Friday, November 13, 2015

Planning a Critique Group Retreat by Ann Finkelstein

Every summer our critique group goes on a writing retreat. When Kristin noticed the pictures of our dedicated and smiling faces on Facebook, she asked us to write an article. She wanted to know how we scheduled it, organized it and made it work. The group nominated me to write it. I tried to weasel out, but everyone offered suggestions. Here is our joint effort.

Most of us go – every year. Obviously, things come up, and we understand that, but our attendance is exemplary. We acknowledge that the weekend is an essential part of our creative processes as well as a natural extension of our commitment to each other.

Our first retreat. 2008
When we first decided to have a weekend retreat, we polled the group about available summer weekends. We hold the retreat on the same weekend (Thursday to Sunday) every year. This allows us to plan family and professional events around it.

We tried several places before we found The Perfect Spot for Us. This is what we like about it:
  • Number of Beds. We’re a big group. Everyone needs a place to sleep.
  • Space. Everyone needs a place to work. The house has several communal rooms and a shaded front yard.  
  • Kitchen. We have full use of the kitchen and prepare most of our meals.
  • No Strangers. One year we stayed in a B&B that also rented to other guests. People on vacation tend not to realize that working writers and illustrators prefer quiet.
  • Places to Walk. Many of us find fresh air and motion get the creative juices flowing. The house is in a lovely neighborhood and near shops, restaurants and a waterfront. One year, we rented a place in a rural setting, where the only place to walk was along the highway. We didn’t go back.
  • Price: The house is quite affordable.
  • Distance: Most of us have a two-hour drive. No one wants to waste time traveling. If an emergency occurs on the Homefront, we can easily return.

One year, we had a special guest. 2009
Limited Internet Access
We have to walk across the yard to connect with Wi-Fi. Research tools are available if we need them, but we can’t click into the World Wide Time Waster just because a scene isn’t working.

Each person can work on whatever they want in whichever space they want all day long.
We meet in the evenings. On the first night, each person describes his or her goals for the weekend. On subsequent evenings, we share some of the work we’ve done. This is not critiquing time, but a celebration of the creative process.
Full confession: our evening meetings involve snacks, wine and chocolate.

Here’s to great writing and illustrating. 2013
We surveyed the group about preferences for breakfast and lunch and created a signup sheet. All food is communal. For breakfast and lunch, we eat whenever we want, although people tend to gather in the kitchen around noon. Two members collaborate to make dinner. We have a keen understanding of our fondness for leftovers for lunch so we prepare ample quantities. Every dinner ends with dark chocolate.
Writing and illustrating is hungry work. Our signup sheet incudes both “healthy snacks” and “other snacks.”

I consider the members of my critique group my best friends and my best colleagues. While we take our work and each other seriously, we all bring love and laughter to the retreat.

The World’s Greatest Critique Group was founded … a long time ago. It’s been holding annual retreats since 2008.

Our most recent retreat. 2015

Thanks to Ann Finkelstein for writing this story and to Debbie Diesen for sharing the photographs.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: more Kiddie Litter cartoons, an illustrator interview, a PiBoIdMo experience, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. Please send your good news to Patti Richards ( by December 14th.

Have a great weekend!


  1. Thanks Ann,

    A great how-to blueprint for other prospective retreaters.

    I didn't realize how fortunate we were, until I read your post. It takes lots of cooperation and commitment to make it go so smoothly.

  2. This sounds like a great idea, Ann. How awesome your group does this annually. Thanks for sharing your tips on how to make these retreats productive and fun.

  3. Well done, Ann!
    Thanks for the photos help, Debbie!
    The retreat weekend is amazingly productive for me, every year. How lucky I am to belong to this group.

  4. Thanks, Ann, for sharing your recipe for a perfect retreat!

  5. What an awesome idea! I should totally do that with the other writers in my area. (Because heaven knows I'm not getting much done with the kids needing me every 5 minutes.)

  6. Terrific article, Ann! We are so fortunate to have each other and our annual retreat (the retreat has been a boon for my writing. And for my height--look how tall Kay and I grew from 2009 to 2015!)