10 Things I Learned by Attending a Writer’s Retreat

I’m thrilled to welcome Soul Mate author Julie Doherty to the Power of 10 series. Today, Julie shares her retreat experience and her latest release, Scattered Seeds.

Here’s Julie!


1. There may be something wrong with me.

Not everyone would call sitting at a desk for five days straight a “vacation,” but when you’re a writer with responsibilities, it can be tough to carve writing time out of your day. Booking a retreat means giving yourself the gift of time—large blocks of it!—and shutting out the world.

The non-writers in my life would cock a brow if they knew how I spent valuable vacation days last week. I think it’s fairly obvious by my pasty skin that I didn’t go to the beach. I didn’t bring back postcards or foreign foods, and I’m not emailing a new European pen pal. If anyone asks where I was, I might blush to admit I shut myself away in a Christian retreat center to type 9,000 words. Maybe I’ll just say I helped a German widow recover her loved ones from Indian captivity and leave it at that. Technically, that’s no lie.

2. There really is something wrong with me.

Eh-yeah, the glazed eyes in many rooms taught me I’m not a brilliant conversationalist and not everyone enjoys research. I’m afraid I’m going to have to accept that as a writer of historical fiction, I shall always be the most boring gal at the dinner party. I can’t tell you what movies just released (or released last year, or the year before), and if you paid me twenty bucks to name more than three candidates in this year’s presidential election, I couldn’t do it. But, darlin’ I can tell you which plants are edible and how to make “pocket soup” from the 18th century. Trust me, when zombies attack, you’re going to want to know me. Then, I’ll bore you. A lot.

3. Sunrise is beautiful.

I don’t see it often. ever. I personally believe waking before 8:00 a.m. is some kind of sick torture. I’m required to rise early, of course, because I have a day job and a one-hour commute. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I awoke at 6:00 a.m. (without an alarm!) every day at my retreat. Yes, I was that excited to get back to my story.

4. I excel! (at wasting time)

Like many writers, I spend a fair amount of time blaming everything—and everyone—for my lack of writing time. So, what’s the first thing I did after check-in? I connected to Wi-Fi. Yep, there I was, scanning social media and checking my Amazon rank on the hour. (NEWSFLASH: doing so does not improve your book’s rank.)

5. Drones sound like giant bumblebees.

Not going to lie to you. Some weird stuff happened at this retreat, including having a drone hover outside my bedroom window. Creepy. Of course, because I was at a writing retreat, I began to imagine how I could use it in a plot. I’m pretty sure I could have hit it with my longbow. Too bad I left that at home.

6. I write more words when held accountable.

The theme of our writing retreat was “It’s All About Me.” The coordinator advised ahead of time that if I wanted to just chill out all week, that was fine. There was no pressure to produce at this retreat. But, of course, we’re writers. We thrive on pressure, and most of us are pretty competitive. I certainly didn’t want to show up for dinner with zero words under my belt.

When I became tempted to nap, the thought of everyone else working hard kept me on task. It paid off. I managed to write over 9,000 words at that retreat, bringing my work-in-progress up to 30,000 words.

7. Hotel patrons can be really inconsiderate.

We shared our venue with a Greek wedding, a men’s retreat, and a very large “couples retreat.” The latter group was super loud, and for some reason, they liked to do laps in our hallway and gather in the stairwells closest to us—to maximize the echo, I believe. They were aware of our reason for being there, because one of them shouted (just outside my door), “There are writers in this hallway. They are writing!”

Um, check that, fella. They were writing until you showed up on Wednesday with the rest of The Louds.

It worked out well for me, because I was writing some fairly violent stuff this week. When you get to the part where people die, blame the folks in the hallway.

8. Left to my own devices, I am a swarm of locusts.

I took a giant box of my favorite snacks, and not the healthy kind. By the third day, I had devoured a full-size bag of Middleswarth BBQ chips, a pack of Nutter Butters, half a big bag of M&Ms, some fruit roll-ups, and almost an entire giant box of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish.

Holy. Smokes.

9. Drunk people will swim in anything.

We’re having a very cold spring here in Pennsylvania. In fact, I witnessed snow flurries outside my hotel window. Did that stop two drunken wedding guests from stripping to their underpants and diving into the swan pond? Nope!

Probably being treated for giardia and pneumonia this week.

10. I love where I live.

The drive from my home in Juniata County to the retreat center in Ligonier, Pennsylvania always makes my jaw drop. The roads cut through the ridges and valleys of the beautiful northern Appalachians here. I took the time to savor the views and stopped at the historical markers, like this one, which had me scratching my head:

Shadow of Death (2)

The ridges are steep here with rock outcrops jutting out over a natural ravine. It would have been the perfect place for Shawnee warriors to ambush white settlers and traders. I suspect the name Shadow of Death has its roots in Psalm 23: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.

I loved the idea so much that when I got to the retreat, I included something about it in my current work-in-progress:

The journey back to Carlisle had been uneventful except for small bands of Indians encountered past Fort Shirley in a ravine called Shadow of Death by the locals. He went several miles out of his way to avoid a group of them gathered around a campfire only to meet five warriors hauling home a freshly killed bear. Luckily, they took no pains to remain silent, and he was able to hide with his horse in the thick laurel along Aughwick Creek until they passed.

ScatteredSeeds2_505x825 (2)

Log Line

A father/son duo trades poverty in Ireland for the harsh Pennsylvania frontier in an all-or-nothing attempt to recover fortune and lost love.


In 18th century Ireland, drought forces destitute Ulstermen Edward and Henry McConnell to assume false names and escape to the New World with the one valuable thing they still own–their ancestor’s gold torc.

Edward must leave love behind. Henry finds it in the foul belly of The Charming Hannah, only to lose it when an elusive trader purchases his sweetheart’s indenture.

With nothing but their broken hearts, a lame ox, and the torc they cannot sell without invoking a centuries-old curse, they head for the backcountry, where all hope rests upon getting their seed in the ground. Under constant threat of Indian attack, they endure crushing toil and hardship. By summer, they have wheat for their reward, and unexpected news of Henry’s lost love. They emerge from the wilderness and follow her trail to Philadelphia, unaware her cruel new master awaits them there, his heart set on obtaining the priceless torc they protect.


Book Trailer


Julie is a member of Romance Writers of America and Central PA Romance Writers. When not writing, she enjoys antiquing, shooting longbow, traveling, and cooking over an open fire at her cabin. She lives in Pennsylvania with her Glasgow-born Irish husband, who sounds a lot like her characters.

Where to find Julie…

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon Author Page

11 responses to “10 Things I Learned by Attending a Writer’s Retreat

  1. Informative and funny. Loved it. I also love the cover of Scattered Seeds. The premise is intriguing. My most recent retreat was here at my house – 6 other of my writer friends came (and Hubby left town). We had great discussions, productive writing times and the only dissenter was the cat if I forgot to feed her. Whatever a retreat looks like, getting together with other writers is a must for our writing-life’sblood.

  2. Julie you really have a talent for humour I smiled all the way through this post. The writing retreat sounds wonderful, except for the noisy neighbours. All the best with your novel.

  3. I must say Julie, your blog was interesting, fun and amusing. You may write historical romance, but you have a killer sense of humor.
    Tema Merback
    Writing as Belle Ami

  4. Pingback: 10 Things I Learned by Attending a Writer’s Retreat | NEVA BROWN & BOOKS

  5. No glazed eyes here. I’m in awe of your historical research prowess, Julie. 🙂 Thanks for a great write up of this year’s adventures. It made me smile, and now I don’t feel so bad about the Lorna Doones, gummy bears. and cheese puffs that didn’t make it through to the return trip home with me. Can’t wait till next year…

  6. I agree with Natalie! I loved your research info. I just was still thinking about who I was killing next in my own story 🙂 Great blog post!

  7. I loved reading your post! I grew up in Western PA and still get a kick out of little things like the Shadow of Death sign above. Ever been to Slippery Rock?
    Gotta grab this book — sounds really good!

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