Watch out publishing world, I'm a ninja now😉
Ok ok ok. So I'm back from Hawaii and I had the most incredible experience. A lot of people are wondering how it was, what we did, where we went, etc... so the intent of this blog is to help other authors and writers decide if this type of retreat is right for you and to let you know what all we did!
There was so much anticipation built around going to Hawaii. A total bucket list location for me... and so many thoughts ran through my head:
How can I fly so far away from my family?
Am I being selfish by going on this trip alone?
Am I crazy?
Am I really worthy of investing in myself?
Am I a good enough writer?
Who will I meet?
Will they be nice?
Will they like my writing?
...Seriously, the list goes on and on and on of the doubt, Blake can vouch for me, I almost canceled around September / October when I was in the middle of hockey season wondering if I should really go. I was totally chickening out. The questions, the nerves, everything about it was so new and uncomfortable for me... but something just told me I had to do it. (I was also incredibly lucky to have such a supportive husband who all but told me I was going. He said that I deserved this and I will have a blast). So... I went.
The Writers Workshop Dallas is the group I have been with on this writing journey since day 1 back in January of 2021. I knew they hosted great online classes like the picture book course I took with Rosie Pova and the mentorship I did with her... so when I saw that they opened applications for a retreat in Hawaii I thought I had to put my hat pool of applicants.
Apparently, it was a highly competitive pool of applicants and I was so lucky to have been selected as one of the retreat attendees. When I got the email that I was selected from Blake, I actually couldn't believe it. In the email, we were notified that the Hawaii Island Retreat where we were staying had two accommodation types: A regular room in the hotel itself or a yurt. When I found out the yurts had a bathroom and running water inside of them, I knew the yurt was for me on this adventure.
I am so glad I chose to stay in the yurts because I actually think the accommodation in the yurts was nicer than the hotel rooms, even though we paid less. More to come on this later.
Before the Retreat:
We had to send 7000 word sample of our writing to the group to critique before we got there. We were required to write critique letters to each author in the group answering a specific set of questions and an area to fill in with other feedback. We were not given the names of the people attending the retreat beforehand or any information, so all we had to go on was a name and a manuscript.
Meeting at the Airport:
When we met at the airport for the shuttle to the retreat location up in Waimea, we all introduced ourselves as... Blair... who wrote X. or Kate... who wrote Y. It was so crazy to match people with their manuscripts, I was shocked at who some people were who had written certain manuscripts. I was "Moon Beach Rising Blair." It was a very great way to meet our fellow attendees.
Location of Retreat: The Hawaii Island Retreat itself was very remote. I would have preferred to be in a location closer to town with way more to do. If you travel so far away to a place like Hawaii, it would be really great to have the ability to experience more of the culture.That being said, the location of the retreat sat upon a grassy hillside overlooking a beautiful Pacific Ocean bay. The week we were there just so happened to be best "whale watching" week as the whales were migrating from Alaska and very active. It was heavenly and SO exciting to see whales breech all day, every day. Total magic. How can anyone complain about that? You kinda cant. There were plenty of hiking trails and it was good for me to "chill" out a little but I also was ITCHING to do more.
The format of the workshop:
I was in the fiction writing group and this was our schedule:
8:00 am breakfast
9:00 am daily lecture by Ying Compestine and or Mark Gottlieb
10:00 am - 12:00 pm critique break out groups
1:00 pm Lunch
3:00 pm Afternoon activity (hike, trip to the store, beach, etc)
6:00 pm Dinner
The morning lectures by Mark and Ying were very helpful and informative, we workshopped pitches and heard a little bit about query letters from Mark. We learned about making a career from writing and a little about the submission process from both Mark and Ying. The time around that table was invaluable hearing stories and having a bit of a Q&A with top industry experts.
The critique time was incredibly helpful for the person who had their work being critiqued. IE -- I was first, on the very first day of the workshop, Monday. Lucky for me, I got to spend the rest of the week working on edits that were given to me on that very first day. The rest of the time I was at the workshop, I was in the sessions listening to others critique writing, critiquing it myself, and learning directly from how Ying who would correct or bring the level of writing up to the next level. She would stop us and say, "add a tag line here", "tell me what she looks like, what is she wearing, what does the room look like..." Sitting in and listening to Ying for the week critique like this was very beneficial for me. I learned a lot that will help me on the creative and editorial side of my middle grade novel I am working on.
OPEN READING NIGHT :
I loved this part of the retreat where we each had a turn to read a portion of whatever we wanted. Published work, something we were working on, poems, etc... I loved hearing everyone from the non-fiction and fiction side of the workshop along with Mark and Ying's readings. That was a really cool part of the retreat.
We each also had one-on-one meeting with Ying and Mark which were very helpful.
Ying: My one-on-one with Ying was a critique of a children's picture book manuscript I had submitted to her. We also took the time to discuss the business plan for me as an author. She helped give me advice and direction and encouragement. The friendship and connection I made with Ying was worth the entire trip itself. She is one incredible lady who I learned so much fun. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to get to know her on a professional level and as a friend / mentor.
Mark: My meeting with Mark was a lot about the business side of publishing. I was picking his brain about the type of clients he hires, what kind of books he would sell in today's market, how do I fall in comparison to other querying authors. He helped me by telling me I have an impressive platform and very intriguing writing. He asked me to submit my middle grade novel to him that I was very hesitant to do... but I did. Unfortunately, the first day he was back at his desk, I got a one two gut punch of a rejection from him, with an invitation to submit to another agent at Trident. The invitation to submit to another agent in his company was very nice and while I still totally took the rejection personally, I know that it wasn't personal. I know he is very busy and doesn't specialize in picture books at all.
The Hotel Itself
Is run by wonderful people. It is outdated and definitely not a four star hotel. I personally was fine with the accommodation because I selected the yurts and I knew what I was going to stay in. More of a "glamping" style type trip for me. It was SUPER fun, exciting, and the night that it rained... well, it sounded like I was inside of a drum. It was a totally magical time for me. Solo time away from being "mom" where I could focus on this new direction life has taken me as an author. One thing I will mention that was a complete let down was the coffee situation. I am a coffee girl and with the time difference (5 hrs from EST) I would wake up around 3-4am and be wide awake, ready to write. After my walk in early morning darkness with my flashlight from yurt village to the main hotel building.. only to find that I couldn't physically even make coffee myself! Bummer man! We were able to get this sorted out mid-week, but, still had some major struggles with the coffee.
Overall, I think if you go to a retreat like this with an open mind, ready to better your writing in a live critique setting, and take advantage of all the down time in between, then a retreat like this is for you.
I personally took every single opportunity I could to hike with Mark and his lovely fiancee, asking a ton of industry questions along the way. I ate meals with Mark and Ying, Blake and Mike. I made sure to connect with every other author at the retreat, learn a little of their backstory, what they write, their "why".
NETWORKING is a huge part of this business and I made such great friends... not to mention omg the level of conversation was so rich and the air was filled with passionate individuals writing about crime investigations, war history, Wuhan in the middle of the covid breakout, children in polish war camps, sci-fi stories I was so impressed with I could barely wrap my brain around the different portals we were traveling through... My mind was exposed to different genre's, poetry, memoirs, magical realism, nonfiction... you guys the richness of even being able to mingle among the crowd of such intelligent, inspiring, successful individuals was just something you can't really explain.
So while I've sat here for way longer than I thought... writing about my time in Hawaii and the complaints about the... coffee(?) I think it is safe to say that this retreat checked the boxes for me.
When asked if I will go again... the answer is a screaming YES! I just have to find a way to gently ask my family when I will be "allowed" to go again (!!)... and find a location with a group I'd like to travel with.
Did I have (unrealistic) hopes of making Mark my agent? YES.
Did I come home with Mark as my agent? No.
Does it matter? NO.
Am I in a much better place professionally after the retreat than I was before the retreat? YES
I have industry knowledge. I am armed with so much editorial craft for my middle grade, my picture books, and I have grown my network by a lot. Another thing I learned while on this retreat is that, for me personally, I continue to reassure myself that I LOVE writing. I love talking about the industry, I love hearing other's publishing stories, I love why people love their agents and why people don't love their agents, I have found a really great network of people who I enjoy being with, I enjoy working with, I enjoy conversation with, and I cannot wait to continue to learn and grow my career as a writer with.
What to look for when searching for a retreat:
HUGE thank you to Blake and Mike for taking us on such a wonderful turning point in my career as an author. You all did such a great job planning and selecting such a great group of writers who I am lucky enough to call friends. HUGE thank you to Ying and Mark for pouring your industry knowledge into us. As the first retreat post-covid... to have the two of you as our faculty was AMAZING. I know I personally learned a lot from you all and I can't wait to update you all with more publishing and/or agenting news... SOON I hope!
Watch out publishing world... I'm a ninja now 💙 😜
THANK YOU WRITING WORKSHOPS!
Blair has travelled extensively all over the world. She and her husband enjoy taking their kids on big adventures together. Blair writes children's picture books for all ages! Most of her stories are inspired by life events. They feature kid’s curiosity, love of the environment, laughter, and fantasy.