It was 110 degrees in Phoenix this weekend for a Novel Revision Retreat. If you’ve never attended one, I’ll try to give you an idea of what it’s like.
First, it’s limited to only 20 people at a time, purposely kept small so there’s lots of interaction. Before the retreat, they are divided into groups of four and exchange mss to read. That means each person had three others who had read their entire novel and could comment on it in its entirety–a rare thing. I do short lectures, followed by a hand-on activity for them to evaluate their mss in terms of about ten different topics. This is followed by group discussions of each novel.
See pictures from the retreat on Flickr in a set called Phoenix Retreat.
This time a couple writers had never read through the entire mss themselves, much less had anyone else do that. Often critique groups critique just a chapter at a time. Of course, there’s value in that, but it doesn’t give you the big picture critique that’s needed after a complete draft is done. So, it was the first time for them to even look at the big picture.
Some writers discover there’s no climax to their story, there’s inconsistencies in their chapters, their narrative arc needed strengthening here and there, their imagery was inconsistent, language needed to be more evocative, etc..
One person said that they didn’t know a day could pass so quickly. The retreat’s pace is consistently intense, but not frantic. We concentrate and work hard for short periods, followed by the lighter groups discussions; but even the discussions hold attentions well, because the focus is on getting help with your mss, or helping three others with theirs.
By the end of our two days together, the writers went home home with a plan of action for their mss. Participants go home “soberly encouraged,” that is, encouraged that they have so clearly seen the next step to take, but sober about the amount of work that lies ahead. Encouraged that they have taken a mss that’s been part of their life for several years and managed to re-envision the overall structure of the story: “I’m thrilled to have new insights.” Revitalized. Motivated. Ready to hit the ground running.
Thanks, Phoenix! It was a fun, tiring, exhausting, re-energizing weekend, for me, too! Loved Camelback Mountain, the quail family, the cottontails, the hummingbirds, the swimming pool, the lizards, the Tekakwitha Room (named for a Native American woman who is a Catholic saint–we were there on her feast day of July 14), the great air-conditioning–and most of all, twenty great writers. Be sure to send me your good news!