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.hg

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

Local Author Interview

interviewpixGuelph author Joanne Guidoccio’s newest novel, A Season for Killing Blondes, has everything a mystery lover could want: a heroine in distress, an old flame from her past, vexing villains and, of course, a series of gristly murders.

Read the rest of the review and interview on the Guelph Public Library blog.

From My Bookshelves

For over two decades, I have been collecting books that inspire and motivate my creativity. While many of my early choices were craft books, I have also gravitated toward self-help literature dealing with writing blocks.

Here are ten of my Go-To books.


Continue reading on the Soul Mate Authors blog.

Guelph Partners in Crime

At podium: Deb Quaile L-R: Donna Warner, Gloria Ferris, Joanne Guidoccio, Alison Bruce

At podium: Deb Quaile
L-R: Donna Warner, Gloria Ferris, Joanne Guidoccio, Alison Bruce

Yesterday evening, I participated in a lively panel discussion with three other mystery writers at the main branch of the Guelph Public Library. We are all published authors and members of Crime Writers of Canada.

We read excerpts from our recent novels and shared our experiences in researching, writing, editing, and marketing our books. We delved into a variety of topics, among them mystery genres, humour in writing, query letters, dealing with rejection, self publishing vs traditional publishing, and social media.

Thanks to librarians Andrea Curtis and Deb Quaile for organizing and facilitating this event.

To learn more about Guelph Partners in Crime, visit our websites:

Alison Bruce

Gloria Ferris

Joanne Guidoccio

Donna Warner

Dealing with Filler Words

bioblurbWhile editing, I use the Search and Replace key to locate the following filler words. In most cases, the words can be eliminated, resulting in cleaner, more polished copy.


Ninety percent of the time, this word is unnecessary. If you are unsure, read the sentence aloud, once with the word and once without it. Cut the word if the sentence makes sense without it.

Continue reading on the Sisters of Suspense blog.

On Planting Red Herrings

Red_HerringWhen I shared an early draft of A Season for Killing Blondes, a beta reader complimented me on my use of red herrings and suggested the title could also be considered a red herring.

Puzzled, I asked for clarification.

She explained, “A red herring is a literary device that leads readers toward a false conclusion. Glancing at the title, I expected to read a thriller about a serial killer who had designated a specific time period for the Rampage.” She winked. “That’s definitely not the case here.”

A bit worried, I wondered if I was misleading my readers. Would they expect a thriller and be disappointed when my novel turned out to be a cozy?

Continue reading on the Writers Who Kill blog.

Combat Your Writer’s Block – 10 Tips

I’m thrilled to welcome Soul Mate author Kim Hotzon to the Power of 10 series. Today, Kim shares her best tips for combating writer’s block and her latest novel, Hands Full of Ashes.

Here’s Kim!

writersblockhotzonAll writers, from time to time, experience the dreaded block. I’m not referring to the chopping block (though it may as well be) but rather ‘writer’s block’. This is a condition otherwise known as a withering, about-to-be dried up landscape once it descends upon a writer’s corpus callosum, kind of like a dust cloud. Writer’s block is a loathsome annoyance, and there are plenty of images of the greats (think Hemingway) who’ve demonstrated various coping skills by swigging unlimited bottles of wine or whiskey to dredge up something from the recesses of their dusty skulls.

If you find yourself suffering from this malady, don’t stomp on your keyboard just yet. I’ve devised a list that may assist you (and myself for that matter) in keeping that pesky condition at bay.

Switch your routine

People who write tend to be creatures of habit. A certain time of day may normally fuel your productivity but let’s face it, we all need a change once in a while. Leave your table, couch or desk behind. Find a nice park bench or cubicle at the library. Do you find that sentences and paragraphs come flying at you just as your head hits the pillow? Maybe your most creative sparks fly at night when you’ve been writing during the day. Switch your schedule as much as possible and net those wandering thoughts when they appear.

Engage with people

Books come alive with characters. If you’re having difficulty with dialogue, or with the advancement of your characters’ relationships, spend time interacting with people. Writing can be a solitary pursuit but sometimes you’ll need to do a bit of research before your writing can continue. Because characters are often inspired by someone you know, engage him/her in conversation and learn more about his/her personality traits. Details go a long way in making characters three-dimensional and believable to your story.

Imbibe in one of your vices (within reason)

wineroseMaybe you’re developing a hum-drum mood, or stuck in stagnation. Loosen up. It’s okay to have a glass of wine (just not a keg, mind you) to ease your mental straitjacket. Go buy a decadent dessert. Do something to reward yourself. You should avoid criticizing yourself and your work. All work and no play is never a good idea. Just don’t get lost in your playground every day.

Read in the genre you’re writing in

If you’re plowing through a science fiction novel while trying to write historical romance, your linguistic word building may lead you in the wrong direction. Read what you’re currently writing to get a sense of vocabulary and setting details. If you find you keep reading certain genres and the one you’re writing never evolves, you might want to re-consider switching to a new genre. Your story, if you’re passionate about it, will not leave your head. If it does, you may not love it as much as you want to.

Recall your past angst

Delivering powerful, emotional scenes requires the ability to convey emotions into words. That’s where your own recollections of exciting or traumatic events will help. Tap into a time that made you feel fear, anger or joy. What caused those feelings? Who was involved? Taking a trip down memory lane may ignite a chain reaction of memories that could serve you well in constructing that next chapter.


Plot your story

Okay, you’ve got a rough storyline idea with characters meshed out. You’re 20,000 words into your manuscript and then . . . the cobwebs resume clogging your skull. This can be frustrating and cause you to toss your work into the trash pile or at the back of a drawer. This stage of writer’s block can be overwhelming. Take a step back and plot your storyline out on a piece of paper. You had a great idea to start with and your idea is still a good thing. Sometimes a visual marker or graph can help you strategize and construct further plot points. Think of this approach as being similar to following a recipe. Once you see how far you’ve moved along in your manuscript you may feel your motivation resume. Or, as an old familiar saying instructs us, “it’s easier to see where you’re going if you’re eyes are open”.

Keep notes handy

A while ago I finished a time travel manuscript. Moving between time periods and getting different historical facts correct was dizzying. I found keeping a notebook handy for all my spontaneous reminders and fact building came in handy. Sometimes I need a reminder when to include a landmark detail or when my character is going to say something specific to move the story along. With so much information swirling in an author’s mind small details can quickly be forgotten. Write stuff down as you think of it.

Apply humour

bellylaughHumor is one of the best strategies for coping with anything in life. Writing requires so much internal, right-brain thinking it can become exhausting. Humor, either for yourself, or introduced in your writing, can unleash a floodgate of ideas and a new perspective. A good belly laugh is always appreciated – by the writer and the reader.

Visit local writing groups/classes

Beyond engaging with a neighbor, store clerk or random person, spending time with people who ‘do exactly what you do’ is a proven winner. Who else knows better the issues you’re dealing with? Need motivation, inspiration or advice? Your fellow writers will provide a support system with tangible and constructive feedback. Can’t get to a local writer’s group? Join one online, there are several. Google your options and reach out to other writers.

Think of writing as a job and not a hobby

All people with jobs have tasks to perform and most have deadlines to meet. Writing is no different. Begin with a schedule and set a goal. Even if you only manage to carve out 250 words a day, you’ll have a thousand words completed in a few days. Keep an eye on your word count, but don’t become a slave to it. The purpose in moving forward and being productive is to form a writing habit that works for you. Don’t compare yourself to other writers who seem prolific with their daily word count. Seeing something on paper, or computer screen is far better than staring at a blank page. You may consider joining NaNoWriMo or engaging peer support. Instituting challenges will help you achieve your writing goals.

Writing is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. It is also one of the most difficult. Without a doubt, writing a novel requires talent, effort, and perseverance. The most successful writers are the ones who don’t give up. So assemble a notebook, your laptop, pick a time of day, a location, and begin plotting out your next chapter.



Olivia promises to fulfill her dying husband’s wish – to scatter his ashes around the world. Wading through grief and depression, she journeys to a remote orphanage in Uganda. Living amongst the children in their threadbare surroundings, she vows to fight for the children’s lives as she begins to fight for her own. While Olivia develops a passion for humanitarian work, the lonely director of the orphanage develops a simmering passion for her.

Just as time begins to heal the wounds of her heart, Olivia learns the truth of her husband’s unimaginable betrayal. She flees to the tiny country of Rwanda where her soul is reawakened with a startling new love. Olivia realizes that love always comes with a price when she is faced with a decision she thought she would never have to make.
Surrounded by the rugged beauty of Africa, Olivia is determined to find true love while learning how to survive in a region left torn apart by civil war.



kimhotzonBorn in beautiful British Columbia, Kim developed a passion for writing at an early age. Her interest in people led her all over the globe, including a two year stay in Japan and a humanitarian trip to Rwanda.

She loves to write romance stories with a twist, usually involving a dangerous and dramatic backdrop. Her first novel, Hands Full of Ashes, was inspired by her trip to Africa.

Kim spent many years teaching young adults with learning disabilities at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and she currently resides in the sunny Okanagan with her husband and two children. When not writing, she can be found plying the local ski hills, or getting lost in her kayak in the surrounding lakes.

Where to find Kim…

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | LinkedIn