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?