Best Retreat Ever

Sarah Ketchersid, Tim Travaglini and Jen Rofé

Two weeks ago, right before we moved, I was fortunate enough to attend the Los Angeles Working Writer’s Retreat. If you ever have the chance, two words of advice: DO IT.

I’d considered going in the past, but always ended up going to the SCBWI summer conference instead. This year I decided to skip the conference and try out the retreat. I’m so glad I did. Two things set this event apart from others I’ve attended. First, you get a lot of one hour blocks to write and revise. Two, you get to interact with agents and editors in an informal, intimate setting.

The retreat is limited to 40 writers and you have to sign up early because the spaces fill fast. They have a big waiting list every year. Participants are split into groups of four. These are the people you’ll be attending critique sessions with for the weekend. (I was lucky enough to have the fabulous Lee Wind in my group. I can’t wait to read him in print!!) Each group makes its way through the agents, editors and authors on faculty. This year’s faculty included Jen Rofé from Andrea Brown, Sarah Ketchersid from Candlewick, Tim Travaglini who has edited projects like Michael Spradlin‘s YOUNGEST TEMPLAR trilogy and Laini Taylor’s DREAMDARK books, and the writing team of Judy Enderle and Stephanie Gordon who have written more than fifty books together.

The critique sessions are not for the faint of heart. While nobody is out to attack the writers, they are there to ask tough questions. Jen Rofé pointed out several weaknesses in the opening pages of my WIP and wouldn’t let me off the hook when I tried to explain my way out of it. Was it tough? Yes. Was it worthwhile? Absolutely. I ended up slashing three pages and starting the story in a completely different way. When she heard the new opening two days later she told me it was a great revision. Music to my ears 🙂

First Page panel: Jill Corcoran, Sarah, Jamie Weiss Chilton & Jen

That’s the beauty of this retreat. You have time to write and revise after the critique sessions AND you’re able to get more feedback on the changes you’ve made, to see if you’re going in the right direction. At Sunday morning’s First Page session, agents Jill Corcoran and Jamie Weiss Chilton joined the panel and let us know whether or not they’d be interested in reading more of our stories. I thought I’d be terrified being the first one to get up and read my page aloud. But after the karaoke party the night before…

Sarah sings Abba
Tim and Jen rock out to Weezer

…well, let’s just say belting out Journey in front of everyone was a lot more nerve-wracking for me than reading the first page of my story! Somehow, losing our inhibitions through music made everything easier. How else would we have known that Sarah Ketchersid has a soft spot for Abba? Or that Jen Rofé and Tim Travaglini sound good on Weezer? My critique partner Lori and I sang AC/DC’s “Back in Black” with Tim and we all jumped in when “Love Shack” came on at midnight. Yeah, it was that kind of night.

So next year, it’ll be a tough decision: summer conference or writing retreat? Maybe I’ll sell my novel, get a big enough advance and be able to attend both. *ahem* Did I say that out loud? Yeah, well, a girl can dream…

Thanks to organizers Lee Wind, Sarah Laurenson and everybody at SCBWI-LA who worked hard to make this event possible.

19 thoughts on “Best Retreat Ever

  1. It sounds as amazing as I thought it would be! I'm so glad you were able to go. I think when you get to a certain point, the retreats can have more value than the regular conferences (which doesn't mean you shouldn't do both).

  2. That sounds both amazing and terrifying! But I think it's great that you can get feedback after the revision too.

    And I love a good karaoke session. Haha. Awesome!

  3. Angela: It was totally worthwhile. I'm so glad I spent the money on this instead of the summer conference.

    Stina: The time to edit after the critiques was built in this year by the new organizers, Lee and Sarah. Pure brilliance on their part.

    Laura: The personalized time made it much more valuable than any other event I've attended.

    Anne: Check with your local writing group chapter and see if they can help you organize an event like this. I'm sure a lot of other writers would love to take part.

    Susan: This was SO valuable for my writing right now. But I'm glad I got to meet you at the conference last year!

    Matthew: The karaoke was a blast for sure! The quiet time to write and revise with no distractions: priceless 🙂

    Susan: Check with your SCBWI chapter and see if they have a similar event in your region.

    Tricia: I wish you could have gone! It would have been great to meet up with you in person!

    Krispy: Amazing and terrifying pretty much sums up the weekend 🙂

  4. Sounds like just the right mix of useful, inspiring work and outright FUN. And as for voicing your dream? Where would we be without our dreams? And when one of my “friends” tells me that I really should adjust my dreams to the “reality” of my situation, I tend to laugh at her and say, “What the hell is the point of dreaming little?” Maybe one day, someone will publish one poem? Feh to that. I hope you DO get a big advance on a published novel and go anywhere you darn well choose.

  5. Receiving critiques is hard, but one gets so much out of them.

    I was talking with someone the other day about wanting to go to a retreat. This one sounds fun and challenging.

    A big advance would be lovely. 😉

  6. Kristan: I wish you lived close enough, too. I have a feeling we'd have a great time together!

    Jeannette: The retreat was the perfect mix of work and fun. And thank you for believing in my dream, too 🙂

    Kathryn: Getting feedback on the revisions was awesome.

    Medeia: I think the best critiques I've ever received have been the toughest to hear, but in the end they make such a difference. I hope you get to go on a retreat. I, obviously, highly recommend them!

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