Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Madcap Writing Retreats: Retreat to Advance (+ Giveaway)

By Natalie C. Parker

Part of the How They Do It Series (Today with a giveaway!) 

Writing retreats can be invigorating and incredibly beneficial to a writer's career. Natalie Parker knows first-hand how useful, and went from simply attending them to hosting them. She's here today to share her story, and offer you an opportunity to win fabulous writer-friendly prizes!

Natalie C. Parker grew up in a Navy family where having adventures was as common as reading fairy tales. She holds a BA in English and an MA in Women’s Studies and in spite of these things ended up in the employ of social scientists studying climate change. Though still baffled by having ended up in a landlocked state, she lives in Kansas with her partner in a house of monsters.

Take it away Natalie...

 Nothing has changed my career so much as writing retreats.

In the winter of 2011, I was invited to attend a large retreat in Branson, MO at which there would be 25 established YA authors. I was unagented at the time and though I found the idea of joining such a gathering an intimidating one, I also found it was impossible to pass up.

The experience was a game-changer. Not only did I meet a group of authors who were as encouraging as they were successful, but I sat in a room in which those same authors opened laptops and worked quietly together. There were headphones and tea and snack breaks and chat breaks and there were word documents that looked much like my own, growing one word at a time.

I left the Branson Retreat with a new network of contacts who would guide my career in different ways, determined to repeat the experience as quickly as possible. Only this time I wanted to be the one issuing invites. One year later, that’s exactly what I did: I made my first retreat of 11 authors on the side of a mountain, in a house that also had a turret.

Since that time, I’ve hosted 1 or 2 retreats every year, always with the goal of bringing authors together to create the kind of community we just can’t get in 140 character bites. I’ve hosted authors in turreted mansions in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in French Quarter apartments, in the Texas Hill Country, in historic Savannah townhomes, and in the sleepy Smoky Mountains. And here are the top three lessons I’ve learned from organizing retreats for writers:

1. Internet. 

There must be Internet. It does not matter if you write to your group ahead of time and say the words “there is no Internet in this mountain chateau IS THAT OKAY?” It does not matter if they uniform answer is, “Yes, Natalie, we are not so addicted to the Modern Age that going without Wi-Fi for 3 days will kill us.” I promise you, none of that matters because when you get to the house someone will build an antenna out of aluminum foil and desperate tears and stand on the roof searching for a signal.

2. Bathrooms. 

Never underestimate the importance of every bedroom having its own bathroom. End of explanation.

3. Scenery. 

You may begin the adventure with plans of leaving the house, but trust me, this will not happen. To appease any group of authors, I advise picture windows and something that suggests power and mystery. Mountains are an obvious choice, but lakes work very well as do abandoned sugar plantations, rolling hills, and oceans. This way, even if you get snowed in after throwing out all the perishable food so that all that remains are Oreos and a handle of gin, no one will ever complain about the view!

I love retreats. They’re fun and exciting and sometimes lead to creating things like Sh*t Writers Say. But I started this by saying that retreats have altered the course of my career in significant ways and that is absolutely true.

After Branson in 2011, I had half a dozen authors willing to weigh in on my query and help me cull my agent list.

After the Wi-Fi-less chateau in 2012, there were authors ready to blurb my first book.

After the Hill Country in 2013, I received crucial advice on how to develop a retreat business.

But more than that, I’ve seen anthologies born over the course of a retreat, I’ve seen mentor and critique relationships gain footing, and I’ve seen the direction of manuscripts shift dramatically and to great effect. And I know there’s even more I haven’t seen.

Like so many writers, my writing time is bound and hedged in on all sides. My writing time is also my “down” time, my “free” time, my “in between this and that” time.” It’s a challenge to find hours that flow from one into another with nothing binding them except the promise of words. Madcap is one way I can offer time and opportunity to myself and to others, and I’m truly excited to be able to do that.

Madcap is for writers at any stage in their career – aspiring, agented, and published. My goal is to continue what was done for me at that first Branson retreat and create the kinds of opportunities it’s nearly impossible to create for yourself. Welcome to Madcap Retreats, join us for an adventure.


MADCAP RETREATS: Web | Twitter | Tumblr

And now we come to the giveaway portion of this post!

I’ve asked a few amazing bloggers to help me spread the word of Madcap far and wide via a Blog Hop. Each participating blog will be giving away 2 e-copies of my debut novel Beware the Wild. And each of those winners will be entered to win one of two grand prizes! They are:
  • A $300 discount on the upcoming workshop – The Anatomy of Publishing: Story & Marketing, August 27 – 30. The workshop will be lead by Courtney C. Stevens and will feature a few fancy guest authors who will workshop pages and queries one-on-one! (More info can be found here).
  • A short stack of ARCs including: JUBILEE MANOR by Bethany Hagen, DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy, and THE ANATOMY OF CURIOSITY by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, & Brenna Yovanoff.

The contest is open to US/Canada ONLY. You may enter via each blogger if that pleases you. Contest closes at midnight on Sunday, June 7th. Winners will be announced by noon on Monday, June 8th.

Additionally! If you’d like to stay up to date on all retreat and workshop offerings by Madcap, you can subscribe to the mailing list by visiting this page. The first 50 subscribers will be offered a free download of either:

To enter, simply leave a comment about why you'd love to go on a writers' retreat. Two winners will be chosen by the random number gods.

Full list of participating blogs:


  1. Hi Natalie! (and Janice ;)

    I've been to a few writers retreats and I completely agree that there is nothing quite like it. It fosters creativity and heals the soul. I'd love another opportunity to attend one as fabulous as Madcap! Crossing fingers. :)

    In gratitude,
    Marissa xo

  2. My budget and schedule has stopped me so far. I'm scared of slipping into a puddle of exhaustion & snoring thru the whole thing.

  3. Hi Natalie! I've only been on one official writing retreat, but it made a huge impact on my writing/noveling journey. Your post here is getting me to think about setting up a writing retreat for my writing sisters group. Though finances and time make it tough for me to get to my "dream" retreats (Maui, anyone?), I'm hoping to attend another soon!

  4. Loved your enthusiasm about this topic, Natalie! Bathrooms and internet! LOL! Absolutely. I've solo retreated many times, but now it feels right to check out the process in a group. I was wondering about your observations regarding groups. Did some groups "gel" better than others? Do you have some specific process for "breaking the ice?" Also curious to know if you noticed any patterns in the writing retreats you've attended and hosted. Continued success to you! Tina

  5. I've never done a writer's retreat, but have always wanted to. Finances have held me back. Anyhow, very interesting take on planning a retreat. The views sound fantastic :)

  6. I've never tried a writing retreat, but maybe I should look into it! Conferences are great, but it can be hard to make lasting relationships between the sessions. Thanks for sharing!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hey Vaughan -- You were selected as one of Fiction University's winners! Congratulations! Please send your mailing address to me at nataliecparker AT gmail to claim your prize. These e-copies expire on 6/17, so time is of the essence. :)


  7. I'd love to go to a writing retreat! The advice, the work, the connections to invaluable friends ... what's not to love about the idea?

  8. I have never been to a writing retreat but I would absolutely love to! I'm really stuck on the last 20k words of my first novel and it sounds like this might be just the thing I need to finally finish it. Fingers crossed! :-)

  9. I would love to get away for a few days and focus on nothing but writing! A big block of time like that could be hugely helpful.