I went to my first writer’s retreat with a proposal I wanted to finish.

First off, let me say this: the word retreat is somewhat misleading. There’s no spa treatments or beaches involved. Sure it’s fun and hopefully you’ll come home with fresh inspiration, but there’s a lot of work to do. It’s the kind of work, however, that brings tremendous satisfaction. A sense of I can do this.

There’s something about the commitment you make when you carve out a weekend to write. The money set aside to invest in your project is a compelling cheerleader. All bunked up with other writers with similar hopes and instructors whose diehard optimism rivals parents at a little league football game, an invisible challenge melts into the room.

You. Are. A. Writer.

You have something important to say.

I went to bed the first evening electrified with encouragement and ready to meet with my instructor the next morning about the proposal I’d sent in for review.

Cheri stirred her coffee and took a quick sip.

“Who is your target audience?” she asked.

“Christian women in their 30s to 60s.”

She slid her readers down her nose and looked at me. “You’ve got to be more specific than that. Is she married or single? Does she work or stay home? What are her hobbies? Where does she shop?”

“Do I need to know who she voted for too?” I joked.

“Christy, the more you know about your reader, the more your book will speak directly to her fears and desires. What is she afraid of? What are her felt needs? What is missing in her life? And how will your book help her remedy her fears and bring her closer to achieving her dreams?”

Clearly I had some work to do.

“I’d also like you to recraft your elevator pitch. Out of your entire manuscript, this will be the hardest twenty-five words you’ll ever write, but it’s the driving force behind every chapter. And it is what will sell your book.”

Straight after lunch and dinner I had a date with my laptop.

Cheri Fuller is the proposal queen. She doesn’t wear a crown, but I think she should. Her attention to detail is sharper than the thorns on a rosebush. I left the retreat with a lot more confidence in my ability to pitch my ideas to an agent.

And a few months later at Write Well Sell Well’s annual conference, I did. I signed up for a pitch session with a presenting agent with a well-known literary agency.

Greg motioned me to sit down. “Tell me about your book.”

Controlled: Ripping the Mask off Manipulation is for Christian women caught in toxic relationships and needing a way out. The book will teach her to be strong, an acronym for spot manipulation, trust your gut, resolve conflict, overcome vulnerabilities, negotiate boundaries and guard your heart.”

I hoped for a gracious nod. Instead a long pause followed.

“That’s kind of a small niche market. What else you got?”

My stomach did a couple of flip flops while I bit my lip.

“Well, I’ve always wanted to write a book on forgiveness. I guess I’ve assumed that topic has been overdone, but God taught me a lot about forgiveness through my first toxic marriage and the death of my youngest son.”

Greg leaned forward and put his chin on his hand

“My ex was driving under the influence of several narcotics. The joy God gave me in the midst of my sorrow, however, was profound. I spoke at Jake’s funeral and forgave my ex-husband from the pulpit. Somehow I knew the joy was not just for me, but for me to share with other women who have wounds from toxic relationships. That’s when I felt the urge to write.”

“My wife has struggled with forgiveness too,” Greg said. “Her ex-husband had several affairs and she’s never quite been able to completely let go.”

Greg tapped his pen back-and-forth on the notepad in front of him. “What about a book called Forgiving Men?

My eyes widened. “I love that idea! What woman wouldn’t relate to that title?”

“Sounds good. Get a proposal together and send it to me.” Greg handed me his card. “If I’m able to find a publisher, we’ll see how it does. If it does well, we might be able to focus on your other idea later.”

Because of what I learned at a writer’s retreat it caused even an accidental pitch to land an agent. That one idea has also birthed two successful coaching programs that are creating a bigger platform for my books. All because I was challenged to identify my target reader and to be intimately acquainted with her felt needs.

Writer’s retreats teach you to be prepared. To not give up.

They teach you that…

You. Are. A. Writer.

And you have something important to say.