Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Hello world! 

I've always been fascinated by the subject of writer retreats. It is one of my dreams to participate in one as I've never done it. It's the idea of leaving your routine life for a minute and simply drowning in your craft, while enjoying the precious camaraderie of like-minded people - and a glass or two of wine :) - that is the main attraction. When Julia Phillips Smith, my guest of today, told me that she goes to a weekend-long one every year, I just had to ask her to write about it. After reading her post I thought, what an experience! Let me allow Julia to tell you all about about life at a retreat now, and see if you agree :)...


Heading for dinner at the lodge with Annette and Kelly Boyce
As I wade with gusto into the holiday season, one of the things to which I look forward most of all in the coming year is the annual retreat hosted by my writers’ group.

For the past decade, I’ve belonged to Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, the local chapter of Romance Writers of America. Each autumn about a dozen of us hightails it to Nova Scotia’s south shore for a weekend of high impact writing, laughter, movie watching, wine drinking and maybe a bit of chillaxin’.

My friend Kelly Boyce and I have been to every retreat since we joined, and she feels the same way I do: the moment we pack up the car and head back for the city, we’re already counting the days until the next one.

My friend Kelly Boyce and me, hardcore retreaters
Why? you may ask.

What is it about a retreat that a weekend at home couldn’t replicate? Couldn’t I just book off all of my normal weekend things and focus on my writing?

…well, you could. It’s not impossible to create your own retreat if you don’t live near any of your writer peeps. Here’s what I find so renewing and irreplaceable about going on a writers’ retreat:


The act of separating yourself from your everyday schedule and environment is the key element. The symbolic power of hitting the road for the retreat is filled with intention and purpose. When we go to our retreat, we mean business. This isn’t a stretch-out-and-have-a-massage kind of retreat. We actually get an amazing amount of focused writing done.

Timed writing sessions (rough pages of SAINT SANGUINUS)

No one at the writers’ retreat is wearing any other hat but their writer hats. Mom/wife/daughter/other family member/day job employee/committee member/other organization support team member—all of those other roles are parked in the city or at home.

At the retreat, we can all speak writer shorthand. We all understand what we mean. So we can go deeper. We can have real craft-of-writing conversations. Somehow, the time we spend at our regular monthly meetings never seems to last long enough for the types of conversations that flourish at the retreat.

My book trailer producer Tara MacDonald

Over the years, we’ve had craft-of-writing sessions touching upon things like the use of dialogue, world building and the hero’s journey. We’ve had great success with games like Whose Muse is Whose? which showcases pictures of the inspirations for our works-in-progress heroes, with retreat-goers trying to match up the hero to the writer.

A full house (or cottage, as the case may be)
To be honest, all of that stimulation makes me a bit wired by the end of the weekend. It’s pretty much the opposite of rest and relaxation.


This is the jewel in the crown of the retreat. Everyone brings loose ideas for this part of the weekend. The larger group gets split into groups of three or four, which then times out a 40-minute pitch and brainstorming session for each member of the mini grouping.

You’d be amazed at the paranormal suggestions that can come from a contemporary author. Mixing up genres can give really fresh ideas. I’ve also brainstormed with two other fantasy/paranormal writers and our sessions turned out diamond ideas.

 Kelly getting some sun and writing time

We do a great deal of writing work at the retreat, but we have an equal share of play as well. Some of us go for walks by the sea or in the woods. Some of us curl up with a book. Many bottles of wine are opened. Lots of yummy food is inhaled. I think it’s an essential part of the retreat to reconnect with the joy of writing.


Whose Muse is Whose? game
If you don’t have access to a writers’ group, or if you have far-flung writer friends and wish you could meet up for a retreat, in this new age of Skyping, why not organize a virtual retreat?

The success of our writers’ retreats is in no small part to the planning of the executive. If 2013 seems like the time to finally organize something for yourself, I strongly encourage you to seize the day.

Your future readers will thank you for it.       

Thank you Julia for being a guest on my blog! It's been a pleasure. Find out more about Julia and her work at

Other social media links:

Julia's latest release:

The truth burns
No one is safe when the dragon glides low over the Eighth Dominion. Not the high born who plot and spill blood. Not the low born who serve with one eye to the sky and the other glancing back.
Young Scorpius is fetched from the estate nursery, once raised to live among the nobility – claimed finally not by his family, but by a falconer to serve as his apprentice.
Scorpius soon learns that a noble hides his monstrous appetites beneath velvet and jewels, while the leathery-winged dragon is honest about his own. His master does his best to shield Scorpius from the world outside their cottage, but the falconer is merely a servant who must obey his own masters.
An attempt on the life of a young lord while on a hunt sends the falconer’s apprentice on an abruptly different path, bringing Scorpius into the service of the House of Pruzhnino. Court intrigue sinks its talons into everyone, even Scorpius–especially a former falconer’s apprentice once raised to be a lord in his own right.
AVAILABLE NOW at Amazon and Smashwords


~ Natalie G. Owens ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just a world of love, mystery and fantasy!


Jennie Marsland said...

Oh, the memories! Can't wait till the next one, Julia.

Nikki McIntosh said...

I LOVE writing retreats - nothing better than spending a whole weekend dedicated to your passion!! Great post Julia - loved how you summed it up!

Katt said...

Sounds like a wonderful time!

I'd love to do something like this on the westcoast. How did you get started? Did you begin as a group or a few? Has your group grow over time?

I look forward to visiting the East Coast and my mom's heritage one day.

Rhonda Hopkins said...

Great post. I absolutely love going on retreats with other writers. I haven't done it in a couple of years. This made me realize how much I missed it and need it. :-)

Anne MacFarlane said...

You guys always look like you have so much fun. I hope to make it to the next one.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Jennie, Nikki and Anne - Our retreats ROCK!

Katt - Our group is a chapter of the larger writers' organization Romance Writers of America (even though we're in Canada.) The annual retreat is open to active chapter members and we use it as a fundraiser for the group. It's incredibly cost-effective. We get an amazing weekend for a very reasonable fee!

Rhonda - I think retreats like this one are definitely in the 'needs' VS 'wants' category when you are creating.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Natalie - Thank you SO much for hosting me on your blog today! Maybe one of those virtual retreats could be in our future...

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