This past weekend was the time of the annual writers retreat at our Idaho home. There are 11 of us who come each year (although one couldn't make it this year). The retreat starts Thursday and folks go home Monday morning. We have a wonderful time of friendship, laughing, plotting, laughing, encouraging one another, laughing, praying--and did I say laughing?
Not too long ago someone emailed me, asking how the schedule for this retreat weekend goes. This person was interested in starting a group of her own. She asked--what are the plotting sessions like? How long are they? Are they really helpful? Etc.
Here's what's worked for us for the past five years.
People arrive Thursday afternoon. We have dinner together, then go into our worship/prayer session. Each one of us takes five minutes or so to talk about the struggles/successes for the past year, and what particular prayer needs we have. (Most of this is already known since we are connected through an email loop year round and are continually encouraging and praying for each other.) Then we go into prayer. We're blessed to have a couple great singers in our group, and they'll often lead us in prayer choruses and hymns.
Our plotting sessions run Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, and into early afternoon. Not all 11 of us are writing. We usually have about nine sessions during the retreat. If that's the case, we do three a day at an hour each. This year, having only seven sessions, we did three the first day and two for the next two days. Plus we were able to add an extra fifteen minutes per session. We start with devotions around 9:00, then go into the first session at 9:30. If there are three sessions, we'll do two in the morning with a short break in between, and the third after lunch. We're writing in myriad genres, so we schedule the sessions to have a variety of genres each day.
For the first couple years we tried the "list of 20" format for each session. The presenter tells the basis of the book (this can vary from knowing the basic plot to knowing very little to knowing nothing--"I need to figure out a proposal for genre X." Then each person would list ideas for plot points, characterization or scenes. In the last few years we've found that talking out the plot as a group works better. In the list format, folks can go off on different tangents. In the talking it out format, we throw out ideas until the right one registers with the presenter, then build on it from there. In sixty to seventy-five minutes, we can plot much of a story. It's amazing to see the synergy at work when you get that many minds together. And our group seems to get better at helping each other every year.
In the afternoons we rest or play. Go into town and shop, go out in the boat, whatever. Some may do some writing. After dinner we'll usually watch a movie one night. This time on another night we played the game Liebrary, which is great fun with a bunch of novelists. In Liebrary, players supply the first line to a published book, and others vote for the line they think is the right one. The librarian for each round has the real first line.
There are some logistics that help make a plotting weekend like this go smoothly. As the hostess, I want to make sure everyone's comfortable, and in a group of 11 there are plenty of needs/preferences for things to eat. How to feed that many people three times a day and not spend all day in the kitchen? How to pay for everything? Where does everyone sleep? And how to keep the group at the right number of people? Our group struggled with that question in the beginning. It's a hard question when all of us have lots of writer friends and would like to invite everyone. But our ultimate solution has worked well.