Tag Archives: Writing Retreats

Mosquitos and Motivation

Deadlines are looming. So I did what any sensible writer would do. I recruited a friend, packed up my computer, and headed up north. It takes a fellow writer to appreciate the joys of spending a beautiful Muskoka weekend indoors, hunched over a dimly lit table, typing away while the sun shines on the lake.

Lest you admire our discipline, let me remind you that the mosquitos this time of year are the size of Mac trucks. They zoom around in curtain-y swarms. Whenever one passed by the window, it blotted out the sunlight.

We got lots done. My friend managed to come unstuck on her project, and I finished a draft of one novel and got most of the way through a draft of another.

It’s still going to take a lot of work to meet my deadlines this month. And I’ve used up my “weekend away” card already, so I think I’m going to have to do this the old-fashioned way: standing at my desk, typing, with the door closed. Imagining a giant, bloodthirsty mosquito waiting to pounce on me if my hand touches the doorknob.

What works for you?


(And my first television appearance. But you have to read all the way to the end for that. Or just check out my new Videos page.)

Port Joli ScenerySometimes a writer’s just gotta get away from it all. We’re not talking Walden here; I have something a lot cushier in mind. Something like the place I just got back from last night.

So if you’re looking for a writing retreat, I now have two that I can recommend from personal experience. One just finished, but will be back in the fall (location TBA). One will take place next September in Nova Scotia, and is taking applications until the end of this month.

Here goes: a tale of two writing retreats.

Port Joli

We’ll start with PJ, because if you’re interested, you need to get your application ready right away. (More information can be found here.) Port Joli is located on the south shore of Nova Scotia, about two hours west of Halifax. It’s beautiful. I’ve been twice now.

Peter Carver, children’s editor with Red Deer Press, and well-known children’s writer Kathy Stinson run this retreat/workshop. Needless to say, it’s aimed at children’s writers — although I can’t imagine any sort of writer being unwelcome.

Writers (there are only six spots available) spend the week in Peter and Kathy’s seaside home. Mornings are dedicated to quiet writing time. You can choose your writing spot in the house or in one of the outbuildings. I wrote in the fish house my first year, right down by the water. I thought that was the best location ever, but then I discovered the barn. There’s also a neat little desk on the top floor of the house with a fabulous view of the ocean. You could write in your room if you wanted, but why?

Breakfast and lunch are serve-yourself, and after lunch there are group critique sessions, then participants are free to explore the property or write until dinner. Dinners are catered and are seriously yummy. You’ll also have a one-on-one feedback session with Peter or Kathy. No page limit on this one; you can send your whole novel.

Evenings are spent together, talking about writing or having fun. Peter will insist on playing book-title charades once. Best to humour him. Just try to come up with something really good ahead of time to stump him with. (Apparently “Gooney Bird Greene” got some serious mileage one year.)

You can expect quite writing and relaxing time, lots of inspiration, new writer friends, valuable feedback, and so much useful information on writing that it’ll take you the rest of the year to digest it all. Depending on how you balance yummy food with long walks on the beach, you may also expect to come home a wee bit lighter or heavier.

Must love dogs. But if you think you don’t, Keisha will convince you otherwise.


I just came back from the Writescape “Spring Thaw” session. This time, it was held at the wonderful Elmhirst’s Resort in Keene, Ontario. Writers lived two or three to a cottage, so we each had our own private bedroom to work in. Mine had a view of Rice Lake!

Writescape is an unusual sort of writing retreat in that it moves from place to place. It’s run by Ruth Walker and Gwynn Scheltema, both of whom are excellent writers and experienced workshop facilitators. (They’re also good friends of mine and in my writing group, but I’d say that even if they weren’t.) You can find more information on the Writescape Retreats here.

At a Writescape retreat, Ruth and Gwynn offer optional workshops if you need some help getting started with your writing. You’re also welcome to choose private work time instead. They have an “inspiration station” — a table full of strange and wonderful objects to help inspire your writing. Scrabble tiles, a wooden lizard, mysterious boxes, even Easter eggs with words inside them.

Writescape balances working time with the opportunity to connect to your fellow writers. Friday night, I felt a bit worried, looking around the room and seeing mostly strangers. By Sunday, I was sad to see them go. About a dozen of us chose the “extend your pen” option, which meant staying through Monday and Tuesday as well — bonus writing time. I especially enjoyed that part, since it was a smaller group and more focused writing time.

I’m not sure where the Fall Retreat will be this year. Gwynn and Ruth haven’t made the details public yet. But save the last weekend in October, and I’ll post the information here when it’s available!

Check out this CHEX Newswatch segment for more information on Writescape. It’s from last Monday morning — you’ll see me in some of the group shots. I also have a one-on-one discussion with the anchorwoman about reluctant reader books later in the show, which I’m hoping eventually to post on its own.

Poem for Writers

Lots happening lately in my little writing life.

The Mabel’s Fables workshop (aka. George Brown College’s Writing Fiction for Children, level two) started up again last night. It looks like we’re a smaller group than usual, probably because of the winter weather, but there are so many old friends and wonderful writers there, and some new faces as well. It should be a good term. I read aloud the first two chapters of my current project for critique, and got some encouraging (but thorough–believe me, this crowd doesn’t let you get away with anything) feedback.

I’m working on a writing workshop that I’ll be presenting in February. This is one of the Writer’s Circle of Durham Region’s after-breakfast mini-workshops; one hour long. My topic is Writing for the Hi-Low and Reluctant Reader Market. I’ve got lots of good information to share. The hard part will be fitting it all into one hour.

And my husband and I spent last weekend pursuing our respective nerdy passions (mine = writing, his = coding). For Christmas, he gave me a weekend away with him at the Grey Stone Return Bed & Breakfast near Picton, Ontario. It’s gorgeous there.

Grey Stone Return--stone wall
Grey Stone Return

We went last year, too, but I ended up with a ridiculously bad cold and spent the weekend churning out kleenex instead of pages.

This year was different. The B&B is built around a tiny fieldstone home that apparently used to belong to the teacher at the local one-room schoolhouse. You can touch the stones, and see where the (low) roof used to be. I loved feeling so close to history. I think it helped, since it was a historical project I was working on. Anyhow, I came home with 12,000 new words and a feel for the story. So far, so good.

Finally, I leave you with Kate Messner’s beautiful poem for writers, which I discovered through Cheryl Rainfield’s blog. Read the poem. And then go back to your writing and feel good about what you’re doing.

Novel Marathon Wrap-Up

My friend Susan and I are heading up north this weekend for the Muskoka Novel Marathon wrap-up on Sunday. We’ll make a weekend of it, taking Brian Henry’s writing class in Gravenhurst on the way up on Saturday.

We’re spending the night at my parents’ cottage, which at this time of year is rather chilly and free of running water (unless you count the lake), but free and close to Huntsville. I expect we’ll do some writing Saturday night — a writing nerd’s idea of a good time, and Susan and I both qualify — but only if we can thaw out our fingers enough.

I’ve got these wonderful half-mittens… kind of like fingerless gloves, but much easier to type with. They might be making an appearance.  Actually, I wish I’d had them the summer before last, at the Nova Scotia writing retreat–early mornings in the fish house were lovely but chilly. 

Anyhow, links:

Karen Wehrstein, a novel marathoner, wrote this summary of the novel marathon, complete with pictures. 

Brian Henry’s course list is here; the class we’re taking is here

I’ll post the novel marathon results sometime next week!

Muskoka Novel Marathon 2009

I joined in the Muskoka Novel Marathon again this year, one of my favourite writing events. It’s a fundraiser for the Muskoka Literacy Council, run by the wonderful Susan Lowe. 

I wrote a children’s novel this year; just under 25,000 words in 3 days. Crazy. Obviously it’s going to need a lot of work (when I finally get back to it… new marathon projects get back-burnered for a long time), but for a first draft written at great speed, I’m happy with it.

The marathon was great. Everyone was friendly and supportive as always. I even dragged a friend from my night class along… it was her first marathon, and she was happy with it, I think. She got a first draft finished… impressive, considering that she lost fifteen pages due to a technical glitch on the second day.

It’s always such a nice feeling to write “the end”, and know that your vague idea has turned into an actual manuscript that you can edit and shape and pick the best parts out of. I find editing easier than writing; that’s probably why I like marathons. It’s always easier to fix something that exists than something that doesn’t.

See article in The Muskokan.

Sunbonnet for Stella

Stella is my iBook. I’m about to take her on a trip to Nova Scotia, for a week-long writing workshop/retreat hosted by Peter Carver and Kathy Stinson. I’m hoping to do some writing outside. Stella has a shiny screen, though, and the glare from the sun gets to be a bit of an issue. 

I looked at different visors that are available, but didn’t like any of them. Macs are nice-looking computers; why cover them up with black vinyl? I also didn’t like the idea of any adhesive residue or velcro pads stuck on the lid. There’s a pretty cool telescoping visor out there, but it cost more than I wanted to spend. 

Fortunately, I have a Mom who’s pretty handy with a sewing machine. I took some measurements, drew up a plan, and brought her some fancy umbrella-patterned fabric (and apple buttons, of course). Here’s the result.  

It might be a bit cutesy for some (okay, for most, and don’t even get me started on what my Mac-loving husband thinks of this whole dress-up thing), but it suits me just fine, and it doesn’t leave any marks on Stella. The top and side panels are reinforced with plastic binder dividers and cardboard. Thin elastic holds the “sunbonnet” on to the laptop lid. The whole thing folds down small enough to fit in my computer bag. 

So, off to Nova Scotia this Saturday for a field test… 

Why I like novel marathons

Late Monday night, I got back from the Muskoka Novel Marathon. Very late, by my wimpy standards, and I have to admit my friend Anne Louise and I were a bit punchy to be taking on that kind of a drive, after writing for the better part of three days.

The Muskoka Novel Marathon is a fundraiser for the Muskoka Literacy Council.

Novelists raise pledges, then undertake either a two or a three-day writing spree. The idea is to complete an entire novel in the time that you have. You’re allowed to bring only a one-page outline, and all work must be done at the event. Submissions are read by a panel of judges, with winners in the adult, young adult, and children’s categories being passed on to participating publishers for review (after you get some time to fix up the rough draft, of course).

You don’t have to submit. This year, I didn’t, choosing instead to use the time to work on a novel that I started back in January. It’s nice to have that deadline, though. It can really push you to get through that story arc… the “novels” are all pretty short, and probably bear very little resemblance to the final, polished drafts, but it’s nice to have a beginning, a middle and an end under your belt before you start editing.

Some people go at the whole marathon thing pretty hard core. I haven’t done a writing all-nighter since university, so I tend to work as late as I think is reasonable, then drive home (or in this case, to my parents’ cottage) to catch a few hours sleep before returning. I have a lot of respect for the “night crew”, but it’s not for me.

This was my fourth novel marathon. I’d have to say it was the best so far. I don’t know if it was just the combination of people there, or the way the event was run, but it was a very friendly, encouraging atmosphere. Who says writing can’t be a social sport?

The best part was the Word Wall. Every ten pages, writers posted a piece of paper with the new page count. Somehow, that made it a group undertaking–it was a great visual reminder that we were all in this together. Besides, I liked seeing that I wasn’t the only slow writer. 

I think the novel marathon is a great way to pump out a first draft. The timeline works in your favour, forcing you to write more and edit less. You can’t listen to that nagging voice in your head, the one that wonders about commas and vocabulary and why you ever though you could be a writer in the first place, when you’re caught up in the zen-like flow of the novel marathon at its finest.

In the immortal words of Kevin, fellow marathoner and WCDR member: First Draft Ugly. No Apron Wringing. (I love it. I want to paint it on my office wall.)

Or, as my brother likes to say, git’er done.