Saturday, April 26, 2014

A to Z Blog Challenge -- W is for Writers' Retreat

Welcome to Day 23 of this year's A to Z Blog Challenge where --

W is for my Writers' Retreat

As many of my longtime blog readers know, I belong to my local chapter of Romance Writers of America.

Although north of the border, Canada boasts six RWA chapters, including mine -- Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada.

We represent writers focusing on careers in commercial romantic fiction, from the four Atlantic Provinces:

Nova Scotia (29 writers)
New Brunswick (2 writers)
Prince Edward Island (1 almost-returned-home writer in transition from Nova Scotia)
Newfoundland and Labrador (2 writers)
We also have 1 Nova Scotia-based writer living in the United States, but still part of our chapter.

We meet once a month, with the exception of July and August, first informally for lunch (my favorite part!) and then formally for a business meeting, followed by a workshop on either the craft of writing, the business of writing or the writing life (my second favorite part!)

Once a year, our chapter also holds an event which has become the high point of our year -- the fall writing retreat.

It takes place at a rented cottage about two hours from Halifax along the province's South Shore. We start arriving on the Friday, embark on the retreat and wrap it all up by lunchtime on the Sunday.

So why do we start dreaming of the next year's retreat, the moment we pack up to make the drive home?

Here's a look back at the retreats in which I've taken part, for the past nine years.

photo by Jennie Marsland

As far as I'm concerned, the retreat begins when my friend Kelly Boyce picks me up for the drive to the cottage. We're already detaching ourselves from our regular lives, which is an integral part of any retreat. We chat and catch up during the drive, often discussing what we plan to work on during the weekend.

We normally have the keys, open up the cottage, turn on the heat and wait for the other RWACers to arrive.

That's Kelly to the left, me in the orange Tshirt, Jennie Marsland at center and Lori Robitaille at right, relaxing on the arrival Friday night.

We split out meal prep and clean-up, so that one dinner, two breakfasts and two lunches are taken care of by teams, leaving the other retreaters to chill. Works out great. Enjoying the Friday night dinner, clockwise from lower left: Shawna Romkey, Jennie Marsland, Lori Robitaille, Nikki McIntosh, Michelle Helliwell and Tara MacDonald.

Relaxing, catching up and getting ourselves re-settled into the retreat space is all a part of Day 1.

Sometimes on the Friday night, we play the Whose Muse is Whose? game, where we bring in pictures of inspirational actors or models to represent a character we're writing about, and we have to guess: who brought in the picture, and who does the character seem to be?

We just love this one! Hunting down the right picture is part of the fun, even before the retreat. Guessing who brought which picture correctly hardly ever happens, but guessing what sort of character he represents is often bang-on.

Last year, Michelle Helliwell brought in this amazing storytelling card game.

We played one round of the official rules, then altered it to suit our need to make one giant rambling story out of laying down every card in the deck, as they had been dealt to us. I'm pretty certain this game is now our new tradition.

photo by Lori Robitaille

Saturday starts with breakfast.

L to R: Heidi Hamburg, Stella MacLean, Elaine Skinner, me, Kelly Boyce and Nikki McIntosh

We used to schedule workshops for the Saturday, generally three spread out through the morning and afternoon. This one was a workshop on using color in your scenes, by Lilly Cain.

Clockwise from left: Heidi Hamburg, Kelly Boyce, Tanya Dawson, Renee Field, Pat Thomas, Lilly Cain and Nikki McIntosh

We've gravitated toward using the previous workshop blocks of time for personal writing time. We now come to the retreat with serious writing goals and the head space to focus on them.

On Saturday evening, we head over to the main lodge for dinner -- walking if it's it's nice out, driving over if not.

photo by Pat Thomas

We linger over our delicious dinner with much animated talking and laughing. I swear it can't be easy to be seated near us...

L to R: me, Kelly Boyce and Nikki McIntosh

Saturday generally winds down with a movie -- if you can call it winding down...

L to R: Nikki McIntosh, Lori Robitaille, Kelly Boyce and Heidi Hamburg

photo by Kelly Boyce

One of the biggest highlights of the weekend is our brainstorming sessions. We split off into groups of three or four, often mixing up writers from different genres, and spend about 40 minutes per writer to explain what we're working on, and then taking brainstorming ideas from our group.

These sessions often lead to the following year's writing direction for many of us. It's been enormously popular.

L to R: Elaine Skinner, Annette Gallant and me

Ingredients for a successful retreat:

Copious amounts of wine

A sense of fun

Feather boas and tiaras

A writing project to work on

A good ear and speed in order to add out-of-context quotes to the mirror -- good for all kinds of fun!


Kristin said...

This sounds like a perfect retreat. I'm going to look for the "Once Upon A Time" game.