Sunday, October 11, 2015

Writer's Retreat at the Blue Belle Inn: What a Beautiful Weekend

What a beautiful weekend. It’s a very rare opportunity to have the chance to attend a Writing Retreat less than 20 minutes from my front door, but this past Friday and Saturday, that was exactly what I had the opportunity to do. The Writer’s Retreat held at the fabulous Blue Belle Inn Bed and Breakfast in St. Ansgar, Iowa (, started on Friday night at 5:30 in the evening, with a round of introductions and some very, very tasty treats.

While seated around beautifully decorated tables enjoying chocolate dipped fruits, garlic toast, hummus, Swedish meatballs, queso dip and an assortment of veggies, the attendees had the opportunity to begin getting to know one another. We came together from three states, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin; and an even wider variety of genres, but each individual brought something special to the retreat. We had authors who were unpublished, authors who were just beginning their publishing careers, like me, and we had other authors who had 8, 10, even 20 books to their names, all willing to offer valuable insight and advice.

After the coffee and light refreshments we all adjourned to the sitting room to discuss our current works in progress and participate in a round of informal critiques. I must say, I was more than a little bit nervous, reading my opening chapter out loud to a room full of such accomplished men and women. The story I brought that night was one that has been sitting on my shelf for nearly a year, stalled out at about 6 chapters, which was why I carried it with me, hoping to get some ideas that would lead to working with it again.

That’s exactly what happened. Not only did they find the characters and their abilities fascinating, but they were able to give advice on how to more smoothly start off the book. I was left with renewed energy to tackle that project once my current works in progress have been polished up, some great comments and feedback that let me know that the direction I’ve been heading in was a positive one, and far more confidence for having sat there and actually read my story to the rest of the room, even if I did hide behind it the entire time.

Sitting and listening to the other stories was a huge learning opportunity as well. Listening to the way that they constructed their stories, and the feedback that they were given, made me realize some things that were lacking in my current WIP, and I quickly made notes to go back and fix those things. In fact, I left the conference with a ton of notes on things to work on to help refine the story I have currently been working on.

The first night of the conference ended at around 9:30 PM when the critiquing was finished, but we met back up at around 8:30 the following morning, for some relaxed conversation about the writing process and organizing works in progress, before we sat down to an amazing breakfast and tons of delicious coffee. Breakfast consisted of a fruit kabob, baked ham and eggs with a wonderful sauce, and a slice of pumpkin-pecan bread that I will certainly be baking at him. 

After the morning meal, the seminars began, and I must say, the refresher in character archetypes really left me thinking about ideas for future projects, as well as current works and how I would go about characterizing the characters I am currently working with.

Other interesting talks included one on how to use Pinterest to keep track of character interests and as a storyboarding tool. By the time I got home Saturday evening I was excited to set up my own Pinterest account with my character interests and begin stockpiling images, ideas, and instructions that I know will be useful on revisions of current works.

Fell free to add me, follow me, however it all works at Pinterest, as I will be updating each folder once a week and soon getting to work adding some storyboard elements to. Please click here for Layla's Pinterest 

I loved the talk on cover design, and there was an extremely helpful talk on finding the center of your book and working outward from the moment your character is supposed to take a good, hard look at themselves and what they are doing and decide how they want to move forward. It also talked about the conflict that the character had to face to get to that point in the book and how that point in the book was supposed to move towards the end of the book and the ultimate change/transformation that the character should have undergone. Again I found myself making notes as they would pertain to the current story I’ve been working on, and I found myself better able to flesh out the direction that I have slowly been moving this new story in.

We had a wonderful lunch, I opted for the chicken and mashed potatoes, which had a lovely sauce of mixed cheeses, and a salad and roll on the side. 

Later, we were served an amazing desert, so amazing that we dug in before we could even think to take pictures of the cherry and chocolate bomb we were served. In between meals there was a ton of conversation, trading of information, questions asked and answered, funny stories, books given away, book suggestions made, laughter and learning. Though the conference is only held every other year, I know it is one that I will return to time and time again. The atmosphere was so warm and welcoming and filled with opportunities for learning that there was really never a dull moment. I could have sat with those folks for seminars for another five days and never gotten tired of learning things.

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