Novel Retreat Kudos

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This is the last in my series about the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts. If you missed the others, I talked about what I got out of the Retreats, Nancy Sharp Wagner explained how they came to be, I gave the details of the three Retreats, and I showed the fabulous monastery where they’re held.

Today, I’m posting some of the past participants’ thoughts about the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts so you don’t have to take my word for how great they are!

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I have an MFA in Writing for Children and Teens, and while I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, I can honestly say that these retreats offered some wonderful, practical, hands-on information that I never got in the masters program. (It had many wonderful benefits, of course, but different). So the Novel Retreats were absolutely worth it! I’d definitely do it again. I wish I’d had a chance to do this many years ago!

~ Maurene

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I’d been drooling over the idea of getting a MFA in writing for children for years, but always, the money, time, distance, and application process stopped me. (Transcripts from more than 20 years ago? Admittance essays?) I’ve been learning to write for children for a decade, attending local workshops, participating in a great critique group (mostly picture books), and reading craft books and current kid lit, but I still wasn’t accomplishing much new work … and, thus, not sending out a whole lot of submissions.

Finally I made a list of what I hoped an MFA program would accomplish in my writing. It boiled down to this: deadlines, accountability, and novel-writing partners — so I would finish projects instead of dithering around with them year after year.

When the 3-Act Novel Retreats came along, even though they would cost me airfare from Atlanta in addition to the retreat costs, I jumped at the chance. For a mere 10% (including airfare) of the cost of an MFA I could get a year of deadlines, accountability, and writing partners to spur me on.

And it’s been great. I started with a vague idea for a novel, and a year later I have a manuscript that will be ready for submitting in a few weeks. If these retreats were within driving distance of Atlanta, I’d participate year after year. Nothing like a deadline to spur a writer to sit in that chair and write!

~ Lisa

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For me, it was absolutely worth the 90 hours of driving to and from Montana, the money, the time, the deadline stress, and the no-cell-coverage. I feel that through this retreat series I’ve learned the tools to take my writing to the next level. I feel like a writer now, not just a writing enthusiast. I have learned what I need to do with my writing to make it the best it can be. It’s actually very liberating and exhilarating.

Before I signed up for the series, I thought about it for a long time. I was having a hard time justifying the expense and the time commitment in my own mind. Time was huge for us Montana participants because of the extra drive days. I’m too busy! But then Elaine Marie Alphin said to me that if I wanted to be a serious writer, I needed to act like a serious writer, and be involved in serious writer things. She was so right! I’m glad I jumped in.

I’ve always loved writing, but I’ve also always known that I needed more tools to make my writing better. This series was a huge leap forward for me. I loved every piece of instruction, and have been able to directly apply what I was taught into my own writing processes. Working with a small critique group was fabulous, and the support system we’ve established will be beneficial for years to come.

I recommend this retreat series to anyone I talk writing with. I’ve learned more in the last year than in all the years before.

~ Kiri

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My expectations? I really didn’t know what to expect in terms of the retreat presentations. But I hoped by participating to jump start myself into finally writing this story that has been in my head for years. I was delighted by the retreat — the formal presentations, the participants, the retreat center.

Where was I when I started? I had an idea and 20 pages from a creative writing class 25 years ago. Where am I now? Well, I didn’t quite meet the deadline, but I do have a draft of 60,000 words and am still fired up to write the last chapters and then revise using the tools I gathered. Like others, I feel validated. I am a writer of a novel.

Benefits I received? Inspiring sessions. Elaine’s enthusiasm was contagious. All kinds of ideas for getting the draft down. Figuring out that laying a careful track is what I need. Darcy’s workbook with helpful revision tools. The support and friendship of a wonderful small group. The restorative atmosphere of the monastery combined with the fellowship of like-minded writers. Knowledge about the business end of writing and selling a novel. A helpful critique from an editor. And a critique group to continue the sharing of manuscripts. Pride in what I have accomplished.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat if I could. I only wish I had been able to do this 25 years earlier!

The facility? I love the retreat center. I always feel like I have stepped outside of time there. The quiet and the natural beauty of the place are centering. Great to have a private room and bath. Good food too.

~ Beth

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I don’t know if I had a particular set of expectations when I started the retreat. I had a few HOPES. I hoped that I would actually be able to finish a novel. I hoped that it would flow well enough that someone would actually enjoy reading it. I hoped that I could figure out the publishing process. And I believe for the most part, I feel fulfilled. I DID write a novel and I DID have other people read it! Yay!!! I think it’s still far from publishable quality, but maybe I have the direction now to get a little closer to that goal.

When I started the retreat series, I had never even attempted to write such a long work before. And now I have. I feel like that’s an accomplishment.

The big benefit of the series was that the novel writing process was broken down step by step and we had access to experts to help us along. There were also clear DEADLINES. I work best with a deadline, so this was a huge benefit. It was also beneficial to be put in a small group so there was built in encouragement and feedback from others who were going through the same process.

I’m thinking that my small group will stay together, at least for a little while, so I can take
advantage of that if I don’t get to be part of the retreat series again.

I really liked the facility. It was so peaceful and away from all distractions. It was a place where you could really go to think and write.

~ Kristin

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This has been such an incredible experience! I stayed an extra night after Act 3 was over to try to maintain some momentum on the writing. When the writers go home, the St Benedict Center gets QUIET!

We’re talking tomblike silence, except for the howling October wind. (There were fish blown out of the lake lying on the sidewalk the next morning!) I had the solarium to myself all afternoon and very late into the night. It was great for working, since it was the first time I’d really had to think in about a year, but I have to say, I missed having all my writer pals to run to and chat with!

I don’t know how I’m going to get through this winter without another retreat to look forward to!

~ Mary

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The tools we received to write and revise a novel were incredibly helpful, and I believe we all created better stories because of them. I would highly recommend this retreat for everyone who wants to write a middle grade or young adult novel. The connections made and critique groups formed will be indispensable. The retreat was worth every penny and then some.

The word “journey” is what I keep repeating in my mind. Eventually, we will all get there; I truly believe that. I’m glad I’m not out there alone in the woods — I have my whole Retreat group with me. The retreat was a wonderful gathering of talented and dedicated writers. In the words of Robert Frost, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep. Keep writing.

~ Amy

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I think the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts has been the single best thing I could have done for my writing career. Not only did I complete a novel in a year, but I also gained what I hope is long lasting friendships and a support system that will span my writing career. And I think that is what every writer needs — goals and friends.

~ Gina

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The drive home was almost surreal, thinking about how much these three retreats have meant. It was a little depressing to think that after several months of anticipation before the first retreat coupled with the past year, this project has occupied a pretty fair amount of time and I do feel let down that it’s over!

Certainly everything we’ve been working on came together with the editor and agent reading and critiquing everyone’s first pages. It was the culminating and most powerful part of the three retreats. Obviously we all still have a ways to go but I know all three retreats have equipped us to deal creatively with every aspect of our projects.

I sincerely hope we can continue to meet in Schuyler on some kind of regular basis. I hope we can continue to read each other’s works and draw support, encouragement, and inspiration from one another, and begin to celebrate the success of the individual manuscripts that came out of this retreat as they begin to find acceptance and publication.

Thank you all for everything and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of our group in the months and years ahead!

~ Steve

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I learned so much from Elaine in Act 1. She is a wonderful person and a smart lady. Her structure and organization was awesome and her handouts a tremendous help. I started way behind the curve ball, since I knew absolutely nothing about writing a novel.

I loved my critique group and I thought that was very beneficial. Darcy’s workbook is awesome and definitely got us to look at our novels in a different way.

Overall I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t get enough. I loved being surrounded by people who share the same passion and are as passionate about writing as I am. I wish I could have attended Act 3.

I would love a reunion – writing time, critiquing time, just spending time with writers, talking, breathing, eating, writing. I would also love to attend all 3 retreats again!

~ Heidi

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The retreats were AWESOME!!! I learned so many things and drastically improved my writing. Since I didn’t get to go to Act 1, I was thrilled that Elaine did a refresher, and answered my gazillion questions.

Overall, I discovered I could write a whole manuscript without agonizing over it for many years hounded by self-doubt … I met some of the coolest writers ever … Darcy and Elaine both ROCKED! … and I loved my beyond awesome critique group. Good idea putting together small pods like that!

~ MJ

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