Tag Archives: Novel Retreats

Novel Retreat Kudos


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!


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Novel Retreat Location


The Novel Retreat in Three Acts is held at the Saint Benedict Center in Schuyler, NE. (The town is pronounced ”˜skyler,’ by the way. You don’t want locals to think you’re a hick when you get there. You’re welcome.)

This is a gorgeous, peaceful, non-smoking facility ”” just right for writers.

Main hallway off the lobby ….


There’s a chapel with a stunning fountain ….

As a participant of the Novel Retreat in Three Acts, you’ll be assigned a private room. Mine had a twin bed, an easy chair, plenty of light, a desk, closet, sink, toilet and shower. No TV, no radio, but a clock.



There are conference rooms, large and small, lining this hallway.

We met as a group in one of the large conference rooms, which had all the modern amenities.


Meals are served buffet style in the dining area at specific times ”” 7:30 for breakfast, 12:15 for lunch, and 6:15 for supper. If you’re late, you miss them and there ain’t nuthin close enough to drive to, so we wandered down at the appropriate time and stood in line, ready for the doors to open. This is at the very end of that long conference hallway.

A word about the food … it’s fabulous. Very homey, lots of comfort food. Always a well-stocked salad bar, homemade soups, and entrees like fried chicken, roast pork, and fish with side dishes like mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh vegetables, homemade bread and rolls and delicious desserts. Everything real and made from scratch … definitely not your typical institutional food. I’d go back just to have more of that homemade chocolate pudding! When you register, tell Nancy Sharp Wagner if you have any dietary restrictions. They’re very accommodating as long as they know in advance. This is a tiny bit of the dining room. Behind me while I took the photo is at least three or four times this space.


The St Benedict Center is an enormous brick and concrete structure built in a bit of a valley. It’s bounded by farmland growing all kinds of crops ”” but I could only identify corn, apple trees and a vineyard, being a city girl and all. Sad, but true.

In April, when I attended Act 2, my room overlooked the sparkling lake behind the center.


In October during Act 3, my room overlooked a huge cornfield surrounded by trees covered in glorious autumn colors.


The Center is surrounded by lovely, meticulous landscaping.





But the unintended consequences of having thick brick walls in a valley out in the middle of the Nebraska prairie is no cell phone service. Personally, I like it that way. But you’re not entirely cut off from civilization. The landlines at the Center work and they have two computers available with high speed internet access. The guest rooms and most of the conference rooms have jacks for connecting your computer to the internet. But don’t use them. Cut yourself off from the real world for one weekend.

In our group, we had participants from Iowa, Minnesota (2), Arizona, Colorado, Wisconsin, Montana (3), South Dakota (3), Georgia (2), North Dakota, and nine from Nebraska. Read some of their testimonials about the Retreats.

At Act 1, everyone is assigned small critique groups of three or four people. I was added to an existing group when I joined them for Act 2, and the four of us bonded immediately. For Act 3, one of my small group critique partners picked me up at the airport and several of us met for dinner in Omaha before driving to Schuyler. We also had some time to poke around The Old Market in downtown Omaha, which was lots of fun. Another of my critique partners, Lisa Stauffer, writes travel articles. She wrote about Omaha after she attended Act 2.

So, that’s an overview of The Saint Benedict Center and some general information about the weekend. Remember to tell Nancy Sharp Wagner if you’ll want to come a day early or stay a day later, if you have any food issues and if you need to be picked up at the airport. She’ll handle all those things for you.

And when you go, think of me when you scarf down that fabutastic pudding!

Isn’t this a glorious location? Can you see yourself basking in the glow of writerly adventures here?

Novel Retreat Details


I’m not involved in Nancy Sharp Wagner’s retreats except as an overjoyed participant. All this information is for you to become familiar with this very unique way to learn to write a novel in an equally unique location.

Novel Secrets: A Novel Retreat in 3 Acts

Have you always wanted to write a Young Adult or Middle Grade Novel, but haven’t carved out the time to get it done? Do you have a draft of a novel written, but are looking for ideas and strategies to revise and strengthen it? Are you looking for critique partners? Would you like the chance to meet with an editor or an agent to pitch your novel and gain critical feedback about this novel in particular and the chidlren’s fiction market in general? All of this is possible if you attend Novel Secrets: A Novel Retreat in 3 Acts.

Unique in the world of Writing Retreats, the intent of this series it to help move you from the first inklings of an idea toward a publishable children’s novel in one year’s time. Advance preparation for each Act is required and the retreats are designed for maximum participation.

Join us for a Writing Conference like no other.

Act 1: First Draft Secrets with Elaine Marie Alphin

Elaine Marie Alphin is the author of more than 20 published books for children and young adult readers, many of them award-winners.The first retreat focuses on brainstorming techniques to get you started with the plotting, character development, and pacing of your novels. You will leave this retreat with a elaines-bookbasic outline of your novel and a plan for turning that outline into a first draft. The requirements for Retreat 1: Read Elaine’s book, Creating Characters Kids Will Love, published by Writers’ Digest Books.

Act 2: Revision Secrets with Darcy Pattison


Our second retreat will be led by Darcy Pattison. You will go home with strategies and tools for revising your novel, often a bigger chore than writing the first draft. Requirements to attend Retreat 2: 1) have a completed draft of a novel, 2) submit four copies of your manuscript to be read by the three other members of your group 3) agree to read the novels of your three other group members before the retreat, and 4) read Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King and The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. Darcy Pattison served as thedarcys-book-cover1 Arkansas Regional Advisor for the SCBWI from 1991-96. In 1999, Darcy created the Novel Revision Retreat, which she now teaches nationwide. Her book “Novel Metamorphosis” is devoted to revision strategies and is highly recommended.

Act 3: Submission Secrets
“Sell”ebrating a Satisfactory Ending with a Fresh Beginning

The final retreat will feature both an editor and an agent. The focus for this retreat will be marketing strategies and submission secrets. We will discuss the process of letting go of this novel and starting a new project, as we revisit skills and strategies we have gained on our journey. Requirements to attend Retreat 3: 1) Attend at least one of the other two retreats. 2) Submit a revised draft of your novel for critique by your small group. 3) Submit a cover letter, a synopsis of your novel, and the first ten pages for critique by either the editor or agent

All of the Novel Retreats will be held at the St. Benedict Retreat Center, a smoke-free retreat and conference center located on Highway 15 north of Schuyler, Nebraska, approximately two hours from Omaha, Nebraska. Each participant will have his or her own private room. Meals and lodging are included in the cost. All rooms are fully air conditioned and have private bathrooms. An exercise room is available.

Openings are limited. Minimum participants required to run each retreat will be 12. Priority will be given to those individuals who register for all three retreats at one time. Read testimonials from past participants.

Check Nancy Sharp Wagner’s website for retreat dates, registration deadlines, program costs, cancellation policy, and the identity of the editor and agent scheduled to attend Act 3 … AND find out how you can get a $100 discount when you register!

Invest in your Writer Self! You’ll be glad you did!

What is keeping you from writing that novel for teenagers?

Why a Novel Retreat?


As I’ve gotten to know Nancy Sharp Wagner over the course of my participation in the Novel Retreats, I’ve also gotten to know her story. Not her novel, alas, because she wasn’t in my small group, but rather the story of how these Novel Retreats were born.

Because I’m always a wee bit lazy, I asked her to write it for me, so here’s what she said …

nancyThe Novel Secrets in 3 Acts Retreat Series came into being because I had this draft of a novel that I knew needed work and I really wanted to attend Darcy’s Pattison’s Revision Retreat. Unfortunately, the timing never seemed to work for me. I spoke with Nona Morrison (our Nebraska SCBWI RA) about the possibility of bringing Darcy to Nebraska to do the Retreat here. I told her I would be happy to organize it if she thought that it was something our SCBWI members would be interested in attending. She, of course, loved the idea and said she would help me in any way she could, so I contacted Darcy to see what our next step needed to be.

That was where I ran into my first stumbling block. Because, in order to host Darcy, I needed to find at least eight folks who had written a novel for children. What I discovered was that even though I knew lots of folks who wanted to write a novel, I was having more difficulty finding a group who had already written a novel.

Then, in the fall of 2006, I attended an SCBWI event in North Dakota, where Elaine Marie Alphin was presenting. Elaine did an afternoon session on brainstorming character and plot, and I asked her if she would be interested in expanding that session to an entire weekend. My idea was that I would organize and host two Retreats. Elaine would present at the first one and get us started brainstorming the characters and outlining the plot for our novels, and then (six or eight months later), Darcy would present her Revision Retreat. Elaine loved the idea and said she would be happy to be the presenter for Act 1.

While Elaine and I were speaking, Jean Patrick (RA for the Dakotas SCBWI) and Alexandra Penfold (editor for Simon & Schuster) joined us. Before I knew it, the two Retreat series became a three Retreat series, with the focus of the final Retreat being submission packets and formal manuscript critiques by both an editor and agent.

When I was setting up the first set of Retreats, I was just hoping that I would get enough folks so I wouldn’t have to cancel the Series. But not only did we fill the three Retreats, I had folks asking me when the next set of Retreats is going to be held. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful comments from the participants, who also encouraged me to keep the Series going.

So, that is the plan right now. I will keep the Series going at the St Benedict Center as long as I see an interest. Elaine Marie Alphin will be presenting again at Act 1, Darcy Pattison will lead Act 2, and the third and final Retreat will have an editor and agent attending. Those names will be announced as soon as I have them finalized.

I have also heard from a few of our past participants about how difficult it was to leave, knowing that Act 3 was the “final” retreat, so I have been brainstorming ways we can continue to support each other on our writing journey.

I’m mulling over lots of suggestions for a Reunion Retreat. It will probably be very informal ”” just us writing and sharing our drafts, again held at the St. Benedict Center. There would be no presenters so the cost should just be the cost of rooms, meals and your own travel.

Another suggestion was to create a book club for our group. Using our Novel Retreat Yahoo! Group as our “meeting room,” we could read and discuss various books online from the perspective of writers. I am really open to ideas for the organization of this. We could all read the same book and discuss it–OR–we could choose a genre (or an author or an agent or an editor) and each of us read different books in that genre (or by that author or edited by that editor or represented by that agent), and discuss similarities and differences we note in each.

Each Reunion Retreat might look different, as I hear new ideas and different needs from the participants.

Thanks for letting me share my story, Becky! I hope to see lots of new faces at our next series of retreats and some familiar ones at our reunions!

What do you think about the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts idea?

Novel Retreat and Me


I’ve been avoiding writing about my experience with the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts. It was just too darn overwhelming! Plus, I had to wait for the waves of exhilaration followed by crushing bouts of self-doubt and depression to pass.

And I feel bad, because lots of people knew I was attending and they want to hear about my experience. But until today, this is how the conversation would have gone:

Them, all enthusiastic: How was the writing retreat?
Me, faking a smile and hoping they’re asking just to be polite: Great.
Them, still enthusiastic: Yeah? Tell me all about it.
Me, averting my eyes like a dog who just piddled the rug: Um. It was great. Awesome. Fabulous.
Them, all huffy: Fine. Be that way, you stinky creepazoid. If you don’t want to tell me, just say so.

See why I had to wait?

But now that my exhilaration and self-doubt have blended up nicely in a delicious smoothie of balanced and serene writerly emotion, I can keep my promise to Nancy Sharp Wagner to write a series of blogs about this amazing series of writing adventures she’s developed.

Lest you think I’m acting abnormally altruistic, I’m not. I simply want to do my part to promote these retreats so she keeps having them. I want to go again! I’m certain it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing career.

Today I’ll tell you what I got out of the retreats. The rest of the week will be the story behind the retreats, the specific program details, information about the awesomely gorgeous monastery they’re held at, ending with testimonials from the participants.

So, in no particular order, these are some benefits I received from the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts.

• I now have another critique group I know I can trust my manuscripts to. I don’t know about the other groups, but we decided to keep our group going until we croak. Even though the four of us are spread all over the country and it will be a long time before we meet in person again, we bonded about eight seconds after we met and it seems like we’ll be friends forever. I trust them explicitly with my writing because they’re honest, they’re smart, they understand what I’m trying to do, they don’t sugar-coat their comments, they’ve all got exceptional and wide-ranging talents, and darn it, they’re just great fun to hang around.

• The 20-ish other people who didn’t happen to be in my critique group are just as important to me. There’s really nothing better than knowing people who are traveling the same path as you are. We’re not all at the same place, but we’re all heading down that yellow brick road together. I know that if a scary lion jumps out at me or I detour into a field of poppies or when I catch my first glimpse of the Emerald City … they’ll be right there with me consoling or kicking my heinie or cheering me on.

• I finally feel like I have revision tools in my toolbox, thanks to Act 2 of the retreat series.

darcy Led by Darcy Pattison, it focused entirely on revision. My small group read each other’s complete first draft before the retreat and after Darcy talked about each concept, we’d stop to apply them to our manuscripts. My new favorite tool? The shrunken manuscript.

• I have a two-page letter from Rebecca Sherman at Writer’s House detailing her critique of my submission package. Plus, I have her handwritten notes on my query, my synopsis AND the first ten pages of my manuscript. That kind of information and experience from a well-respected industry professional is hard to come by.

• I’m pretty good about outlining and mulling over novels for a long time before I start writing. I have five completed manuscripts in various stages of readiness. I wrote the first drafts of each in a month or less, so first drafts are a breeze for me. Unfortunately, they’re usually quite crappy, too. So the ideas I learned from Elaine Marie Alphin reallelaine-gify spoke to me. Even though I’m perfectly comfortable working from a plan, Elaine really showed me how to “lay tracks” before writing so that the writing time is more effective and I’ll have less revision to do.

• This experience was yet another reminder that writing is a continuous cycle.

Send it off to agents/editors
Lay track for your new novel
Send it off to agents/editors
Lay track for your new novel

That’s the only way to have a career as a writer.

• The other big benefit of participating in these retreats is that they ”˜fill my cup.’ It’s almost impossible to explain why I … someone who is able to write on a daily basis without the distractions of preschoolers or a pesky day job … need my emotional cup filled. But it’s all tied up in the other writers I hang out with, and the getting away from home, and the daily highs and lows of writing. If you’ve done much writing, you know some days it’s a snap and other days it can make your eyeballs bleed. Suffice it to say, there’s something quite fulfilling in hanging for a few days with like-minded eyeball bleeders.

• And a million other benefits.

So do yourself a favor. Read all these blog posts then write a letter to Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, your significant other, your kids, your grandparents, anyone with purse strings you can tug at and tell them THIS is what you want for Christmas and/or Hanukkah and/or your birthday and/or your anniversary … or for no reason other than it’s what you need to fill your cup and continue your writer’s journey.

If you’ve made a commitment to your writing, then you absolutely deserve it.

What do YOU need to feel energized about your writing?