“Whatever you dream, begin it, for boldness has power, magic and genius in it.” Goethe
“You Should Write a Book!”
Have you ever heard these five words before? Or maybe it’s more a question of how many times have you heard these five words before?
We all have a story to tell, we all have a book inside us.
As writers, we are an introverted introspective self-critical lot, who would like to make sense of life and if possible, help others to make sense of their lives too, with our writing.
During the Write Your Story retreat, you will have the opportunity to write, without interruptions and distractions, amongst idyllic surroundings, in this unspoilt and forgotten part of the deepest rural south of France.
My aim is to provide you with somewhere to write, not to teach you how to write. I’m happy to share what I learned by writing and publishing 5 non-fiction books (so far) but I have no formal training as a writing instructor.
This writing retreat is different from other retreats. It’s not just about writing. Of course, it’s about improving your writing, finding your voice, developing a regular writing habit, etc. but it is also about writing your own story to help you understand who you are and connect with the real you. It is about editing your own story in such a way that your past is empowering instead of debilitating. It is about enabling you to process and then incorporate challenging events in your past into your writing.
As a writer, what could be more important than making sense of your past and understanding how it shapes who you are?
“The stories we hear, the stories we tell and the stories we write, shape our identity. Our stories shape our futures.” Margaretha Montagu
Each day consists of 3 writing sessions and one walking session:
- A Morning Pages Writing session based on Julia Cameron’s book An Artist’s Way (see “The Basic Tools” below.)
- A My Masterpiece writing session – time to work on your own project: – your goal could be to write a certain number of words, edit a percentage of a manuscript, study an amount of research material etc.
- A Change Your Story, Change Your Life writing session: re-write the story of your life – processing past trauma with the healing power of story writing – and then turn your experiences and emotions into a novel (fiction or non-fiction) – see “Write Your Own Story” below.
- A Walking Meditation – Many writers found inspiration to write best-selling books during the often life-changing experience of walking the Camino: Paulo Coelho – The Pilgrimage, Jack Hitt – Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route into Spain, Ernest Hemingway – “The Sun Also Rises” Shirley Maclaine – The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit, James Michener – Iberia and Walter Starkie – The Road to Santiago.
- Last day: How to self-publish session – I firmly believe that now is the best time to publish your book. I have self-published 5 so far, with another in the pipeline. In this session, I explain how I did it (please look at “Self-publishing” below before this session.).
When you write and how long you spend on each session is up to you, Early in the morning, late at night, during siesta time, the choice is yours. Most writers spend at least 3 hours per day writing, with an average of 5 hours per day. Brunch is usually at 11h, and dinner at 18h. On Day 2 and 4 you have the opportunity to walk the Camino, departure usually at 12h and pick-up at 16h30, and on Day 3 you can walk for miles along the vineyards around Esprit Meraki.
We are all born storytellers – this retreat will help you to tell your story in such a way that it will not only help you but will help others too – whether you want to write fiction (mysteries, romance, horror, dystopian, young adult etc.) or non-fiction (memoir, biography, self-help etc.)
Your story, in your own voice, can make a difference. By writing your story, you can share fear, frustration, sorrow and joy and find common ground with others so that you can connect and communicate with them.
If you want to get from “You should write a book!” to “I loved your book!” you need to have a plan. Below I share my own writing strategy:
- Identify a clear target audience for your book. Don’t be afraid of a narrow audience. My next book is going to be a fantasy, but a very specific fantasy – it will feature time travel and dragons. A niche audience for stories about dragons already exists, so I will be writing for these readers specifically.
- Evaluate your competition. Go to Amazon and do a search – look at books in your genre. It’s important to determine how you are going to make your book stand out in your genre.
- Set a goal to write a specific number of words every day/week. If you are doing/have done NaNoWrMo, you will most likely already be familiar with this approach. Unless you are a pantser, of course! If you write 2,000 words per day you’ll have 60,000 words in 30 days.
- Choose a time frame. Yes, it’s scary, but it is essential. Choose a date for completing your first draft, for finishing your editing, for sending ARC to beta-readers etc.
- Decide when and where you are going to do your writing, editing etc. Or come to the south of France, follow in the footsteps of great writers like Paolo Coelho and get inspired and motivated by walking part of the Camino de Santiago de Compostella.
- Give the book a working title. Any title. Just something to start with, you can always fine-tune it later. You will, trust me, many times.
- Write a description of your book. The sort of description you would later use to sell it on Amazon. Read descriptions for similar books to get ideas and see what works and what doesn’t. See “The Ultimate Book Development Template” below.
- Determine how much research you need to do and decide when to do it. You will do more research as you go along, here I’m just talking about basic background research – if needed.
- Create an outline. Get all your ideas onto paper/sticky notes/your computer/phone. Yes, you can write a book on your phone. I use Scrivener on my laptop and the 5-Key Milestones Approach to create my plots:
- The Opening Scene/Setup
- The Inciting Incident
- The Pivotal Complication
- The 2nd Pivotal Complication
- The Climax
- For more help with devising a plot, I have found this video series very useful: Plotting Basics
- Make a list of your characters and write a description of each. You can use “The Ultimate Character Profile Template” – see below.
- storyline – what part will they play in the plot
- goal – what do they want
- motivation – why do they want it
- conflict – what stops them from getting it
- epiphany – what will they learn or how will they change
- Start writing. When you have a solid outline, you don’t have to write your book from beginning to end. You can instead work on different chapters at different times, or jump around – whatever works for you.
- Just write, try not to do too much editing as you go along. If you get stuck, go for a walk. Lots of writers are also seriously into walking.
- Now it’s time for editing. Use Grammarly (the free version is fine) or ProwritingAid (ditto) to pick up obvious spelling/grammar mistakes. I do it one chapter at a time. Cut any superfluous writing mercilessly. Also, see the “Book Editing Checklist” below.
- Write a dedication (if applicable) and/or an acknowledgements section.
- Write your author bio. You’ll need a short bio for marketing purposes and a longer bio for your sales page.
- Decide on your book title. Think about keywords, as in “dragons” in my case, which will help readers find your book when they search for books with similar content.
- Ask a couple of friends to read your book. Insist on honest feedback and adjust your book accordingly.
- If you can afford it, hire a concept editor once you feel like you can’t improve the story any more on your own. A concept editor looks at story structure, plot holes, character development and more, rather than spelling/grammar.
- Send ARC’s to your beta readers. Take their (constructive) criticism seriously. Make changes. Ask for testimonials and if appropriate, ask someone to write a foreword for your book.
- Format your book. I use Reedsy.com, quick and easy.
- Get ISBN numbers. You need one for each publication: e-book, printed book, audiobook etc.
- Design your book cover. I use Canva and Fiverr.com.
- Choose your publishing platform. I use Draft2Digital (for e-books) and KDP Select for your Amazon sales (both print and digital)
- There you go. Book written and ready to be published. On the last day of your retreat, we’ll discuss the self-publishing of your book in detail. Looking forward to helping you with that!
My personal favourite aids:
- The Ultimate Book Development Template
- The Ultimate Character Profile Template
- The Ultimate World Building Template
- Book Editing Checklist
Writing Your Own Story (content copyrighted – only for personal use)
- Francine Prose. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
- Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird.
- Stephen King. On Writing.
- David Corbett, The Art of Character
- Jane Friedman. Publishing 101
- Isabel Allende. The House of Spirits.
- Sandra Cisneros. The House on Mango Street