Suicide Squirrels and the Writing Retreat



After a writing friend mentioned how she would use the winnings of a recent contest she’d entered to attend a writer’s retreat and reading about writing retreats in an issue of Writer’s Digest, I wrote about creating my own retreat in the April 2013 post, “7 Steps to Creating Your Own Writing Retreat.” Well, I actually did it. Below details how I used the seven steps gleaned from the Writer’s Digest article to organize my very own weekend retreat. Three brave souls from my critique group dared to try this experiment with me. So thanks to Liz Wilson-Cotey, Laurie Chase, and Julie Perkins for inspiring this post.

  1. Set Specific Goals: Our primary goal was to get away and have time dedicated to just writing. Our goals for the weekend were receiving feedback on current projects and then working on them. Though we do this regularly every two weeks, critiquing and then immediately working on the project keeps ideas fresh, as opposed to waiting days later until there was time in our schedules to analyze feedback and act on it.
  2. Choose the Location Carefully: We were fortunate enough to have a whole house available to us for the weekend. It wasn’t as remote as we would have liked it. Though it was in a rural part of the county, the house was located on the town’s main business drag, so we heard every emergency vehicle and overexcited patron of local establishments for the duration of the retreat. The only other snafu to our perfect location was the Suicide Squirrels. Actual squirrels had gotten into the house prior to our arrival and had a field day. We spent about an hour cleaning up what we initially thought was rat poo… ALL. OVER. THE HOUSE. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that a pair of baby ground squirrels drowned in one of the bathrooms caused the mess. At least we wouldn’t worry about rats crawling all over us while we slept!
  3. Sketch Out a Schedule: Since it was just a weekend and essentially an experiment, we had a fairly loose schedule. Friday night was to be spent critiquing, but the suicidal squirrels and a pint of Captain Morgan’s shortened that exercise. After an hour of cleaning up behind the decedents, we welcomed the Captain to the critique table. We only managed two critiques before calling it a night.
  4. Make it a Reading Retreat, Too: We learned that, for us, writing nonstop for an entire day just wasn’t going to work. We spent the morning (after finishing with critiques) and afternoon writing. By the time early evening arrived, I don’t think our eyes could absorb another word. While one of us opted to run, the rest of us napped, read, or listened to music.
  5. Be Healthful: Aside from the Captain Morgan’s, we did a potluck for the first night and ended up with more food than we needed. Fruit was available and we even had a delicious breakfast of gluten-free pancakes on the final day. To combat cabin fever, we ate at a Mexican restaurant on Saturday night. Guacamole is healthy, right?
  6. Leave Your Other Work at Home: This was easy. The only other work we brought was other writing projects. Not only was I able to write an entire chapter for my WIP, I completed a devotional for my church’s Facebook page. I also researched some places to submit work and took a couple of hours to view an online movie during the era in which my manuscript takes place. That counts as research in my book.
  7. Reflect on Your Routine: On the final night, we roasted marshmallows and reflected on the weekend. We agreed that the retreat, though short, was much needed in our hectic schedules. We decided that someplace more secluded would be our next location, without the suicidal squirrels, of course. Captain Morgan is invited to attend again, but his appearance would have to be much earlier than 9 pm.


About Michelle McGill-Vargas

I hail from Gary, Indiana where I enjoy writing historical fiction, flash fiction, and short stories. My writings have appeared in "Lutheran Witness", "Splickety Magazine", "The Copperfield Review", "Typehouse Literary Magazine," and was a contributing writer to Concordia Publishing House's "Portals of Prayer" (October 2016). I've served as vice-president of the Indiana Writers' Consortium and am currently a board member of Midwest Writers. I am currently represented by Melissa Danaczko of Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency, Inc. I pay the bills as a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. Visit my blog at
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2 Responses to Suicide Squirrels and the Writing Retreat

  1. Helen M. Brandt says:

    Sounds like a fun and productive weekend!

  2. Yeah, in retrospect, it was funny. But we decided to do without the squirrels the next time we schedule a writing retreat :).

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