Conferences, Retreats, & Write-Ins: Oh, my!

A number of my writing peeps are blogging about the our recent Retreat From Harsh Reality, a weekend where we as an organization, Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America, put on an annual writing retreat.

I don’t want to repeat all of their accolades and what we did specifically; so instead, I’ll answer those questions that writers often ask:  How is a conference different from a retreat?   What is a write-in?

Both writing conferences and writing retreats desire to make money for their organization, or at the utmost minimum, pay for the expenses, such as was my goal last fall when I put together our organization’s Halloween weekend write-in retreat.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  Write-ins can be free or they can involve costs depending on their location or whether they are sponsored.


These are formal affairs.  Dress is generally business casual.  There is always one main speaker, a noted professional of rank and success, which is a draw for the conference.  This individual becomes the plenary or featured speaker, sometimes providing a workshop or two.

Additionally, there will be other speakers:  published writers, agents, editors, sometimes publishers, and they provide workshops or sometimes speak in a panel workshop or panel event.

Smaller conferences may offer a day of speakers, where the audience stays seated and the speakers come up front.  Other conferences offer several workshops at the same time, forcing the attendees to choose from two more different workshops.

A common theme for all conferences is where members of the sponsoring organization offer workshops in their field of expertise.

Some conferences are specific genre focused, such as fiction writers or poets.  Other conferences invite writers of all genres to attend and then offer multiple genre tracks of workshops, such as fiction track, non-fiction track, writing for children track, and so on.

I’ve attended small conferences of 100, with the biggest having over 3,000 attendees.  Costs are in relationship to the size of the conference, its location, its speaker headliners, and the number of meals provided.

Generally, at the bigger conferences, only a few main meals are provided with attendees finding restaurants for the rest of their meals.


These are less formal events, but they still provide some structure.  Jeans are appropriate.  More often than not, there is a speaker.  It could be someone from within the group sponsoring the retreat or it could an invited professional, whose expenses are being paid.

Depending on the event location, some or all meals can be provided.  The retreats provide writing time for the attendees or free time where they can meet for brain-storming or discussing the business of writing.  Some retreats providing workshops in the morning, writing time in the afternoon, and sharing time at dinner.

A retreat at a bed and breakfast, or one with a great vista location and themed with a great writer, such as the weeklong retreat honoring Virginia Woolf, A Room of Her Own Foundation for Women, in New Mexico every year can provide the camaraderie for those who don’t belong to a writing organization that meets locally or regularly.


These are events where the goal is for participants to get away from day-to-day responsibilities and to spend their time writing.  While you’re all together physically, you’re working individually.

I’ve been at twice-weekly write-ins at various eateries, such as Panera Bread, Grand Traverse Pie Company, Starbucks, or other locations that cater to writers, while I was living in Kalamazoo.  We would meet for a few hours in the evening after work and then again on Saturday morning.

Last year, I hosted a Halloween weekend write-in at a nearby bed-and-breakfast, Lily Hill Farm in Paw Paw, where we brought in our own food and we came together at meal times.  Otherwise, we were spread throughout the spacious farmhouse working alone, whether in our rooms or at various tables in the main rooms.

Also, I’ve participated in virtual write-ins, such as are sponsored by the Capital City Writers Association through their Finish the Damn Book program.  As a member, while it isn’t feasible for me to travel an hour one-way to participate, I am able to participate online, quite easily.


These write-ins can be as long or short as you want.  They can cost nothing, cost little, or cost much more, depending on your need or desire.

I’ve always wanted to do an Ernest Hemingway Key West Retreat for a week, taking someone with me.  Or go to Mackinac Island for a few days alone or with another writer, or taking the train across the country while writing.  Lately, renting a castle in England sounds like a fun write-in event.

What about you?  Do you have any favorite writing retreat locations?

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About Diana Stout

Screenwriter, author, former English professor
This entry was posted in Inspiration, Joy of Writing, Motivation, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Conferences, Retreats, & Write-Ins: Oh, my!

  1. Diane says:

    I am absolutely on board for that castle write-in in England.


  2. The only write-in event I’ve taken part in was part of National Novel Writing Month last November when fewer than a dozen of us gathered in a room at a local library to write. Some used laptops. Some used notebooks and pens. One used her smart phone. No one spoke. There were no distractions. But I’m not sure it helped me more than sitting in my home office would have.


    • I’ve sometimes thought that, too, Sandra, but I’ve come to realize that I actually get more writing done when surrounded with other writers than I do when I have all my conveniences and distractions at home. Because I live alone, sometimes, I just that extra company. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Diane Burton says:

    Great post, Diana. Large conferences are great for the variety of info, but sometimes I’ve gone into overload and my brain can’t absorb any more. I appreciate the smaller one-day conferences. More so, the retreat. I need downtime to mull over what I’ve learned. Write-ins would work if I lived close enough. Driving more than 1/2 hour to one means I’ve lost an hour of writing time. But everybody needs to do what works for her/him.


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  5. I’ve attended a retreat in Northern BC twice and both times I was disappointed. I think I’m partial to blame though. The majority of those who attended were poets and creative non-fiction writers. My last time, there was only me and one other fiction writer. You can guess the rest. We felt left out. While the food, the lodge, the gathering was great, the cost didn’t warrant a weekend away. I should have thought things out more.


  6. Pingback: The Right Thing, Naturally | The Diligent Dilettante

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