The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at a Writers Retreat

Signing my first books even though not officially pubbed yet. Thrilling!

Signing my first books even though not officially pubbed yet. Thrilling!

All I can say is “wow.” Today I completed a four-day writers retreat with New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs. As I write this (Thursday night), I’m sitting on my bed at the Hilton in Eugene, Oregon. OK, I’m exhausted–but I’m also exhilarated. I got some good work done, which you can read about on my personal blog right here.

Here are a few things that come to mind regarding good and bad behavior at writers retreats.

The Good

  1. Do be a person who invites feedback and thanks people for it. Be open. Doesn’t matter how far along you are, you’ll get something in return.
  2. As a total newbie, don’t be afraid to show what you don’t know (which will be just about everything). Leave defensiveness at the door and come in ready to sponge it all up. We had a newbie in our retreat, and she was right in there with the rest of us. I couldn’t help but respect her.
  3. Sometimes we get insecure. Live with it. There will always be writers who you feel are better than you are. Most likely, these stellar writers are worried about their prose as much as you are about yours.

The Bad

  1. Do not arrive with your finished manuscript — or one that you think is finished — with no intention of improving it. What’s the point?
  2. Do not hog the spotlight. We don’t need to know every darned thing about your work-in-progress. Stick to what’s pertinent with regards to the exercise at hand. On Tuesday I stepped out of the room for a few minutes because one retreater could not stop himself. I wanted to yell, Can we get on with it now?
  3. If you happen to be a person who combines both point one and point two then know that most of the rest of us are going to think you’re a jerk who’s only there to receive accolades. Pleease.
  4. You might encounter a sour puss who’s quick to say things like, “I really don’t see why you set the story in Italy. Why don’t you set it in England?” Ignore this person.

The Ugly

  1. Please leave the pinched I’m-better-than-you face at the door. Everyone was a newbie once, and this isn’t a competition. The instructor isn’t going to give you extra pats on the back because you’ve been writing for longer than other participants.
  2. Don’t give lessons to the rest of us. If you’re not the instructor, don’t act like one.
  3. If you’re a lucky published or almost-published author, do not, I repeat, do not talk about “my agent” this and “my editor” that. No one cares.
  4. And pleeease, don’t bring everything back to yourself, don’t interrupt others, and just, really, remember that everyone’s equal in a retreat.

No worries,  in case you’re wondering, I had a great time. There are always a few annoyances, but I have inspiration enough to last me months on the current revision! Tomorrow I’ll start the conference portion of my week. More inspiration, more new writer friends!

Have anything to add to my list?

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Lisa Alber is the author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY (March 2014). Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging at Lisa Alber's Words at Play round out her distractions. Visit her at www.lisaalber.com.

14 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at a Writers Retreat

  1. Great advice, Lisa. Sounds like there are a few -all-about-me types at your retreat? But you’re right–every con has them. We definitely DON’T want to be one of them. Have fun at the conference!

    • There’s always at least one special personality in a retreat. Goes with the territory it seems. 🙂 People get out of retreats what the bring to it, that’s the bottom line.

  2. I LOVE the picture of you signing your book! So official author-ish 😉

    You know, it’s funny. I’ve never been to a writer’s retreat, just conferences, which don’t seem to involve as much “group work” though they’re a great place to meet writers to form a group with (the nice part being you get to pick those people yourself).

    But some of these reminded me of a couple of students I encountered when I was still an undergrad. There’s also always one person who’s terrible at taking feedback and gets very defensive. I don’t miss them.

    • Thanks, Natalia! We all bring different stuff to these retreats. What I don’t understand are the people who arrive with no intention of doing real work. It’s just nutty.

  3. So, I’m guessing a writers conference is different from a writers retreat? Mostly when I’ve known people who went on a retreat for a few days to write, it was a solo trip.

    The “it’s all about me” people are everywhere. A friend of mine knew someone who said, completely without irony, “Oh, enough about me. What do YOU think about my hat?” 🙂

    • LOL, Anthony, that’s hilarious!

      Some conferences have writers retreats associated with them. The retreat occurs before the conference (for an additional fee) and usually has about 10 people in it. It’s a chance to work on your craft with an established author. I normally get a lot out of them–it’s just fun.

  4. “Leave defensiveness at the door.” YES. There’s nothing worse in a critique group or workshop than seeing a writer get great, insightful feedback that she then argues with.

    • And they always say things like, “This is what I’m doing … .” And what I want to say is, That may be what’s in your head but it’s not translating on the page … Knowing how to handle feedback is a skill like any other, I guess.

  5. Lisa,
    I can hardly wait to see you and maybe bask a little in this. What a way to jump start revisions. Neat.
    Jeannie

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