply get to know people and hang out, or are you going there to accomplish a particular goal? If you’re on the hunt for an agent, be sure to research who’s attending and what kind of books they’re looking for. Basically, read the program booklet.
- Don’t be shy. Okay, you’re an introvert and are uncomfortable around people. I get that. Now, get over it. This is a business, and contacts are not going to come to you. To a person, everyone you see at the bar knows that they’re in a public place among hungry strangers, and they’re willing–anxious, even–to talk with shy rookies.
- Know what you want. After sharing a laugh and a few stories about life and family, be ready for the question, “So, how can I help you?” That’s your cue for your ten-second elevator pitch delivered without notes. With a smile. The home run here is a request to send a manuscript. Then chat some more. This is a people business, so be a real person.
- Hang out with the crowd you want to belong to. I’m always amazed–and a little dismayed–at conferences when I see all the rookies hanging out with each other, while the veterans and bestsellers hang out separately. I don’t mean to be crass–and remember, this is a business conference–but your fellow rookies are not in positions to help you. If Connolly and Lehane and Deaver and Gerritsen are all hanging out, drinking and laughing, pull up a chair. If the Agent of All Agents is holding court, join the crowd. Unless it’s an intense one-on-one business meeting, I guarantee that no one will ask you to leave. (And why in the world would anyone choose such a public forum for an intense one-on-one business meeting?)
Overall, “networking” as a concept attempts to complicate something that is inherently simple. You have goals that you wish to accomplish, and you want to get to know people who can help you get there. As an alternative step, you want to get to know someone who can introduce you to someone who can help you. It’s as easy–and as hard–as showing up and asking.
John Gilstrap—January 2, 2019
- Have you ever attending a writing retreat? If so, what was your experience like? If you haven’t yet, would you like to attend one?
- If you write short stories, any tips on writing them?
- How do you feel about networking, be it at a conference, a convention, a writer’s retreat, book fair ETC? Any advice on meeting other writers at events?
🞠 Have you ever attending a writing retreat?
❦ No, but I went to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, 2005. I stayed with friends from my church, there.
🞠 If so, what was your experience like?
❦ Well, it was fun. Learned a few things. I got a lot of laughter with a couple of short pieces, but was told to put it all on the page for the reader. My delivery was carrying the pieces, not the prose.
🞠 If you write short stories, any tips on writing them?
❦ I like Bradbury’s old trick of writing whatever pops into my mind, then fleshing it out from there. F’rinstance: Olivia’s Story
“I wish you could have met my great-uncle, Jedediah Jefferson Crabbe, but met him in such a way that you would never find out I was related to him….”
The story reveals Uncle Jed a little at a time: his tendency to sing his own lyrics to various hymns, get drunk every night on home-made wine, moan and shout in his sleep, and pass gas in the parlor, Olivia is asked to sort his belongings after he dies. She learns more about Jed in a half hour than she’d leaned in her ten years of living in the same house. Then, suddenly I knew why he sang in church, ‘Twas grapes that taught my heart to fear, and grapes my fears relieved.’
🞠 How do you feel about networking?
❦ It’s necessary. I attend a weekly workshop, which creates chances to help other writers. I’m anticipating two M/Ss for critique this coming week. My two movies were the result of networking after attending an acting class at LAHC. I produced my 3-act play, Midnight in the Temple of Isis, at the insistence of my former theatre instructor at SBCC.
🞠 Any advice on meeting other writers at events?
❦ Carry custom business cards with just your email address, plus a logo, photo, quote or logline, or something memorable on them. Use both sides. E.g., https://jguentherauthor.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/drama-free-zone-notice/
❦ Ask questions: What’s your WIP? What have you learned at the event so far? Who do you like to read? What’s your favorite how-to book? What made you a writer? Give them a card.
❦ Try not to bring home any cards.
❦ Give away a few books. Be judicious; don’t give anyone a genre they don’t love. Ask.
Thanks for weighing, JG. Great tips on networking. Asking about their current WIP sounds like a great icebreaker.
Have a wonderful weekend
Dale, your retreat sounds delightful.
Several years ago a few of us got together at a friend’s house in Daytona Beach for a writer’s retreat and repeated the experience at another friend’s beach house on the Gulf Coast. We were a diverse group. I was working on the Civil War trilogy. One was a paranormal mystery writer. One was working on a mystery. One was a literary angsty type. At the repeat engagement the angsty one couldn’t make it and we added a poet.
Several years later I wrote a screenplay and entered it in a contest. I made the top 3 but didn’t win. I got a nice email from the contest people saying “There are people you should meet.. We think you should come.” So I hauled myself up to Asheville, NC and met all these people who were doing what I want to do. Years later, we’re all still friends. Time well spent.
Funny about the short stories. I only wrote one for a romance magazine (actually I wrote another one for a contest that I did win-I forgot about that one). Last week I had the thought that I should start writing those again. Amazon obligingly reminded me that our esteemed Mr. Bell wrote a book on the subject (Hello Universe) so I bought it. As soon as I finish turning this screenplay into a novel I’m going to play with some short stories.
I love networking (though I just think of it as meeting cool people).
Beach house writing retreats sound equally appealing, Cynthia. My writer’s group has talked about renting a house for just that purpose. Perhaps we’ll be able to do so this year.
Your experience with the screenplay contest is something I’ve found to be true as well–often the most important thing to come out of an event, a convention, retreat, workshop etc. is the people we make and the friendships we forge.
“Meeting cool people” is a terrific way of looking at networking. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Two years ago, I went to Cornwell, UK for a month, mainly to explore why John le Carré loved it so much. During my stay, I created my personal little writer’s retreat. I love to go with the flow and see where the day leads me, so traveling alone was perfect for that. However, going on a writer’s retreat and meeting other writers would be lovely.
Please let me know if you have any retreat suggestions.😊✍🏻
Olivia, that personal writer’s retreat in Cornwell sounds wonderful.
A couple of suggestions spring to mind. First, check with your local writer’s organization and see if they list any retreats on their website. Two, do some internet searching either targeting to your own area or to an area you’d love to visit, and see what retreats might be happening. Third, and this is something I have yet to do but a number of writer friends have done, organize your own retreat. Get a few writers together and rent a house or a collection of cabins, for instance, for a few days. A large house for an informal retreat would be better because you’d have a kitchen, and shared dining space.
Have a wonderful weekend!
Thank you so much, Dale. I’ve done some research in the past and found a couple of interesting retreats in Upstate New York and there are some great ones in the UK as well.
And yes, I’m actually in the middle of planning a yearly retreat.
Have a lovely weekend.
Nice name, Olivia. Very synchronous. The odds of two Olivias being mentioned herein are no better than 200,00 to1.
Thank you! 😊 And that is something I didn’t know.
Good morning, Dale.
Great collection of articles from the archive on retreats, short stories, and networking.
I’ve been to many conferences, but no retreats. The concept appeals to me, but I consider the location where I live and write to be a retreat – wooded property, house off the road, and quiet. It would be fun to bounce ideas off other writers and hear them talk about their process and WIP. You’ve got me thinking about it, Dale. My wife and I were talking about taking a road trip this summer. I need to see if any writers’ retreats would make a good destination.
Thanks for a great post, Dale. And have a wonderful weekend!
Thanks, Steve! Your own place sounds like the perfect location for a daily, personal writer’s retreat.
Definitely worth searching online and also checking with your local or regional writer’s organization, or just getting together with some writers you know in your part of the country, or where you want to go visit.
I’m going to do my best to have a wonderful weekend–tomorrow’s my birthday. We’re going out to dinner with another couple tonight to celebrate, and then get together at my brother-in-law’s tomorrow for a family party 🙂
Happy Birthday, Dale!
Happy Birthday, Dale!
Being in SoCal, I’ve done the beach retreat a few times. Love it. Take a cup of coffee in the morning down to the sand and look at the ocean for a bit, then go back and work.
Re: short stories. I wrote a book asserting that the best stories are about “one shattering moment,” which can be shown in a number of ways. I still think that’s valid.
Good morning, Jim. A beach retreat sounds wonderful.
I’ve read that book–it’s terrific. The concept of the single shattering moment is a fantastic way to plot a short story.
Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Reading that very book right now. It’s terrific!
Good stuff from the archives, Dale.
Never been to a retreat but I’ve attended lots of confs. A stealth way to make connections is to be a volunteer. That way, the focus is on helping people rather than trying to sell yourself. That takes away a lot of pressure.
Over the years, I chauffeured many agents and editors from the airport and developed great ongoing relationships. As a result, one guest editor connected me with my second agent.
Plus I’ve made numerous writing friends at confs. Even though we only see each other once a year (or once every 20 years!), we pick up right where we left off, and are eager to help each other with beta reads, blurbs, etc.
Terrific advice on volunteering to meet people at conferences, and how helping as a focus reduces the pressure. Making friends at conferences, workshops, retreats etc. is often the most lasting thing to come out them for me.
Have a wonderful weekend!
I’ve been to one writing retreat, which was held at a convent. We had optional ‘workshops’, all meals were provided, and you were free to roam the grounds, write, or whatever. There’s something to be said for hanging out with a ‘tribe’. Being at a convent, the accommodations were spartan, but we each had our own room. There was a small desk, and I must say this Jewish girl found sitting under Jesus a bit disconcerting at first, but I did get some decent pages written.
You raise a good point about the advantages of a minimalist environment for a retreat, Terry. Spectacular scenery can be inspiring, but also a distraction. I’m used to the view at Lake Quinault by now, so I can admire it out my window, or the window of the lounge where group writing goes on, and focus on my WIP, but the first time, outside kept pulling at me 🙂
However, being out in the middle of a wilderness cuts down on the distractions of civilization, though probably not as a much as a convent.
Have a terrific weekend!
I’ve been to several retreats–went back to one four years in a row–it’s where I learned to write. Back before Covid I joined three writer friends at a house in the woods for three days where we brainstormed each other’s stories and just had good fellowship and good food. I hope we can do that again soon!
I hope you can, too, Patricia! Have a wonderful weekend!
Late to the party, as always on Saturday, but glad to be here.
Nice choices for TKZ Words of Wisdom, Dale. I’ve never been to a retreat, but I’ve been to a fair number of writers’ conferences, and I’ve made lots of acquaintances. (But I can’t remember ever being at the bar. 🙂 )
I like the short story format. I’m in a writers group that produces an anthology occasionally, and I contribute to it. I also offer my Lady Pilot-in-Command short story for free on my website at kaydibianca.com. (My editor liked the story so much, she encouraged me to novelize it, which I did. It’s in beta format now. Looking to publish this year.)