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10 Reasons why EVERYONE should go to a writing retreat.

I just returned from the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Novel Revision Retreat in beautiful Richmond, VA. As usual it was amazing - and I thought I'd share ten reasons why a retreat is exactly what an aspiring writer needs:

1. THERE WILL BE BRILLIANT SPEAKERS. There’s something about going to a conference with 25 people versus a conference of 250. I love a good conference. But at a retreat where you all stay on a campus in little cabin type places with roommates and they ring an actual dinner bell at meal times, you get to know the speakers as more than just editors from far-away NYC or famous authors that write award winning novels or picture books.

2. THERE ARE OTHER WRITERS THERE. By the time the wine is gone on the second night, you know each other’s names and projects and they will even follow you on twitter. And when your anonymous first page gets read out loud they will all laugh in the right places and smile a lot because they’re guessing you’re the one to write about bra shopping with your grandmother. And you will do the same for everyone else.

3. THERE MIGHT BE BUGS. If you go to a retreat center like beautiful Roslyn-in-the-middle-of-a-meadow, you will simultaneously be able to face your WRITING fears and any INSECT fears you have lying around. Because there are a ton of insects. And they are not scared of writers.

4. YOU WILL LEAVE INSPIRED. For me this is true for just about every conference. But at a retreat it happens faster and the inspiration lasts a bit longer. Everyone leaves the retreat ready to face the empty page again. Re-energized. Hopeful. You can just SEE it in everyone’s faces.

5. THERE WILL BE FOOD OF SOME KIND. Well, there was food there. They didn’t expect us to survive on writing tips alone. But, BRING snacks, people, because you just might starve until fried chicken Sunday if you don’t.

6. THERE WILL BE COMRADERIE. Sitting at a computer writing in the early mornings or late-nights when everyone else is sleeping can make it seem like you’re the only one awake in the world. But you’re not. I just met a dozen or so writers that DO THE SAME THING. And many of them have the same fears and insecurities and strange attachment to writing utensils as me. It’s like we’re all writing twins!

7. BUGS AGAIN. I know I mentioned them already but the bugs are REAL. I must have been the only person warning everyone else at the retreat because by Sunday whenever anyone saw a form of wildlife they were like ‘I saw an enormous centipede in my bathtub this morning and I totally thought of you.’

8. THERE WILL BE WRITING. At the end of a long day of talks and speaker brilliance, many people take a moment to sit around the campfire with a s’more or glass of wine or melty cheese and then return to their rooms to write. Also expect writing exercises and if you're in Mary Quattlebaum’s session and everyone’s too shy or uncaffeinated to share just right away – she will CALL on someone. So you better make sure you’re writing something.

9. YOU WILL WANT TO TRY SOMETHING NEW. There is less talk of getting published and more talk of writing-the-novel at these retreats. We learn other people’s techniques. How Kathy Erskine uses Scrivener to write. And how once – for research - she had to fold herself underneath a pew just to see if she fit. Mary Quattlebaum explores POV, looking for the very best one for each manuscript, and encourages everyone to do the same because it might not be the POV you expect. And Bonnie Bader gave us a glimpse of what it’s like to revise with an editor. And had us writing pivotal scenes through the eyes of a minor character to get closer to our story. And it worked! So now I want to try all of these things at the exact same time starting tomorrow morning.

10. THERE WILL BE NEW FRIENDS. I met my dear writers group at the same Novel Revision Retreat NINE years ago. And we’ve been meeting every Thursday of our lives since. It’s almost impossible not to make a connection at one of these retreats. I dare you not to make a single friend.

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