To Progress, Sometimes You Must Retreat

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend (and teach at) the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' 2017 Writing Retreat in Colorado Springs.

The retreat took place at the lovely Franciscan Retreat Center, a beautiful, serene location surrounded by mountains and inhabited by lots of fuzzy deer.

The attendees, fellow presenters Anita Mumm and Susie Brooks, and I spent three days working, learning, and sharing our craft and our stories.

Each morning, after a tasty breakfast, most of us gathered for a teaching session--though other attendees set up computers in their rooms, on couches in the comfy lounge, or outside on the retreat center's lovely campus, for private writing time. Afternoon activities included blue pencil critiques, writing classes, and round-table critiques in which attendees both gave and received constructive (and positive) criticism of one another's works.

In the evenings, we gathered in the lounge for readings, talk, and wine (the tasty kind . . . without the "h").

At any hour of the day or night, you could find people writing, editing, or talking through plot points with other writers, either in the lodge or on one of the center's many lovely trails.


Did I mention there were deer?





We laughed. We talked. We worked on our stories. We let the "real world" slip away for three delightful days . Regardless of the jobs we do or the lives we led below the mountain, for this delightful, peaceful weekend, we were writers . . . first and only.

The atmosphere was encouraging, invigorating, and inspiring--just the thing to shake loose blocks and get the writing gears in motion.

Also, they had deer. Yay, deer!






Writing is mostly a lonesome art. Unless you write with a partner (and often, even if you do) you probably spend a lot of hours alone at your desk--or wherever you write--creating words in a kind of artistic vaccuum. This doesn't bother most of us - writers are often introverts - but even the most introverted of writers can benefit from time in the company of others who share our peculiar, solitary art.

Hence the title: sometimes, a retreat may provide precisely the atmosphere and inspiration you need to move forward with your writing. Although they do cost money, retreats pay enormous dividends in craft improvement, professional connections, and inspiration. It's easy to let the needs of the world come between you and your writing, and a retreat is often the best prescription for writers suffering from self-doubt or flagging strength.

If you can, I hope you attend the RMFW 2018 retreat--and if you can't, I hope you can take the time to retreat on your own, or with a group of writers close to you. I think you'll find the benefits well worth while.

Have you attended a writing retreat? I'd love to hear about your experience too! 

Susan Spann
Susan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, released on July 14, 2015. Susan is honored to be the 2015 RMFW Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her at her website, on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

7 thoughts on “To Progress, Sometimes You Must Retreat

  1. This was my first retreat, coming close on the heels of a totally different experience: Left Coast Crime in Honolulu. The timing was exceptional, because after all that hustle and bustle, being out amongst the deer (and bunnies!) was a much-needed down time. I loved your workshops (I’ll be recapping on my blog), chatting with other writers, offering give and take about our processes, and–maybe more important–talking about “Other Stuff.” I made significant progress on my WIP, but I made new friends.

  2. I’ve attended a fall retreat with Northern Colorado Writers a few times and was always able to churn out a great word count, get my writing supercharged, and gain a couple of pounds from too many snacks. Retreats are great!

  3. Lovely pictures and summary, Susan, thank you. I’ve hosted writer’s retreats that include plotting sessions, and they are so special. For every idea one contributes to another writer’s story, a half dozen or more come back, precious gifts to consider, gifts that may trigger other ideas that gently push your story forward. Ideas swirl, and the air gets heavy with all these gems, so heavy it’s like brain freeze from ice cream, only it’s warm and filled with promise. Those are the times to break and enjoy nature, take a walk, and take it all in. Ahhhh. Just recalling those retreats is so pleasant. Thanks for inviting me to share. I’m starting a new book soon — time to schedule another retreat!

  4. *sigh* I can’t believe it’s already been weeks since. What a lovely weekend we had at the gorgeous Franciscan Center. I’ve done the RMFW retreat twice now, both times at this location, and it’s so peaceful. I love the opportunity to get to know each other in a smaller group setting. <3

  5. Really enjoyed my first RMFW Retreat. Appreciated the great feedback from Susan Spann and Susie Brooks. Talks were very useful and information shared helpful to the craft. Also enjoyed meeting some very adept interesting writers. Gives you a great injection of enthusiasm for your writing.

  6. I haven’t made it to the RMFW retreat, but I go to one in Fairplay a couple times a year. The last one I got more than 25,000 words on paper, went for long walks, participated in a reading with some REALLY amazing writers, enjoyed talking shop – and lots of other things – over meals, and generally had a blast, as usual. I highly recommend retreats, and would like to try and get one put together on the Western Slope. Thanks, Susan, for the info, and the deer.

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