Writing Retreats

If your writing group is looking for a way to develop the skills of your individual members while also allowing you valuable time-out to write, a retreat with teaching components tailored to your genre and craft requirements could be just what you need.

My usual format for weekend retreats is to give a two hour workshop on the Saturday morning and another on the Sunday morning covering whichever elements of writing you nominate, then I spend two hours each afternoon doing one-on-one sessions with the participants so they can discuss individual issues.  So for example, if there were four participants at the retreat, two would get an hour each on Saturday and two would get an hour each on Sunday.  The evenings are spent discussing general writing topics and solving the literary problems of the world!

If your writing group would like to hire me to attend a retreat, please email me for my rates: mail@louisecusack.com.  For an idea of how retreats work, read the testimonial below.


Diary of a Romance Writers Retreat

By Andrea Fuller

There’s something about a crackling log fire to motivate the creative brain cells. A glass of red and a magnificent view over the Sunshine Coast hinterland doesn’t go astray either! So, what more could you want on an icy June evening? Well, perhaps a plot heaped with conflict and sensual tension, a sympathetic heroine and a hero to die for, but then that’s what I, and three fellow romance writers, Babette, Zoe and Pam, were hoping to develop. We’d all left behind our homes and our housework for a weekend away at Rowan House, Maleny, with Louise Cusack, fantasy romance author and writing tutor. I was familiar with Louise’s mentoring skills and writing insights, so I was excited to be spending a whole weekend with her and a small group of writers. We’d all provided her with the first ten pages of our work in progress and were nervous and excited at the prospect of receiving one on one feedback from Louise.

4:00 pm Friday – I arrive at Rowan House to be greeted by Prue, our hostess, and Tara (the dog!). I am instantly impressed both by the elegance and cosiness of the property, and the magnificent gardens and balconies with a view to the coast. My room is cosy warm and an absolute delight. An added bonus is a desk for writing, especially nice for this weekend as it was too cold to write out on the deck!

6:00 pm – I am reading my book (all serious writers need to read!) and sipping red wine in the sun-room in front of a roaring fire, and awaiting the arrival of the remaining participants.

7:00 pm – Babette, Zoe, Pam and Louise (along with Pam’s husband) have arrived and we enjoy our pre-dinner drinks and nibbles while we get to know each other. This is where we compare notes on what we’re each writing and what we hope to get out of the weekend. For me, it’s writing time plus the chance to receive feedback on my work in progress from Louise. The setting and relaxing atmosphere is a bonus!

7:30 pm – We sit down to a delicious dinner cooked and served by Prue. There’s lots of chatting over dinner, and Louise briefs us on the timetable for the next two days.

8:00 am Saturday – I awake to the aroma of baking bread and freshly brewed coffee. No doubt due to the icy weather and comfortable beds, no-one has taken up Prue’s offer of yoga followed by an early morning walk around the property. In front of the toasty fire, I make some notes on my work-in-progress before our 9am gourmet breakfast.

10:00 am – It’s time for the real work. Louise gives us a two-hour tutorial/workshop on characterisation and writing the high concept of our novels. This a terrific exercise to develop a pitch or blurb suitable for a query letter, of course, but more importantly, I find Louise’s methods crucial for understanding what my story is about. It becomes one of the “light bulb” moments for the weekend, providing a focus for the major structural edit of my first draft.

12.30 pm – We stop for lunch: home-made pumpkin soup, toasted sandwiches, and freshly squeezed juices – yum – and more conversation.

Saturday afternoon – Motivated by Louise’s insightful talk, I’m now keen to get stuck into the final 2 chapters of my work in progress. I spend the afternoon at the desk in my room getting heaps of words down on the page. Two of the other participants spend an hour each with Louise getting feedback on their works in progress. After the weekend, Babette commented that the session was a “good balance between constructive feedback and support”. Zoe said, “I have great respect for Louise’s opinions and I will seriously consider buying some more blocks of her time.”

Saturday evening – We enjoy pre-dinner drinks in front of the huge open fire in the lounge room, followed by another fabulous dinner cooked by Prue. We hear about the ghost that apparently haunts Rowan House but I’m assured my room is ghost-free (thank goodness!).

Sunday morning – more writing, reading and gourmet breakfast (sadly, again the walk was a good intention but the house is just too cosy to venture out).

10:00 am – We have another two-hour workshop with Louise on sensual tension, plotting and point of view. My “light bulb” moment this time is the concept of a romance thread pulling the plot along, regardless of sub-plots. Others agree and also comment on how much they learned about structure, conflict, characterisation and the romance genre.  Once again, “focus” seems to be my personal catch-word for the weekend.

12.30 pm – Surprised to find how time has flown, we stop for a delicious pasta lunch.

1.30 pm – I finally get my walk around the landscaped paths and gardens surrounding Rowan House. The views are stunning. I’m not sure if I wish I lived here – I suspect the environment would be a distraction! Pam is receiving her one on one feedback and later tells me “Louise’s suggestions were spot on and I couldn’t wait to get home to work on my novel. She offered me hope that I’m on the right direction, and has given me the confidence to get my manuscript finished.”

2:00 pm – It’s my turn for a one on one with Louise to assess my ten pages. Having had three romances published with Rocky River Romance and with a full manuscript currently in London with a Harlequin Mills & Boon editor, I was fairly confident I’d been able to polish my pages to within an inch of their life. However, Louise’s feedback showed me how I could improve my manuscript while at the same time buoyed me up with encouragement, noting the parts I’d done well. She explained where I’d slowed the pace or where a sentence lacked clarity. I’d always understood Louise’s specialty to be fantasy, so I was all the more thrilled and impressed by her feedback on my work – which is contemporary romance.

3:00 pm – Unfortunately my weekend retreat is over. I can’t believe it’s come to an end – gone in a blink of an eye – while I was able to achieve so much and go away renewed and refreshed to tackle the finishing touches on my final chapter (first draft!) and armed to work on the structural edit ready to pitch to a HM&B editor at the Romance Writers Australia conference in August.

When I ponder the weekend several days later, I conclude that the retreat met expectations. I made some new writer friends, I relaxed, I wrote, I learned. Although the others didn’t get much, if any, of their writing done, they all came away renewed, inspired, motivated to finish their manuscript, and with a greater understanding of both the writing process and the romance genre. Everyone commented on being able to discuss writing, and specifically romance writing, with people that understood and shared their passion.

Value for money? Absolutely, everyone agrees. “The whole weekend was encouraging and invigorating, recharging my creative batteries,” said Babette.

So what made our retreat so successful?

  • 4 participants worked great. 6 would have worked, too, but that would probably have been the limit.
  • I’d recommend the participants come with a completed, or almost completed, manuscript. It was great to apply Louise’s tips and advice immediately – rather than thinking hypothetically about a future or embryo project.
  • Have someone else cater. If we’d had to do our own cooking it would have taken away from the writing time.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of spots for each person to “hide away” to work on their own.
  • The fact that we were all romance writers allowed the discussion to be specific to that genre.

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