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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

13 June 2007

Sound the retreat!

The main writing organization in New Orleans is SOLA, the Southern Louisiana chapter of the Romance Writers of America (RWA). SOLA’s members include not only romance writers but also those who write science fiction, fantasy, mystery, suspense, and nonfiction. Each July, some SOLA members trek to RWA’s national conference, a several-day event stuffed full of workshops, book signings, book give-aways, and parties. One comes home from “National” bursting with inspiration and the urge to try out all the new techniques and ideas one learned there.

This year, only one of the five members of my critique group can attend the RWA conference. The rest of us are, of course, disappointed to miss it. So this past weekend, all five of us took time off from work to have our own workshop and retreat. From 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, Friday through Monday, we sat around my dining room table and worked our butts off.

Our schedule allotted each person 4½ hours for whatever project she wanted to work on with the group. Each day had time carved out for lunch and an afternoon snack, and we ended the retreat with a 1½-hour discussion.

Me with my wonderful critique partners (from left to right):
Margaret Nichols, Rosalind M. Green, Shauna Roberts, Laurie Bolaños, and Farrah Rochon

The retreat was a far greater success than any of us had expected—so successful, in fact, that we used our wrap-up discussion to start planning a retreat for next year. We consumed huge amounts of snacks and laughed our heads off and celebrated Farrah’s second book contract and, most importantly, delved deeply into the writing process. We learned a lot, not only from our own 4½ hours but also from everyone else’s projects.

So what did we do? We all spent some time brainstorming portions of books or stories; one person plotted out two complete novels. We discussed various ways of keeping track of the chronology of a book’s events. One person has a novel almost ready to query, and we spent her session working on a hook and a minisynopsis for her query letter.

I decided to spend my session on learning how to put more emotional punch into my scenes after hearing one too many times in critique group, “But what are they feeling?” As regular blog readers may have noticed, I’m not a mushy, gushy person. My book characters tend to keep a stiff upper lip through all their trials and tribulations. No more. Now they will wring tears from readers’ eyes with their griefs and joys.

I hope.

The retreat was an intense experience. We’ll be tired for days and trying to lose the weight we gained for even longer. But it was worth every minute. I leapt to a new level in my writing. Not bad for four days’ work.


Farrah Rochon said...

Shauna, I am still in awe over how much knowledge I gained over those four days. I have attended many a writing conference, and not once have I come away with so much writing fuel. I am geared up and ready to take off, and I cannot wait until next year's retreat. I'll start dieting right now. :)

Lisa said...

What a great idea! I truly envy you ladies. It sounds like you have a great group with a lot of synergy and chemistry. It's amazing how some structured time with a supportive, talented group can yield so much. Shauna, I have a similar challenge when it comes to animating my characters with emotion. Last year my uncle asked if I'd be his living will proxy in case both he and his wife were incapacitated together. He said he'd considered other relatives, but decided I was the most "pulse-less" in the family. Yikes. I think it was supposed to be a compliment, but it made me realize I must appear to be an automaton. I'm not! Really I'm not! I have to work on imagining how more emotional people might react to things I guess :)

Charles Gramlich said...

What a great idea. Goes to show that you don't need to spend a lot of money or go to national events when you can get dedicated writers together with a committment to each other and the work.

ninthmuse (roz m) said...

We have, indeed, been a fortunate critique group. We're alike enough in temperament to get along and accept each others' quirks, but we're different enough in writing styles and interests to gain valuable insight from each other. Sometimes it's hard to have someone tell you what's wrong with your work, but our group members tell you WHY it doesn't read well and offer suggestion on how to fix it. Although I was initially reluctant to join, I'm so glad I did. And I'm so glad we were able to have the experience of an intensive weekend working specifically on our current and future manuscripts. The knowledge and support I've gained along the way have made me a better (if not faster) writer. The friendships...well, let's just say that these are women I hope to stay in contact with for the rest of my life, whatever happens in my writing career.

Shauna Roberts said...

Farrah, I'm so glad you spoke up and asked that we not do our retreat at the same time as National. It would have been a far less useful experience if you had not been among us.

Lisa, I've read your comment several times and laughed out loud each time. "Pulse-less" is such a great term.

Barring a critique group to point out that your characters are taking a disaster rather calmly, you might find it useful to read the lecture packet for psychologist Margie Lawson's online course "Empowering Characters' Emotions." I've gotten a lot out of it (and I'm still working through it). You can buy it without taking the course at for $20.

Thanks for stopping by again.

Charles, I think we all found the retreat as useful as the national RWA conference, and we probably spent less than $20 a person (for lunches, snacks, photocopying, and printing ink). The retreat bears some similarities to what your Monday (?) night writers' group does regularly, but we focused entirely on application rather than theory and on the problems we are encountering right now in our writing. I think it would be useful in our next year's retreat to also spend some time at a higher level as your group does.

Roz. Quirks? What quirks?

We are all glad you chose to be a part of the group. You always contribute a lot.

Sphinx Ink said...

The retreat sounds like a wonderful experience, and you have a great critique group. Isn't it a gift to find four such kindred writing spirits? My own weekly writers' group has become a very important part of my life.

By the way, I'm tagging you to take part in a "meme." If you'd like to participate, go to my blog entry for June 19 to learn more. It was fun.