SCBWI-LA Working Writer’s Retreat 2012 Day 1

September 7, 2012, Friday

This year I volunteered to help out with the retreat, so although registration started at noon, I decided to leave early. My friend Lucy carpooled with me and we arrived in Encino at around 10:30 AM. The traffic wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, so it gave us time to relax and scope out the place.

Sarah and Marilyn arrived half an hour later, and Lucy and I helped them unload their cars and set up each room for the retreat.

Attendees soon began to trickle in. They got their keys from Marilyn at the Registration desk and went to get settled in their own rooms.

Holy Spirit Retreat Center rooms, Encino, CA

The writing retreat officially started at around 1. Sarah and Lee, SCBWI-L.A. Regional Advisers and super organizers, went through the schedule with us. They’d thoughtfully printed out copies of our individual schedules and placed it in our I.D.’s.

Sarah and Lee showing us the schedule print out

 They also encouraged us to set our goals for the weekend. Once we had written them down, they introduced our esteemed faculty members.

Attendees setting down their goals for the weekend

Our teachers for the weekend included two agents, one editor and two prolific authors. They each introduced themselves and gave us tips on how to revise our manuscripts.

Aside from giving us revision and editing techniques, the faculty also discussed plot and voice at length. They also explained what they look for in the books they read.

Here are some of the tips they shared with us:

Agent Jill Corcoran, Herman Literary Agency

* If I read a manuscript, and keep on reading long into the night. Or if I wake up in the morning, and I still remember the story I read, I know it’s a god one.

* There are three types of voices: writing voice, manuscript voice,  and character voice.

* You, as an author, choose the writing and character voice.  You can select different combinations of voice to use–dark and funny, sad and funny, etc

Agent Abigail Samoun, Red Fox Literary Agency

* I usually can tell in the first two sentences if a story’s going to work. I look for an intriguing opening paragraph  and a character that I want to be with.

* Narrative voice can be very important. The story has to be pleasing to read, respective of language, and pleasing to read.

* Plot can be tricky and intimidating.  A story needs to have tension. To add tension to your story, be your hero’s worst enemy. Figure out how you can be mean to your protagonist, and how you can get them into more trouble.

Editor  Heather Alexander,  Dial Books

* Plot, character, world–these are things your story is describing. These are the things that make your book as a whole.

* Look through ever sentence, and ask if they’re developing plot, character or world. If not they’re not,  change it.

*Each paragraph should be a balance of at least two of these elements, if not all three.

* Voice can trump everything sometimes.

* Opening sentences can say a lot about the world. Don’t ever start with the character waking up.

Judy Enderle, author of many children’s books (Picture Books to Young Adult)

* Author’s voice refers to the way you put your words together–your word choice and the flow of words

* Character’s voice is the way your character expresses herself or her background

* Be aware of what your writing style is. Maybe repetition is a particular character’s tag line.

Stephanie Gordon, author of many children’s books (Picture Books to Young Adult)

* You have to fine tune your manuscripts before you query. Comb through your manuscripts and look for Redundancies (ex. pointy thorns) and be aware of using too many verbs or adjectives (ex. The ogre snarled and sounded angry)

The Faculty Panel

As in last year’s retreat, the attendees were divided into two major groups: The Best Sellers and the Award Winners.  I was part of the Award Winners group this year, which meant that immediately after our panel on revision, I had to proceed to our assigned room for the first critique session.

There were four of us in the group and we were all fairly nervous since our first session was with Agent Jill Corcoran. Jill gave us some tough love and helped us see what we needed to improve in our first chapters. I made notes of Jill’s suggestions and mulled over the revisions I needed to make during the hour long break after  our first session.

The retreat center’s bell rang at 5:30, announcing the start of dinner. I waited for my roomie EJ, since we had to share one key for our room (normally we get two, but the previous participant forgot to return the key).  We discussed how our first sessions went as we headed to the dining hall.

I had just enough time to brush my teeth and grab my things for the next critique session with agent Abigail Samoun. I read chapter two for Abigail, and was lucky because she remembered my story from last March, when I had opted for a chapter 1 critique at the OC Agent’s Day.  She asked me a lot of good questions regarding the story, and gave me some tips to lift the chapter to a higher level.

The hour long critique passed quickly enough, but Day 1 of the Writing Retreat was far from over. I had an hour  to revise or relax in the room, while my roomie EJ was out for her critique session. I opted to spend the time unpacking and taking notes.

At 9 PM, Fitness guru Lynette began the much needed Stretching session.  She taught us several stretching exercises which we could do on our own, after long hours of sitting and writing.

Stretching with Lynette

The stretching certainly helped us release the tension we’d been holding the whole day.  We headed back to the main Lakeside Hall for the Wine and Cheese Social, for a much needed “winding/ wining down” session.

Claudia, Judy and Edie enjoying some wine at the end of the day

A variety of cheeses and crackers were provided for us to sample, along with bottles of wine and sparkling cider (for those who don’t want to drink).

Cheese platter at the Wine & Cheese Social

The social was a great way to meet new friends and catch up with old ones. It was also a fitting way to end the long day of writing.

Writers mingling at the Wine and Cheese Social


Stay tuned next week for the continuation of my SCBWI Working Writers Retreat write up. 

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21 Responses to “SCBWI-LA Working Writer’s Retreat 2012 Day 1”

  1. Laura Eno says:

    It sounds like a lot of fun – and exhausting. :)

  2. Those are all good quotes to remember. Voice is such a struggle.

  3. Hi! This is so neat. I love how you provided us with plenty of photos and outlined what each speaker had to say. I learned a lot from your post, Nut. I would haven’t been able to attend, and am so happy that you did and shared it with us.

    Kathy M.

  4. Sounds like a really informative workshop. Maybe I’ll go to one sometime.

  5. Great writing tips–thanks for sharing those!

    It sounds like an amazing retreat.

  6. Lynn Kelley says:

    This is such a great post on the first day of the retreat, Nutschell. I wish I’d been there with you. It’s the best SCBWI event ever!

  7. Okay, so where was this retreat? It sounds incredibly awesome. :)

  8. Mina Lobo says:

    LOL, that “don’t start with a character waking up.” I’ve read the same thing against starting a story with your character taking a bath or a shower. I suppose it’s the tendency to use that wake-up or shower time as an info dump on the reader…
    Some Dark Romantic

  9. Heather H. says:

    Wow, such an awesomely thorough recap! I really loved seeing the different writing tips. My favorite is easily being mean to the protagonist. That’s something I often keep at the forefront of my mind when writing–I always have way too much fun torturing my characters beyond repair. XD

  10. Thanks for sharing this. I’d love go to a retreat and the kidlit activities in your area look awesome.

  11. Julie says:

    Sounds like a very valuable learning experience! Thanks for laying out such a detailed map for us complete with photos It’s great that they also included a stretching session.

  12. This sounds like such fun! I love how you walked us through the day from start to finish. I think it is awesome that you got to meet so many wonderful people! Can’t wait to hear more. :)

  13. deniz says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’d really like to attend a retreat someday. Those are some great tips. i still have trouble being my characters’ worst enemy…

  14. Hilary says:

    Hi Nutschell – you do ‘write’ full on don’t you – I just admire how you’re constantly involved in writing groups, conferences etc … this retreat sounds wonderful especially as you have experts on hand, who are so helpful.

    Great to read and see their thoughts on how they decide to read on ..

    Thanks – and good luck with your drafts .. cheers Hilary

  15. Monika Moreno says:

    Wow Nutschell– thank you so much for all the tips and retreat details. Can’t wait for the next installment!

  16. Sounds like a very informative retreat!

  17. Nas says:

    Sounds like you had a wonderful and productive retreat. Thanks for sharing about it!

  18. Gillian Foster says:

    Thank you for sharing, Nutschell. I’ve not had the opportunity to attend the Working Writer’s retreat so this was a great taste of the experience.

    I applaud you for your efforts in writing and assisting other members of SCBWI. I was so happy that you received an award. Congratulations on that and on your writing journey.

    All the Best!


  19. Sounds like a great retreat! Jill told me she had a blast but that it was exhausting (I’m interning for her). I hope she gave you a lot of helpful tips. :)

    It was nice to see you – briefly – at Gretchen’s party yesterday. Next time we need to catch up!

  20. Kat McD. says:

    Thank you so much for the choice selections from WWR. Wish I could have gone. These are great tips! Kat McD.

  21. Akoss says:

    OMG!!! Cheese and fruits!!! I want some!
    Alright, that’s not all I got from your post. 😉
    The retreat sounds fantastic. I have yet to attend one, but until then I have you to thank for making me feel like I was there too.

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