It’s been a month since I attended Madcap Retreats Creating Worlds workshop with Tessa Gratton and Roshani Chokshi. I’ve been working on this post on and off since then, trying to find just the right words to explain how much I loved this writing retreat and how much I love the people I met there. Mostly, when I try to put my feelings about this experience into words, I just end up gushing and flailing and making incoherent noises that don’t translate well into a blog post. But here goes…
Back in November, I applied to attend both their Creating Worlds workshop and their Writing Cross Culturally workshop. When I got the email that I’d been accepted, I actually started crying. I’m not even kidding. I was so excited to be attending that I think I emailed them back to accept my spot almost immediately.
I ended up getting accepted to both. Unfortunately, I could only attend one workshop due to budget and vacation constraints. So, I picked the Creating Worlds workshop. It was a little smaller, and I admit that I was a little intimidated about the idea of being in a house with 60 people I didn’t know.
As the anticipation built, I started getting really nervous. I had no idea what to expect. I knew a couple of people from Twitter who had attended previously, but they hadn’t said much about it. About a month before the workshop, I connected with a handful of people who would be attending and we chatted about what to bring and coordinated on rides from the airport. A lot of people who were attending with me had already been to one of these workshops. I took that as a good sign. I should have realized then that this was going to be a world-changer for me.
I’m here to report, Madcap Retreats exceeded my expectations in every single way.
I attempted to try to make a list of all of the awesome things about this retreat. I’m sure I’ll forget something, but here are 10 things I loved about this Madcap Retreat:
- Natalie and Tessa — Any list of things to love about Madcap has to start with these two, but especially with Natalie. Natalie Parker is the organizer of everything and mastermind behind Madcap. Tessa Gratton is an excellent teacher and rabid social justice pixie in the very best and most inspiring way. I have to admit, of everyone on this faculty list, I knew the least about these two going in. What a travesty! How did I not already know about these two amazing individuals?
- The faculty — The other authors who were there to offer their knowledge were also fantastic. Roshani Chokshi is kind, generous, and can take the most boring story detail and make it magical. Dhonielle Clayton is a really fun, tiny, fierce human packed full will a wealth of publishing knowledge. Tara Hudson and Julie Murphy, who also joined us for a couple days, were generous with their industry knowledge, really fun to hang out with, and so encouraging.
- The writers I met — A few of the attendees already had agents and/or published books. Most of us did not. We got to hear a lot about the novels everyone was working on, and there was not a single one that I wasn’t excited about reading. Every single one of them sounded fantastic, and I wished they were available to read right now. The level of talent attending was both inspiring and a little intimidating (in a good way). I made new friends, and I got to talk about writing with writers in real life. Making writer friends over Twitter is great, but hanging out with writer friends in person is the best.
- The content — The workshop I attended was focused around “Creating Worlds,” something I thought I knew a thing or two about before I got on that plane to Florida. World-building is one of my absolute favorite things about writing sci-fi and fantasy and something I usually get compliments on from CPs and beta readers. But, this workshop gave me so many more things to think about! I took so many notes and got so many ideas. Seriously, I left feeling like I’ve only been scratching the surface of what’s possible, but ready to dive in to improve all the worlds I’ve created.
- The location — So, I associate Florida with the absolute worst sunburn I ever got in my life. Plus, Orange Beach is not the easiest place to get to from San Francisco. But, it turns out that Orange Beach is not actually located in Florida. It’s technically in Alabama. And, hey! This location was AWESOME. Excellent house. Right on the beach. Wildlife just outside (cranes, dolphins, elusive beach mice). Spectacular sunrises and sunsets, both somehow magically happening over the ocean. Warm weather. It was basically the best. I would do it all over again next weekend if I could, even though it meant spending nearly an entire day in transit both directions. That’s how good it was. (more location photos in this photo album)
- The format — We had three pretty intense days, but they were broken up in a way that gave you time to absorb what you were learning, or decompress if you needed a break. We got started around 9am and went pretty much straight through until noon with a few 10 minute breaks. Then we had about an hour for lunch. Then we had another session after lunch. Then a big break in the afternoon. After dinner, there was a “fireside chat” (optional) in the evening. I got up at about 6:30 every morning because that’s actually “sleeping in” for me, and I love watching the sunrise over the ocean. And I stayed up way past my usual bedtime, going to sleep around midnight every night. I could have gone to bed earlier or slept in later, but I didn’t want to miss a moment, and I liked working on the world-building exercises we were learning first thing in the morning when the house was quiet. It was intense and a little exhausting, but totally worth it.
- The new writing tools — Holy 9-box convert, Batman! There were several writing exercises that I am definitely adding to my prep work for all my novels, but this character/plot arc tool was one of two things that really helped me figure out what needed revising in the novel I brought to work on at this workshop. The other enlightening thing happened as a side-effect from a writing exercise in Tessa’s class. I’ll talk more about that one in a future post. For now I’ll just say, I’ve taken writing classes and read a fair amount of writing craft books, and I still learned so many mind-blowingly useful new things.
- Learning from #OwnVoices — As anyone who’s been paying any attention to YA “book Twitter” knows, it is very easy to mess things up when you’re creating worlds, be they contemporary or fantasy. I am always trying to educate myself about this stuff because I know enough to know there’s always so much more to learn. That’s one of the reasons why I signed up for this workshop in the first place. Learning from #OwnVoices faculty and fellow workshop participants helped me flag a few new potential blind spots and feel a little more articulate about some of the things I’d already figured out on my own.
- The food — Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much here. Basically, I assumed they’d have some, and I’m not a particularly picky eater. So, I assumed I’d eat some. I was fairly certain I wouldn’t starve. Oh how wrong I was. I think I came home several pounds heavier than I left. Natalie did most of the cooking, and everything was fantastic. Plus, the kitchen was basically in the same space as the presentation area. So, the delicious food smells meant I was always hungry. There were also a ton of snacks that I normally never eat. I made bad food choices. I regret nothing. 🙂
- Talking about my novel with other writers — This was possibly the one thing I didn’t even consider before attending but now don’t know how I managed to function without. Critique groups, my usual outlet for talking IRL with other writers, are usually for absorbing feedback about whatever section of work you submitted. Brainstorming and talking through your plot issues with other writers is a whole different beast, and I loved it! At first it was really strange talking about my novel out loud like I would talk about the plot and/or characters of any published book. But, talking through it with this group during the 9-Box exercise, and during my 1:1 critique session with Tessa and Roshani, was SO HELPFUL! I have no idea how I’ve functioned so long without having a writing buddy to brainstorm with IRL.
Bottom line: I can’t recommend Madcap Retreats highly enough. If you’re serious about writing and on the fence about attending one of these workshops, go. Apply and go. You won’t regret it.
This photo makes me a little sad. I miss my new writer friends and am already thinking about when I’m going to do this again. I will definitely be back.