Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Writers Retreat--Part II

Yesterday in the comments someone asked how our writers retreat group was put together, and how I decided who to invite. I can take little credit for the formation of this wonderful group. I'm convinced God put us together.

It all started with my inviting one author friend to visit our home in Idaho. Then it sort of ... expanded. "Well, why not also invite another writer friend who's local." Then--"why not invite this third person. And the fourth..." Then--"Well, if we're having all these writers together, how about if we hold some plotting sessions."

By the time it was all done, about half the group was people close to the northern Idaho area, and the other half from nearby states--Oregon, Montana, Colorado, plus southern Idaho. We had nine novelists, plus two more who joined us--my assistant, who lives nearby, and my mom. Yup, Mama Ruth was not to be left out of such an interesting group, she declared. Now she's mama to all of us.

We decided to hold the group to our 11 people. Sometimes it's hard to say--we have a closed group, and we can't invite anyone new. But we agree that's the only way to keep the group viable. More people would mean cramming more people around the table. It would also mean more plotting sessions--and we can't do any more than nine per retreat. Additionally, when the group becomes more like a year-round church care group, sharing challenges and praying for one another, you don't want to bring someone new into that mix after five years without everyone agreeing that should be the case.

If you're thinking about starting your own group, here are some logistics that we've learned along the way.

1. Food. Keep the menus simple and divide the tasks. Those of our group who drive in bring a meal, either a lunch or dinner. We have sandwiches and salad for lunch, simple things like hamburgers, spaghetti, ham, taco soup, etc. for dinner. Everyone gets her own breakfast--I just provide all the fixin's.

2. Paper plates! After the first year we went totally paper--utensils too, and plastic hot and cold cups. No one should have to be in the kitchen, cleaning dishes three times a day.

3. Expenses. We keep track of food purchases, with the total being divided up. This year each member paid $40. Not bad for 4 1/2 days of constant eating. (Believe me--we don't starve.)

4. Plotting sessions. As mentioned, nine is our max. That's three a day. Don't overextend yourselves here. It depends on the length of your retreat. But if you go three days, you'll find that by the last day, the brains can get tired. Leave yourselves plenty of time for just hanging out and having a good time.

5. Plotting sessions point 2. We don't have any pre-retreat preparation for each others' sessions. We just don't have time to read a bunch of proposals and pages ahead of time. Each presenter only needs to prepare for her own session. She may have a handout of a proposal, or she may be prepared to take 10 minutes or so to concisely tell the others about the story/characters.

6. Beds. With all five bedrooms here full, I still have six more people to house. I bought the AeroBed blow-up mattresses. We line 'em up down in the huge finished basement--we call it The Dorm.

Our retreat is probably on the larger side, as retreats go. There are a lot of logistics for the hostess in preparing to house and feed that many people for four days. You can certainly plan a smaller retreat. But of course, the more writers, the more minds around that table in the plotting sessions. It's because of our large group that we can get so much done in 60-75 minutes.

Anybody else a part of retreat like this? I'd be interested in hearing how others are set up.


Deborah Raney said...

Hey, Brandilyn, loved hearing about your retreat. I'm part of a similar group that meets once a year in the Midwest. There are 8 authors in our group and like you, we've decided this is the max we can handle in a short weekend. We convene early on a Friday evening and eat dinner out together, then go back to our hostess' home and do two brainstorming sessions. That leaves us with five to do on Saturday (two of our writers are co-authors) since we finish late Saturday night.

We allow 5 minutes for the writer to set up the story and tell us what they need most at whatever point they are in the process (plot ideas, character development, theme, titles, series ideas, etc.) Then for the next 40 minutes the rest of us "popcorn" ideas while the author frantically takes notes on his/her laptop.

The only real rules are: nothing is too stupid to voice (it's amazing how many great ideas have come after someone threw out an outlandish suggestion!) and we do not go off on tangents. We police each other very well and are careful to give every one of those precious 45 minutes to the author's idea. We have 15-minute bathroom breaks between sessions, giving everyone a chance to stretch, grab a snack and come back ready to go back to work.

Logistics: most of us stay in a nearby hotel and come back to the hostess' house around 9 Saturday morning for coffee and rolls. Lunch is Papa Murphy's take-n-bake pizza, and since we all drive in, we each contribute a snack or drink to share throughout the day: trail mix, cookies, drinks, etc.

Our hostess is a fabulous cook and always has a great dinner planned and most of the food prepared ahead, but come dinner time, we all help her get the food ready, then we eat in the formal dining room. We have a great time talking shop and rehashing the books we've just brainstormed. We're in our sixth or seventh year now, and I'm not sure I could finish a book without my friends' help!

I've had a couple of smaller overnight mid-year brainstorming sessions at my house, too. My husband goes out of town on business a couple of times a year, so this is a good excuse to get a group of writer friends together for a brainstorming "slumber" party. With a smaller group, things can be a bit more informal, but the basic rules are the same.

Lynette Eason said...

Thanks, Brandilyn and Deborah, for sharing. This sounds fantastic. I would love to be able to find/start a group like this on the east coast...Hey, if any of you BGers are from SC, NC, GA, and that area and are interested, email me...ha. Seriously, Brandilyn, that is so cool. Again, thanks for sharing. I love the pictures, too. You have a beautiful home.

M. C. Pearson said...

Sounds like a great time.

Soooooo...where is your FIRST post for Bad Idea? ;-)

rose mccauley said...

I love the suggestions brandilyn and deb had for us. I do have a ? Are all your authors already pubbed or did you start with a mix of both pubbed and unpubbed? I'd love to start something like this someday. thanks! rose

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

No, Rose, we weren't all published when we started, and one of the writers still isn't. Another author started unpublished, then quickly went on to multiple contracts and just recently won the RITA.

Don't be afraid to mix the pubbed and unpubbed if you want. Our one gal who's still unpublished has a great brain and wonderful ideas. No question that she keeps up with the rest of us in the sessions. But she's working full time and is unable to write much these last few years.

Christine said...

I am a "newbie" to the writing/publishing world - my first manuscript is floating out there in agent land waiting to be hooked. I have looked in vain for writers conferences and retreats in the Northeast coastal region. I would LOVE to get together with some Christian writers for a retreat like you described. Anyone in the NY, PA, NJ, CT, or VT area?? I love this whole idea and would be willing to play hostess.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Christine, because this post is a few weeks old, it's not likely that many people are now checking its comments. But you have given me an idea. I will write a post next week about people wanting to set up retreats--and you can comment to that new post.

Cara Putman said...

I'm not part of such a retreat format, yet. Though I am praying for the right group to do something like this with. I do have a couple ladies that I brainstorm with on an ongoing basis. Any of us have a need to brainstorm and we schedule a conference call. Key since we're a bit scattered. And I love the chance to flesh out story. More brains really are better at that stage of the game.