April 2, 2014
This past weekend, I joined three writer friends at the beach for our first annual plotting retreat. Based on the productivity and fun of the weekend, we will most definitely be doing this again. The premise was simple: we sequestered ourselves in a condo away from family distractions for two and a half days for intensive brainstorming and plotting. And plot we did!
Despite Mother Nature trying to intimidate us with 60 mile an hour winds, lightning and flooding rains our first full day (yes, the wind blew so hard our building swayed and the chandelier was swinging!), we plotted books. Despite endless hours of annoying high pitched moans from the wind in the balcony door, we plotted books. Despite the bright, seizure-worthy flashing of the fire alarm light in every room of the condo (and reflecting in the many mirrors throughout the unit) following the storm, we plotted books.
In fact, we plotted TWENTY books! (Full disclosure, we didn’t plan every scene of each of those books, but we did the hard work of developing characters, backstories, conflicts, motivations, character growth, opening scenes, black moments or some combination of these key elements for all twenty books. And we planned a special writing project for the four of us to collaborate on (details on this to come later!).
We structured the retreat in such a way that every person got exactly the same amount of plotting time. One lady was the time keeper with a timer running on her phone to keep us on our timetable. In between each person’s turn, we took a fifteen minute break to stretch our legs, get a snack or drink, chase those rabbit trails we had quashed earlier and step out on the balcony for a glimpse of the beach. Each person drew a number, and we cycled through rotating the order so no one was always last or first. So day one, we spent an hour on each person with person 1 first, then person 2, then 3, then 4. The next day we started with person 2, then 3, then 4, then 1. And so on. We each ended up getting five turns or approximately five hours.When you are focused, and considerate of each other’s time (no monopolizing the time with rabbit trails or personal stories) you’d be surprised how much work you can get done!
The collective creative energy was palpable. One person’s good idea would feed another person’s GREAT idea. We all had ah-ha moments that made the group issue a collective “Ooooh, yeah!” Sure, sometimes by the end of the day we got a bit punchy and had a good laugh over some silly ideas, but the laughter was part of the sense of community. We all feel a little bit a part of the other authors’ books and have a vested interest in supporting each other through the writing process.
Planning was key to the smooth running of the retreat. One member of our group had done a similar retreat before and planned the structure and kept us on track. Three of us had cooked ahead of time and had most of the meals already prepared, ready to heat up. We bought groceries the first day, including take out pizza for dinner and finger food snacks like grapes, pretzels and bottled water. Of course, we also had cookie dough dip, M&Ms, chips…more food than we could eat, and trust me we ATE all weekend! Having the food arranged ahead meant we didn’t need to stop to cook (more than popping something in the oven or microwave) or go out to eat.
When our work was done (or mostly done) each day, we rewarded ourselves with a glass of wine or a walk on the beach, and the last morning we connected with another writer friend and went for a great breakfast out before driving home.
We ended up having the perfect balance of work, work, work, play, sleep, socialize, work, work, work. By the end of the long weekend, we were all mentally tired yet also creatively energized. We’d had a great time reconnecting with writer friends we only see once or twice a year, recharging our winter-weary muses. And did I mention we plotted twenty books between us? Yahoo! TWENTY BOOKS!
Leave a comment sharing your favorite plot twist from a book you’re read, and I’ll randomly choose a name to receive a copy of my latest release The Return of Connor Mansfield.