Reflections on a Writing Residency and a Retreat
This fall I’ve been extremely fortunate to achieve some quality writing time in ways that were unusually helpful: a week-long writing residency and a weekend writing retreat. Both have given me a clarity on my current work in progress and energized me to finish this story more quickly than I ever could have imagined when I started it in September.
Do you ever go somewhere and then wonder if maybe you shouldn’t review it because you don’t want everyone to learn about your favorite beach or restaurant? Yes? That’s what Write On, Door County feels like for me. However, I would be doing a mean disservice to my writer friends if I didn’t share the wonder of this gem of a place. (For those of you already know all about Write On, Door County—don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean! LOL) But first, a heap of thanks must be extended to my good friend and fellow young adult novelist Angie Stanton who graciously shared her writing residency time with me.
I did not fully appreciate the concept of what a writing residency week could do for me. I dutifully prepared, by clearing the deck of my responsibilities for the week—no easy feat for anyone. Then Angie and I headed north on October 13, laptops, notes, reference books, wine and snacks piled high in the back of her SUV.
For the next seven days I worked on my brand new (barely in progress) work in progress. I was a mere 2500 words into this story prior to departure. My goal was to write 18,000 words (or 3000 words per day) to put me over the 20,000 mark. This was a monumental goal for me as that kind of word count is closer to my monthly total.
We didn’t write on our arrival day, instead acclimating and enjoying the Egg Harbor pumpkin festival where the delicious smells of kettle corn, caramel apples, cider and more filled the air. Gotta love how Door County feeds your senses (and your stomach).
The Write On Door County residence is truly a home away from home. It’s incredibly quiet and set amidst 40 acres of land. The space is shared with the offices of the group and provides ample space to write inside, outside in various places (weather permitting), and in an adorable writing coop that was once the writing studio of author Norbert Blei. There are mowed walking paths that help you take a break and breathe with interesting writerly encouragements scattered here and there.
All of this (the gift of a week of writing time in a peaceful environment without interuptions) was the perfect creative recipe! By the end of the week, I made my word count!
Each resident writer is asked to give back to the community with some sort of programming. I was lucky to talk with 6th through 8th grade students at the Sturgeon Bay Boys & Girls Club about my journey to becoming a published author and why their voice matters. Even after a full school day and homework time, these kids were attentive and asked smart questions. I was impressed.
The good news for all of us is that Write On Door County is expanding their footprint. They’ve broken ground for writing center and eventually a larger residency center. You can see all their plans HERE.
This is such an amazing place! I can’t say enough about it and the artistic environment it fosters for greater creativity in the world. Here’s how you can make a donation if you’re so inclined! It’s a great cause.
SCBWI Wisconsin Retreat
Riding high off of my word-count success in Door County, I was looking forward to getting some feedback on this story from both a highly respected young adult novel author Jeff Zentner and Charlesbridge editor Karen Boss at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Wisconsin retreat held at the Siena Center in Racine, Wisconsin November 8 – 10. This is the first time that the Wisconsin Chapter of SCBWI held a retreat weekend of this type. We were divided into two groups of 30 each, one for picture books and one for middle grade/young adult. (The picture book group faculty were author/illustrator Jessixa Bagley and Stephanie Pitts from the publisher G.P. Putnam’s Sons.)
If you don’t know the work of Jeff Zentner, get to a bookstore or library now and read one of his amazing books: The Serpent King, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee, and Goodbye Days. Be prepared to ugly cry as you read. He’s a fabulous author.
I was thrilled to have him look at my first pages. His feedback was both positive and constructive, giving me the insight I need to pump up the voice in this story and tweak the beginning to make it even more impactful. The notes provided by Karen Boss were also invaluable. She’s amazing and immediately targeted problem areas and the key positive points of everyone’s work. Plus, the peer critiques with other SCBWI members made this weekend a treasure trove of helpful guidance. There was plenty of worktime set aside, too.
This retreat worked well for newer authors and those who have been writing for years. As is the case at other SCBWI events, there was ample time for reconnecting with author friends and making new ones. It was wonderful to catch up with two of my critique group members, Keith Pitsch and Silvia Acevedo (the co-regional advisor for Wisconsin SCBWI). We critique each other’s work via email and don’t often see each other in person.
I was impressed with the many beautiful stories fellow SCBWI members are writing. We have an amazing talented chapter! Here’s to great success for us all!
I’m so grateful for how this special combination of work time between the residency and retreat has given me such excellent momentum for this particular story. If you have the chance for a retreat or residency in the future, I highly recommend setting aside time for either (or both!). Your writing will definitely benefit! (And your writing retreat doesn't have to be an organized one, read how simply getting away can work wonders for your creative process in Tracey Kathryn's post from earlier this year.)
Happy writing, Valerie
More photos: The Siena Center sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. Winter has come early this year.