By JESSICA CHRYSLER and KATYA DOVE
This year’s Working Writer’s Retreat brought together writers of all skill levels and backgrounds to the Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Encino, Sept. 28-30. From actors to teachers, newbie writers to seasoned veterans, participants had something to gain from the faculty and each other. In workshops, writers were grouped by category and genre and had ample opportunity to mix and mingle throughout the weekend, including a karaoke party.
In this post, writer and illustrator Jessica Chrysler and writer Katya Dove share a conversation about their experiences at the retreat.
Jessica Chrysler: It was so great to see you again at the retreat this year, Katya. As much as I love getting to know new people, it’s always nice to find friendly faces. Every year the organizers try to change up the panels and workshops, so I’d like to know, what was the highlight of your weekend?
Katya Dove: I thought the critique sessions were amazing. Listening to other writers read their work, sharing my own, and bonding over words was by far one of the most powerful experiences. There’s so much talent among the attendees. I was blown away by how focused and committed everyone was. Though I must say, the karaoke party brought out a whole new side to fellow writers and faculty—a wild and vivacious side!
JC: I have to agree on the karaoke! It’s always my favorite part of the retreat since it gets everyone out of their quiet, writerly shell. I also really enjoyed the presentation by Katherine Kottaras on “The Joy of Revising.” It’s important to love revision as part of the writing craft and it felt like everyone had similar challenges when facing editing demons. It was great to share and learn different strategies to tackle those obstacles.
KD: I saw just how much my background in visual arts informs my writing—it’s way too descriptive! Jokes aside, Katherine’s lecture on revision certainly struck a chord. The workshops emphasized another side of the process, reminding me to revise with an audience in mind. It’s extremely helpful to hear your work read aloud because it allows you to catch those instances where you meant, but neglected, to include important world building or character details in your text.
JC: Yes! I find reading aloud a useful learning tool, especially when you can read your work to another writer. We just tend to pick up on things differently than non-writer friends would.
KD: The retreat was transformative in so many ways. Writing can be a solitary process and finding other people who share our sensibilities, who support and encourage us, makes a huge difference.
JC: You’ve been to other writer’s retreats. What makes you keep coming back to this one?
KD: I’m a huge fan of writing getaways. When I find myself in a creative slump, something as simple as a change of scenery can work wonders for my perspective and the Working Writer’s Retreat gives me a chance to break with my normal routine and immerse myself in a story. One of the retreat’s best features is its structure—you can get instant feedback on your revisions, choose to share any part of the existing manuscript, or bring a brand new piece of writing every day. The whole process is very organic and lets you set your own pace. But what really keeps me coming back year after year is the sense of community, the chance to connect with and learn from people who are beginning their own literary journeys, whose writing styles and voices reflect their unique experiences.
JC: The critique sessions are [also] always helpful, whether you get a pointed critique or begin a general discussion on publishing topics. It’s fun to hear other writer’s stories too, as there’s lots to take away from their critique. Sometimes other writers have the same issue in trying to get that perfect first line, but you might have someone else in the group that gets that down but has trouble with dialogue. Since we get to read about five pages in each session, having a game plan on what you’re reading and what you want to get out of the retreat is the most important. If you really need help with your first chapter, just bring that, and be prepared to write during the breaks. Do you need help with more than one story? Perfect, just make sure you read the right story to the right faculty member to get the most feedback possible. All of this requires a little research, but I also find when you talk to other writers during the retreat you can also switch up your game when you find out deeper personal interests about the faculty.
KD: Do you bring anything with you when going away to a retreat?
JC: Bring your toothbrush! But seriously, yes, I make sure to bring my laptop and enough copies to distribute to everyone for the whole event. While there is a printer for everyone to use in the main hall, it’s often difficult to try to print out your copies between sessions. I like to leave that as an emergency only option in case I needed to make a big revision to my pages. There were a couple people with portable printers, which I thought were amazing, so that might become part of my gear going forward.
I also like to bring a couple different colored pens to make notes. I like to write directly on my copies for myself so I can have the exact notes from faculty if they weren’t able to write it down. There was a writer in our group that liked to share her work in colored folders each session to help her keep organized. I thought that was pretty clever too.
KD: Those are all excellent suggestions. I might have to adopt the colored folder idea. One last thing. After our fabulous karaoke night, I have to know: What’s your favorite karaoke song?
KD: Awesome choices. We’ll have to team up and sing these at the next year’s retreat! Until then—happy writing!
Jessica Chrysler is a YA sci-fi/fantasy writer and illustrator with several credits for illustrating picture books and comics. A candidate in Hamline University’s MFAC program, she enjoys creating genre-bending stories with vast worlds and characters with heart. Follow Jessica on social media @JessChrysler or visit JessChrysler.com.
Katya Dove comes from a background in graphic arts, but her greatest passion has always been writing YA Fantasy. She delights in opening gateways into mythic worlds and inviting others to step through. Katya is partial to road trips, Silver Age superheroes, strong coffee, and her painting studio, which she shares with a hive of honeybees. Find Katya at katyadove.com.
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This post has been edited for length and clarity.
Photos courtesy of Nutschell A. Windsor, Katya Dove, and Jessica Chrysler. Photo of Jessica Chrysler by Annie Bang Photography.