STEP ONE: Gather together some of the nicest, most interesting people you know.

The Des Moines Contingent:

The Fairfield Contingent:

The Iowa City Contingent:

BTW: It helps if someone in your group has a huge house, a saint of a husband, and is willing to host you all for the weekend.


STEP TWO: Set a date. Be aware that no matter what date you pick, some of those nice and interesting people that you want to invite aren’t going to be able to make it. Set a date anyway. Otherwise, “let’s do a retreat” will begin to sound a little like “let’s do lunch.” And you’ll never do it.

STEP THREE: Pack and Go!

Our retreat was held just outside the thriving metropolis of Granger, MO (population 44, so don’t blink…or talk too much…otherwise you’ll miss it! Right, Shelley and Cheryl?):

Note: “Go straight at the well”

If you follow the correct gravel roads, you’ll eventually end up here:

(…and if you don’t end up here, make sure you can find the well because then we can send a search party. If you can’t find the well, well…just make sure you CAN find the well!)


However…if somebody in your group has just adopted a 3-year-old deaf boy from China, it’s okay to take a break from the weekend (a retreat from the retreat?) to have an impromptu baby shower.

And…if YOU are the designated driver for your contingent, and you are so obsessed with your morning exercise that you absolutely have to take just a quick 10-mile bike ride before you go pick up your contingent, thus arriving at your destination 30 minutes later than expected, it’s only polite to help decorate the cake. (Note: it is NOT cool to still be decorating the cake when the receiver of the shower is arriving. Fortunately, we finished and managed to dispose of the evidence just in time.)

Suggestion #1: Don’t forget snacks. With proper nutrition, it is possible to put off dinner until…well, pretty late. And then you can feel really virtuous because you’ve worked so hard you’ve forgotten to start dinner.

Suggestion #2: Keep meals SIMPLE. (Our Friday night dinner was lasagna and pasta with pesto sauce, salad, and bread.)

BTW: If you’re planning on that impromptu baby shower, after dinner on Friday night is a good time.

I think she enjoyed herself:

But then because you are actually here to WRITE instead of talk and laugh, it’s a good idea to write a little more after the shower on Friday night. Gotta get those words in!

Suggestion #3: Don’t stay up TOO late. You need a good night’s sleep because Saturday is the real writing day.

Suggestion #4: Exercise!!! This is very important because you’re WORKING HARD. You’re also sitting a lot. You need to get the heart pumping…(don’t worry about burning calories…calories consumed at a writer’s retreat don’t count!) First thing Saturday morning is a good time to exercise…it gets HOT in Missouri in August.

BTW: If you’re going to rope a couple of your fellow retreaters into exercising with you, you only have to tell them how far you’re planning to go if you’re actually going to RUN. If you’re just going to walk, nobody needs to know that when you say “walk,” you want to walk ALL THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY until you’re a good two miles into the walk. This is especially true if one of your walking partners is a doctor. She knows CPR if it becomes necessary. Everyone will thank you for all that exercise later. Maybe.

Addendum #1 to Suggestion #2: Have somebody bring Brueggers bagels (because Brueggers is awesome!), cream cheese, and lox (because cream cheese and lox on a Brueggers bagel is even MORE awesome and will keep you going for a LONG time!) for breakfast.

BTW: if you told everyone back home that this was a “business trip,” not a pleasure trip (absolutely not!) try not to spend more than 90 minutes on breakfast…or lunch! (If you DIDN’T tell anyone back home that this was a business trip, then by all means, take as long as you’d like for meals.)

Suggestion #5: Choose your work space carefully. I worked by this pond so I could watch the fish and the turtles, and listen to the frogs and the nearby cows…it turned out to be the perfect place to plot a murder. (In a YA novel…not real life…)

BTW: Unless you are somebody who sees calves being born every day, it’s okay to take a break from the writing to watch the birth of a calf. (And if you do happen to be somebody (i.e. Patricia) who can see a calf being born every day, it’s still okay to take a break if absolutely everyone around you is taking a break…)

But then GET BACK TO WORK!!! Because, you know…this is a WORKING retreat.

Suggestion #5: Take time to make new friends:

And don’t tattle on those new friends if they sneak through the electric fence and go wading in the pond. (Remember, it’s HOT in Missouri.)

Addendum #2 to Suggestion #2: If you are 15 miles from a little town that has a great café complete with vegetarian options and children who will bring you fake food on a plate, that’s a great option for dinner Saturday night. It’s nice to give the poor husband a break from all the laugh—I mean, the women who are WORKING in his house.

Plus, it’s nice to get out and do something after you’ve been WORKING so hard all day.

Sometimes you get to see things in small towns that you don’t see many other places:

Suggestion #6: Take time to learn a new game. Here’s one we call “How many writers can you squeeze into a phone booth”

But then when you return to Retreat Central, GET BACK TO WORK!!!

Or…take a nighttime walk (assuming the people who took that 4.5 mile walk with you that morning (or the people who heard about it later) are willing to walk with you again):

THANK YOU Patricia (and everyone else!) for your year-round friendship, your laughter, your energy, and for giving me time and space to plot a murder! I really did get a lot done this weekend…I know WHO done it, WHY they done it, HOW they done it, WHO ELSE MIGHT HAVE done it (and why), and I managed to produce 15-20 handwritten pages of notes on characters and plot points. Thank you again for a wonderful weekend!

A Simple Four-Step Guide to the BEST WRITERS RETREAT EVER:

19 thoughts on “A Simple Four-Step Guide to the BEST WRITERS RETREAT EVER:

  • August 9, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    writer’s retreat

    Hey Dori, loved your account of the weekend–you captured the feeling perfectly. You have a great blog. And now I’m wondering why I didn’t ask you more about your plotting strategies while I was with you this weekend–I could have learned something valuable from a pro! Oh well, maybe next year . . . . Best, Linda

  • August 9, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Writer’s Retreat

    Thanks for the photos and description. I had a great time thanks to all of you! (Now to get those heifer calves out of the pond again!)

    • August 9, 2010 at 8:46 pm

      Re: Writer’s Retreat

      Forgot that I’m “anonymous” since I don’t have a LiveJournal ID. :o) Patricia Miller

    • August 10, 2010 at 1:01 pm

      You should’ve seen the bars…and the chips and salsa…and the parmesan pretzels…we definitely didn’t go hungry!

    • August 10, 2010 at 1:09 pm

      Re: wonderful!

      I highly recommend writers retreats…especially the ones you set up with your friends.

  • August 9, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    Lovely photos

    Ah, such lovely photos for what looked like a fabulous retreat. I’m inspired to plan something with my own critique group.

    • August 10, 2010 at 1:03 pm

      Re: Lovely photos

      Do it! This was the second year this particular group of friends did it. I have another group that goes in the fall…this will be our 12th year. That one is more of a critique/networking retreat…the one this weekend was a writing retreat.

  • August 11, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Awesome pictures! Almost like being there…but alas, not quite.

    My favorite is the picture of Amy with the cow.

    • August 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm

      I think that’s my favorite, too. I was talking to Wendy and turned around and well…wasn’t exactly shocked to see Amy standing there like that.

  • August 13, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    How awesome, Dori! I call tell you all worked very hard 🙂 That cake was so perfect! And anytime you get to write with cows nearby, it’s worth the heat. Thanks for sharing the pics!

    Sarah Mullen Gilbert

    • August 17, 2010 at 12:17 pm

      I agree…we got our dog a stuffed cow to play with. I think of Patricia and these weekends every time I see it!

  • August 15, 2010 at 2:36 am

    Vicarious Enjoyment Through a Blog

    Dori,I delight in seeing the well in the middle of the road, the cows in the middle of the pond, and my favorite writers in the middle of the retreat – WORKING HARD! I can hear the laughter yet!


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