• Melissa Olson

Our roving writer’s retreat – taking it on the road!


My sister, Deb Sefton, and I have been pushing each other forward in our writing endeavors for several years now. The writing retreats we take together are a huge motivator for both of us. Once or twice a year, we’ll stake out a new B&B for a weekend. Other times, we dedicate a weekend stay at one of our homes. So when Deb suggested we use the 21 hours we were going to be spending in the car, driving to the Poconos for my nephew’s wedding, for a writing retreat, I thought it was a great idea. Two weeks ago, we went on our first roving retreat.

About five years ago, Deb and I started meeting once a month at a Coney joint in Flint, which is mid-way between my home in Ann Arbor and hers in North Branch. I work 30 hours a week, have a busy teen at home, and spend most weekends with my mom, who has end-stage Parkinson’s. Needless to say, it’s a struggle to find time to work on my writing projects. The retreats give me a decent chunk of time and it’s been amazing to see what we can get done.

Mainly, I’ve worked on the structural and plot elements of my novel, which requires more focus and mental energy than line editing, which can be accomplished in shorter spurts. Other times, we work on social media and marketing our work. We spent time during one retreat creating Deb’s website. We share articles, agent advice, and try to become more social media savvy.

Deb has written and illustrated several children’s picture books. Her latest, Hooper’s Library (pictured), is my favorite. “I don’t have anyone else to bounce ideas off of,” Deb said. “And it can be a lonely place without someone to share it with.”

After working for 8-10 hours, we reward ourselves with food, walks and wine. We usually treat ourselves to a nice dinner out and try to be adventurous, though I wasn’t all that crazy about the octopus ink pasta we had in South Haven. Oddly enough, we even found a B&B in Flint that had literature-themed rooms. We stayed in the Peter Pan suite. Did I mention there’s always a bit of wine involved?

During our roving retreat, I was excited to crack open my new book, Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents, and send out a few queries for my novel, The Life-Dividing Days. In addition, an agent invited me to send one of my children’s books to her for consideration - Gopher Grunts and Other Strange Happenings in the Burbs - so I did a final run through of that.

Right before the wedding, Deb received one of those ‘good’ rejections from a book publisher. In the querying biz, any personal rejection with compliments AND advice is a win. Hers came from the major publisher, Boyds Mills Press, who suggested she give her book’s two main characters (which they loved) more purpose. We spent some time brainstorming conflict/resolution plotting for the book that wouldn’t hurt the story’s charm. It’s never easy to rework the theme of any piece.

“It’s agony!” Deb exclaimed. I’m positive she’ll find the right path for her adorable characters.

The best part of these retreats is that I get to share my passion for writing with my sister. “How lucky are we?” said Deb. We trust each other’s judgement. Even if we don’t always use every single suggestion, they often lead to a better idea than the one we’d have working alone.

Finally, I have to give a SHOUT OUT to my husband! A roving retreat only works if you have someone else driving. A good play list and interspersed car dancing breaks are also recommended. A wonderful celebration at your destination is a pretty great thing, too.

Congrats to the newlyweds – Jake and Danielle!


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