How to Pack for a Writers’ Retreat

How to Pack for a Writers’ Retreat

Ruth E. Walker. Every time we organize a Writescape retreat, we email participants a “Useful Information & What to Pack” list. It’s full of practical advice. We remind them to bring comfortable clothes and outdoor wear for spring or fall. After all, Ontario weather can be as unpredictable as a newly discovered character for your novel. We suggest that they can bring munchies but not too many as we provide regular snacks and our 24/7 beverage stations are always ready to serve.

compass & mapWe provide maps and directions to the resort. And we remind writers to pack anything they need for writing.  Most importantly, we suggest they remember to bring their work in progress or ideas they want to develop. But if they forget those, Writescape retreats offer creativity sessions and other inspiration opportunities. We even have a companion workbook and an on-site inspiration station for those 3:00 a.m. inspiration needs.

Gwynn, Heather and I sometimes joke that anyone coming on a Writescape retreat just needs a change of underwear, their toothbrush and jammies.

But there are some other, more subtle things that don’t fit into a suitcase but that a writer should remember to bring on retreat. And these important items are needed no matter where you are heading:

An Open Mind
I’m not talking about how you see the world, your politics or your ethics. I’m talking about some internal housekeeping — owoman-readingpening your mind to possibilities. It’s a form of mindfulness. It’s you, paying attention to what your muse is suggesting. You, being open to the five senses — taste, touch, sight, smell, sound. You, bringing those senses into your writing. When your writing includes a range of sensory elements, your readers’ memories are tickled. And that results in writing with physical and emotional resonance.

A Plan
man writingHaving a plan may sound contradictory to what I just said about mindfulness but the two are companions on any successful retreat. Gwynn reminds us in every opening session to be S.M.A.R.T. in our retreat objectives: set plans for the weekend that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and that can be Timed. In short, if you don’t have a plan, how will you know what you have managed to accomplish?

Coming on retreat to “write something beautiful” is not as powerful as coming on retreat to “finish three vital scenes for the climax.” By the same token, planning to “write a complete novel” is not realistic unless you are on a 30-day NaNoWriMo retreat. Be reasonable. There’s nothing unrealistic about a plan that includes “relaxing with a daily lakeside walk and writing in my pajamas for two hours every day.”


Giving yourself permission — permission to experiment and explore, even permission to fail — offers you a delicious freedom from your inner critic. Most of us struggle with that quiet voice whispering in the background, telling us we’re not real writers. At one of our retreats, a participant told me she didn’t think she really was a writer, that her work “wasn’t good enough.” We talked about what makes “a writer” and how we all are on a continuous journey with the writing process. When she finally was able to read her work in one of the sharing opportunities, she was thrilled by the response. She got past her inner critic, gave herself permission to risk sharing her words and discovered validation when other writers responded to her work. And she’s grown so much since as a writer, seeing her work published in anthologies, winning writing contests and submitting her novel manuscript to agents and publishers. And all that happened because she gave herself “permission” at her first writing retreat.

Lisa and Andrea web largeOn April 22, a group of writers will be heading to Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake. They will bring casual clothes, walking shoes, bathing suits for the indoor pool, and rain gear, just in case. They will also bring their works in progress or ideas folder, laptops or notebooks, and their pens or pencils. They will have packed a writer’s suitcase full of optimism, plans, outlines, rough drafts, objectives, hopes and dreams for their annual Spring Thaw retreat.

And Gwynn and I will do everything we can to help them achieve their plans and their dreams. Because, after all, that is exactly what they will expect of us.

Let’s Get Practical:  Packing your suitcase can be a real challenge, especially when you want to lug along your laptop and flash drives and chargers cords. Rolling clothes suitcase overflowinstead of folding can get you more space. But what about keeping it all organized and quick to pack and unpack?

Here are some amazing “packing hacks” In a YouTube video from “Dave Hax”. You’ll gain some space for those extras and keep your clothes neat and tidy. Do you have any packing tips?

Can You Write While Travelling?

Can You Write While Travelling?

Ruth E. Walker. My husband and I were visiting our son, daughter-in-law and grandsons in the Texas Panhandle last month. We had a hotel booked for most of the visit so I thought I might have time to do a bit of writing. After all, during the week, our grandsons were in school and their parents were working. Free time, I thought.
Hah! I’d forgotten how exhausting and complicated travel can be. Most of our “spare time” was spent in busy mode (planning and taking day trips, helping out around the house, etc.) Any other spare time was devoted to recovery mode: sleeping. (Grandparents everywhere will understand this.)

So I didn’t write. At least, not on paper.

The thing about travel is that you experience difference and, for writers, difference is pure inspiration gold. While we have been to Texas a few times in the past few years, it’s still intriguing to see men strolling through the modern Dallas airport, sporting wide-brimmed Stetsons and stylish leather jackets. There’s a kind of Texas-walk — confident and straight-ahead. And Texas talk, too — How y’all doin’? (If there is a group of you, it becomes: How all y’all doin’?)Stetson wearing man

There’s difference in food. Biscuits and gravy is on almost every menu and Taco Bell Texas figured out how to work it in: get your taco fixings in a tea biscuit. Before ordering iced tea in restaurants, I remember to ask for “sweet tea” or it comes decidedly unsweetened.

And in every Texas hotel we’ve ever stayed at, the waffle irons at the “Breakfast Included” stations are in the shape of the state.Texas

So what does this have to do with writing? Being somewhere different — whether on vacation or on a writing retreat — it tickles your mind and your senses. Sour gas odours from the oil wells.Oil drill in Texas Billboards touting Texas Pecan Company offering nut cracking services. Pecans fresh from my son’s front yard tree (and cracked locally.) The sticky and soft texture of a white tail deer’s tongue and lips taking a carrot from my hand. The quick intake of passengers’ breath when our plane hit strong turbulence coming home.


In short, the senses are on overdrive. For me, that usually results in my imagination working overtime, and it was certainly the case this time.


I’ve come home with an idea for a play. It’s rough. It has nothing to do with Texas. But it does have a lot to do with airplanes that encounter far more than turbulence. I’m excited just thinking about the possibilities of that play, of the characters, of the idea behind it all. Once I finish my current manuscript, I’ll be working on that script. I might even work in something about waffles. And pecans. And maybe even Texas. Or maybe none of it will end up in the play. Just the plane. Or maybe just the turbulence.


Remember that writing is not always about putting words on paper. Sometimes writing is all in your mind, full of inspiration and potential, just waiting its turn to land on your page.

Turning Leaves 2017

Turning Leaves 2017

November 3 – 5, 2017

Vicki Delany: One woman crime wave comes to Turning Leaves

With more than 20 books to her credit, Vicki Delany is a fearless full-time writer, tackling the adult, reluctant reader and YA markets with her mysteries, suspense novels and police procedural titles. Past Chair of Crime Writers of Canada, Vicki is also a member of Capital Crime Writers and Sisters in Crime. She writes as Vicki Delany and Eva Gates.

Enjoy a Friday evening fireside chat with Vicki and a Saturday morning workshop where more than the secrets of writing a great mystery will be revealed. All stories need a mystery at their heart.

Here’s a brief excerpt from her author’s bio: In 2007, Vicki took early retirement from her job as a systems analyst with a major bank and sold her house in Oakville, Ontario.  At that time In the Shadow of the Glacier, the first book in a police procedural series set in the British Columbia Interior was published. After travelling around North America for a year with her dog, Shenzi, she bought a home in bucolic, rural Prince Edward County, Ontario, where she rarely wears a watch and can write whenever she feels like it.

Interview with Vicki

Turning Leaves 2017 brochure


A $250 non-refundable deposit will secure your place in this retreat. 

At Turning Leaves, we build a retreat for the writer and the writing:

  • workshops to fire up your pen
  • creativity and group sessions to inspire you
  • private, uninterrupted writing time in cottage country setting
  • tailor your retreat to suit your needs
Chatting over dinner in the Heritage Dining Room
Chatting over dinner in the Heritage Dining Room


Turning Leaves 2016 with Hilary McMahon

Meals and accommodations:

  • lakeview dining in the Heritage Dining Room
  • private or shared accommodation in Fern’s Fireside Inn
  • rooms have wood-burning fireplace, fridge, free WiFi
  • Fern Resort is 90 minutes from Toronto in a quiet bay on beautiful Lake Couchiching

Resort amenities:

  • indoor pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna
  • exercise room
  • nature trails, outdoor jogging track
  • spa treatments (by appointment, extra charge)
  • onsite pub (additional charge)


  • Lakeview Room Single Occupancy $875
  • Landview Room Single Occupancy $845
  • Landview Room Double Occupancy $775
  • Day Rate $475


  • Retreat alumni $30
  • Members of writing organizations $30

REGISTER NOW A $250 non-refundable deposit will secure your place in Turning Leaves 2017

PLEASE NOTE: When you hit the “Add to Cart” button, the PayPal order will show up at the top of the column to the right. To be taken to the secure PayPal to finish your purchase, click on the yellow PayPal button. You can use a credit card on the PayPal site – you do not have to have a PayPal account.