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

image by MikesPhotos

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!

How to Find the Amazing Word for That Thingy, Modifier, or Action

Flip Dictionary takes you from a “meaning” you are aware of to the “word” you need.” —Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.


image by ClkeFreeVectorImages
image by ClkerFreeVectorImages

In a scene, my character senses a reverent atmosphere, but I didn’t want to use atmosphere. I couldn’t summon the word I wanted. Microsoft Word’s thesaurus offered ambiance, feeling, mood, and others. I knew a better word was available but my brain couldn’t capture it.

I looked up atmosphere in Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Aura. That was it!

Under the word atmosphere, Kipfer listed 16 words for different kinds of atmosphere. For example: “atmosphere of special power or mystery: mystique.”

So, today I want to plug Flip Dictionary. Let’s look at some other examples. 

Example 1

How about courage. The thesaurus supplied: bravery, nerve, pluck, valor, daring, audacity, mettle, resolution, and guts.

As Flip Dictionary does, it named all of the above from a thesaurus and then added: backbone, boldness, braveness, chin up, élan, fearlessness, firmness, fortitude, gallantry, gameness, grit, gumption, hardihood, heart, the heart of a lion, heroism, prowess, soul, spine, spunk, and tenacity.

Wow. What a wealth of words to choose from. Some have a different meaning from, but are in the scope of, courage.

image by ClkerFreeVectorImages
image by ClkerFreeVectorImages

Suppose my character is a boy who grabs a runaway dog’s leash and persists in pulling the resistant canine away from a busy street. I might use a form of:        

  • Grit – “courage and resolve; strength of character”
  • Gumption – “shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness”
  • Heroism – “great bravery”
  • Spunk – “courage and determination”
  • Tenacity – “the quality or fact of being determined; determination”

(definitions from New Oxford American Dictionary)

I like spunk. I don’t think I’d use it for a man. Maybe for a grandmother or a young woman. If my story is folksy, I might employ gumption.

The point is Flip Dictionary gives me words that go beyond synonyms. I like that.

Example 2

What’s the bar thingy that holds flags so they hang across a porch?

I looked up flag, and beneath it I found:

image by jill111
image by jill111

Flag hung on crosspiece, not pole: gonfalon”

gonfalon: “a banner or pennant, especially one with streamers, hung from a crossbar” (New Oxford American Dictionary)

Gonfalon was also listed under banner in Flip Dictionary.

If you can look up a clue to the thingy escaping you, often you’ll find it in Flip Dictionary.

An amazing resource that gives me words that go beyond synonyms. Click to tweet.

If you use another resource or Flip Dictionary, would you tell us about how you use it?

Your Words Can Possess Power – It’s Your Choice

“Mark Twain said, ‘The right word is to the nearly right word as lightning is to the lightning bug.’ Fill your book with lightning.” — Robert Littell


It’s our choice to choose the word that gives our sentence the most power in creating a robust image in the reader’s mind. Often, power words don’t naturally pop into our heads.

What? Take the time to think about all 80,000 words in our manuscripts? Good news. You need to deliberate only the verbs, adjectives, and nouns.

From Wimpy to Forceful


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Eric gave Elle the paper. I picture Eric extending the paper to Elle and her taking it. And maybe this is enough, if you’re simply getting the paper into Elle’s hand. You intend to call little attention to the action. You want your readers to focus on more important actions or items in your paragraph.

But even in the no-special-attention instance “gave” can be improved. And “paper” can be more specific. How about: Eric handed Elle the letter.

But look at the sentence in the following contexts. You might go through this process armed with a thesaurus/dictionary.

1.  Anger. Elle has presented Eric with divorce papers. Eric is incensed.


Paper⇒pages⇒document⇒divorce papers⇒divorce contract⇒life death sentence

Eric flung the divorce papers at Elle.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2.  Joy. Eric presents his first book contract to Elle.


Paper⇒document⇒contract⇒book contract

As Eric strode toward Elle, he flapped the book contract. She whisked it from his grasp, examined it, and then danced him around the dining table.

3.  Awe. Eric has discovered a Biblical document in a cave.


Paper⇒document⇒fragment⇒scroll fragment

Eric rested the ancient scroll fragment on Elle’s upturned palms.

Image courtesy of aopsan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of aopsan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I recommend you equip your writing desk with a copy of Flip Dictionary: For when you know what you want to say but can’t think of the word.

Have on⇒put on⇒grace⇒supply⇒equip

Words can stimulate vivid images in your readers’ minds. So choose good ones. Click to tweet.

In the context of jealousy, how would you power-up the example sentence?