10 Essentials I’d Pack for a Three-Week Writing Retreat

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Suppose you were offered a three-week stay at a comfortable hideaway to write a book. What ten things would you take? Here’s my list of essentials and why I’d need them.

1. Rules of engagement.

I’ll post these rules in a visible spot:

  1. Nix thoughts about problems or upcoming events. Bring a taser to punish infringements.
  2. Lock my cell in my car or rental. Use for emergencies only. Running out of underwear is not an emergency.
  3. Eat out only once a week. Fast food only.
  4. Forget social media exists. Check emails only twice a day.

2. My two laptops, portable printer, chargers, and a ream of paper.

  • Free-Photos

    If one laptop gets overheated, I can open my manuscript on the other from Dropbox.
  • I can look at research on one laptop while I type on the other.
  • Sometimes I need to have a printed version to highlight items or put check marks on. It’s a feel-good thing.

3. Hero’s Journey Outline and Description.

I use this tool to roughly plot my entire story quickly. I’ll write the story by the seat of my pants from the this outline.

4. Printed blank calendar.

  • I’ll print the month sheets for the time period covered in my novel.
  • Using my Hero’s Journey outline, I’ll jot story events in the calendar boxes in pencil. The calendar helps me avoid contradictory, awkward, or impossible timing of events.
  • I’ll tack the sheets to the wall to easily see the layout of events as I progress my story.

5. Scrivener.

  • Scrivener is my writing software. I use a fraction of its functions, but I like the ease of creating a manuscript.
  • The sidebar shows me all my named scenes so I can quickly find the scene I want to check or edit.
  • Getting word count for manuscript, chapters, or scenes is a snap. So is moving scenes from one chapter to another.
  • I can copy research into named folders under the research folder.
image by libellule

6. Dictionary and Thesaurus.

  • I use my Mac dashboard, Microsoft Word, and Scrivener dictionaries and thesauruses. It seems like I check every other word’s definition and hunt constantly for synonyms.
  • I want my hard copies of The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (my editor uses this one) and some specialized dictionaries.


7. My writing grammar books and manuals.

I can never remember some grammar rules and style preferences, and new grammar questions arise.

8. Google and Research Notes.

I do look-ups on google for how, when, where, who, why, and what of things from pigs to names of tie knots.

9. My “Love” Playlist.

I need silence when I write. But I write romances, so sometimes I like to listen to my favorite love songs while I write those romantic scenes.

10. My editing checklist. 

I have a comprehensive checklist, which will be published in my upcoming book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. It’s designed so writers can customize the checklist to their problem areas and where they need reminders.

Bonus: A local pizza delivery telephone number.

I’m sure I’ll get tired of soups and snacks.

Ten essentials I’d take on a three-week writers retreat.  Click to tweet.

What would you take on your three-week writing retreat?

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Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond, Virginia. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, star football player and prom king Trigg Alderman, is in Twisty Creek visiting his grandmother who lives next door to Candace’s family home. He doesn’t recognize her at first and remembers little about her. He’s not alone. Candace’s rekindled attraction to Trigg adds unexpected complications to finding her passions. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!

A Great Story Is More Than a String of Interesting Events

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Like many new writers, I thought I had to create a string of interesting events to make a good story. Some scary, some romantic, some brave, etc. I didn’t see the story as my protagonist’s journey to become someone better.


Now I know my protagonist’s internal and external goals need to guide the events I include. The events will have conflicts and disasters that push my protagonist forward to attain her goals or direct her to change her goals.

Here’s an example showing how to create events so that designer Abby can do something she couldn’t do in the beginning.

image by sasint

First, look at her goals and what she struggles with.

Internal Goal: Abby wants people to notice her and listen to her.

External Goal: She wants to be promoted to manager of a design team.


Next, identify what she’s good at.

Competency: She’s an accomplished designer.

Then, considering the above, brainstorm the initial event that sends Abby on her journey.

Possible Inciting Incidents

Case 1: Abby must use vacation time to go home and take care of her loving mom.

Case 2: A design manager’s accident keeps him home for at least 2 months. The firm will choose the interim manager from Abby and her peers. The chosen designer will show how successful she is as a manager.

Case 3: For the open manager position Abby wanted, the company hires a handsome man from outside the firm.

Case 4: Three top designers must present a design for a particular project. They’ll each have three junior designers to help them. Company vice presidents will judge the design. The winner gets a manager job.

Creating Meaningful Events

Although we could make Case 1 work, it doesn’t naturally mesh with her internal and external goals or her competency. For Case 3, we could, again, brainstorm twists to make Case 3 work with Abby’s goals.

image by jimmikehank

I can see great possibilities for a series of events that flow from Abby’s goals for Cases 2 and 4.

In Case 2, the first set of events could center on Abby getting the interim job because of her competency. She thinks a permanent manager job is hers. But she applies hard-nosed tactics to get her reports to listen to her.

In the next events, conflicts and disasters surge as her reports avoid her, and production and quality decrease. Abby’s internal and external goals are at risk.

Then new events arise when a mentor explains to her what good management is: using her expertise to help her reports be their best, to obtain what they need to do their jobs, and to lead them with firmness, not meanness.

Then the crisis event occurs when the manager returns. Abby is a peer again, and the manager scraps her design.

More events carry her to a satisfying ending. Possibly, her peers back her, and the manager reinstates the design. Then, upper management recognizes her leadership and sends her to management training.

Unlike in the beginning, Abby now knows how to get people to listen to her, is a noteworthy leader, and is on the road to management.

Case 4 could flow with similar events.

Replace interesting story events with events meaningful to your protagonist’s goals. Click to tweet.

What system, such as the Hero’s Journey, do you use to map out events?

What Essential Stage is Missing from Your Heroine’s Journey?

“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” —Willa Cather

 Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

                            Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, I attended Christopher Vogler’s workshop, “Essence of Story.” He clarified Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, a set of stages in the age-old three-act story. 


Modeling the stages using, Calculated Risk, would give my story away. So, I’ll use “Little Red Riding Hood” by Brothers Grimm. Visit Hero’s Journey for in-depth understanding and helpful charts.

Act 1 – Separation


1.  Ordinary World

Everyone loved the girl. She always wore the red riding hood her doting grandmother had made. Her grandmother called her Little Red Riding Hood.

Image courtesy of papaija2008 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of papaija2008 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2.  Call to Adventure

Little Red Riding Hood’s mother sent her with cakes to her ailing grandmother. She forbade the child to run off the path.

3.  Refusal of the Call

Little Red Riding Hood agreed to heed her mother. She refused anything but an uneventful, boring-to-the-reader day.

256px-Arthur_Rackham_Little_Red_Riding_Hood+4.  Meeting the Mentor

In the forest, Little Red Riding Hood met a wicked wolf. He obtained directions to her grandmother’s house. He advised her to collect flowers for her grandmother.

5.  Crossing the Threshold

Little Red Riding Hood received his counsel. She ran off the path and picked flowers. She crossed from her Ordinary World into a Special World.

Act 2a – Descent – Dragons (or wolves)


6.  Tests, Allies, Enemies

After waylaying Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf ran to the grandmother’s cottage and devoured her. He donned her clothes and got into her bed.

7.  Approaching the Inmost Cave

CottageLittle Red Riding Hood remembered her grandmother and hurried to her cottage. The open cottage door surprised her. She felt uneasy. Inside, her grandmother was in bed, her cap pulled over her face and looking strange.

Act 2b – Initiation (changes but must find her way to the right thing)


8.  The Crisis/Supreme Ordeal

Little Red Riding Hood questioned her grandmother’s odd features. The wolf leaped from the bed and ate her.

9.  Seizing the Reward

A huntsman heard the wolf snoring. Suspecting the wolf had eaten the grandmother, he cut the wolf open. Little Red Riding Hood sprung out, followed by her grandmother. The child collected stones, and they filled the wolf’s stomach. When he rose, he dropped dead from the heavy stones. The huntsman gained a wolf’s skin. The grandmother ate the cake and revived. The girl vowed to mind her mother and never leave the path by herself. 

Act 3 – Return (to Ordinary World)


10.  The Road Back

Image courtesy of anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Later, Little Red Riding Hood took cakes to her grandmother again. Another wolf tried to entice her from the path. She went straight to her grandmother and told her about the wolf.

11.  The Climax/Resurrection

When no one answered his knock, the wolf waited on the roof for Little Red Riding Hood to go home. The child put cooked sausages in the trough outside. The wolf leaned over to smell them and fell into the trough and drowned.

12.  Return with Elixir

Little Red Riding Hood returned home joyously and no one harmed her again.

Consider these stages of a hero’s journey in your 3-act story. Click to tweet.

What stage is missing or weak in the story you’re reading or writing?