This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend my fifth writing retreat. If you’ve never been to one of your own, I highly recommend it. It’s a time to network, a time to learn, a time to relax, a time to meet other people struggling with the same things you are, and it’s a time for self-discovery. Which kinda goes against the definition of the word retreat, if you think about it.
Personally, I’ve learned something new about myself and my writing at every retreat I’ve been to. Today I thought I’d reflect on those discoveries a bit and discuss how they’ve shaped me into the writer I’ve become, and push me toward the writer I want to be.
My First Retreat
Completely freaking terrified. I’d been writing less than a year, had a mountain of rejections piling up, and was painfully aware I was an introvert heading to a mountain getaway with a group of women I hardly knew. And of course one of the activities planned was to sit on a stool above everyone and read five pages out of my manuscript.
So how did I get through it? I did what any normal person would do. I bought the biggest bucket of Mojito mix I could find, shared it with these two cool chics I’d recently formed a bond with named Sydney and Lori, and planned to medicate my way through this awful event I was sure I would bomb. I don’t know that I’ve ever been that uncomfortable in my entire life, but I did it. And out of the critiques that came from my read was the most important epiphany I’ve ever had as a writer…
That I, Jenna Patrick, do not write romance.
My Second Retreat
A year later, I was sitting in the Hummer of a cute blonde girl I’d only met once or twice, heading up for my second retreat. We talked about our manuscripts, our aspirations, our families, our muses….pretty much anything two people can talk about who barely know each other and are sitting in a car together for two and a half hours. Turns out this chic had a really good friend, who just happened to be one of the writers assigned to critique the first ten pages of my manuscript.
That was Elizabeth Michels and Heather McGovern, and it was the beginning dreams of a little group called the Bad Girlz. Hence, the second most important epiphany in my writing career…
This is a long, brutal road we walk as writers, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to keep moving when you have people to push you.
My Third Retreat
So a few months later, that cute blonde girl invites me along on a “non-sanctioned” retreat, so to speak, to practice pitching for an upcoming conference. Of course there will be writing while we’re there as well, and critiquing as needed. This was the infamous retreat that I was “fan-girled” by my lovely friends inside a gas station, and that Sydney Carroll realized she might need to trim up her pitch.
This was also the retreat I had to look a friend in the face and break her heart by telling her to cut out the first 50 pages of her manuscript, and when I realized yet a few more things…
My strong suit is my editing skills. My special gift to my critique partners is my honesty. And maybe, just maybe, I was starting to get the hang of this.
My Fourth Retreat
Less than a year later, I’m sitting in that same cabin on another “non-sanctioned” retreat. This was where the idea of a group blog was introduced to the group by Ms. Darcy Drake. This was where I really got to know the latest addition to our little tribe – a fellow introvert and Alt Rock lover named Jeanette Grey. This was where I gave my first “trial” workshop and came to another conclusion….
Wow, I’d actually LEARNED stuff the past three years of this torture. I was no longer a beginner. I was ready to share my knowledge!!
And Finally, My Fifth Retreat
This past weekend I was sitting in a workshop lead by the talented Anna DeStefano about finding and perfecting your own writing technique. As I begin to plot my fourth book you’d think I already had perfected it, but nothing could be further from the truth. I heard techniques I hadn’t considered, and had ideas about how to make things easier on me. I sat in a room with four other writers, some of which were published authors, and used some of these techniques to work out issues we were having on our manuscripts. I met writers who are just beginning on this road, and saw the same look in their eyes I had on my first retreat. And then I realized my latest epiphany…
I will ALWAYS strive to find ways to be a better writer, no matter what stage I am at in this career. Otherwise, I have no business being a writer.
So I encourage you to find ways to better yourself, no matter where you are in your career. And feel free to share any insight you have to help others do the same!