Eight months ago, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I stumbled upon Serious Writer’s announcement about their upcoming retreat in TUSCANY, ITALY! Initially, I dismissed the post, but as the day progressed, I felt a persistent nudge from the Lord, urging me to take a leap of faith and reserve my spot on the trip. Fast-forward to today, and I have returned from my epic Italian adventure with my heart overflowing after a week of networking, learning, and eating, followed by another week of exploring and making my dreams come true!
The Serious Writer Retreat was an experience of a lifetime! Among the twenty-five attendees, I was the only one from outside the United States, which added an entertaining element to our week together. “Hannah, what is an aubergine?” and “Why is water filling in the dryer’s door?” became common questions. While I was initially nervous about spending time with experienced writers and agents, their down-to-earth personalities made it easy to connect with them. Despite our different writing styles, careers, experiences, and backgrounds, we immediately bonded as a group, and I genuinely enjoyed being around each person.
The organizers and founders of Serious Writer, Cyle Young and Bethany Jett, were phenomenal in their dedication to answering our questions, hearing our pitches, and brainstorming with us! As authors and literary agents, they had so much wisdom to rain on us. Meeting Bethany in person was particularly delightful, as I had connected with her during the Covid-19 pandemic when she’d hosted weekly chat rooms on Clubhouse to answer questions about the publishing industry.
The retreat spanned a week, consisting of three conference days filled with workshops led by agents and award-winning authors such as Del Duduit, Johnnie Alexander, and Julie Lavender. We delved into topics like marketing, social media presence, book signings, identifying tropes, engaging our audiences through newsletters, and crafting a solid first page. There was so much to glean from each workshop, so I’m glad I recorded the sessions to review once I arrived home.
Between the conference days, we toured various cities around our base in Chiusi. We explored Montepulciano, the filming location of “Twilight: New Moon”, and Cortona, the setting of “Under the Tuscan Sun.” To prevent this from being an unending scroll, I’ve separated these tour days into individual articles, so feel free to click on the city’s name to read more.
Coming from Israel meant I had the shortest travel time compared to the other attendees. I arrived the night before and stayed in a charming hotel near the airport called the Domus Porto Di Traiano Resort. The owner, Umberto, was very welcoming and spent time telling me the story of the hotel’s transformation from abandonment to restoration! Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to explore the Porto Di Traiano, a large hexagonal artificial harbor from Ancient Rome, but I hope to go back and visit it someday.
The train system in Italy is remarkable! You can speed through the entire country in approximately four hours! However, I urge you to get the Trenitalia app to purchase train tickets to avoid the risk of forgetting to scan your ticket before boarding, which could result in a hefty fine.
My journey to Chiusi was a fast, ear-popping experience. Though I knew two other retreat attendees were on my train, I kept to myself for one more hour of solitude before meeting everyone. I was so anxious as Del Duduit drove us to the villa, but my nerves were quickly put at ease as Cyle’s wife, Patty, and I laughed our way up three flights of steep stairs with my large suitcase (I’m not a light packer), reassuring me that everything would be alright.
If anyone is looking for the perfect location for a group getaway, I wholeheartedly recommend Baiocco Villas! Their host, Alice, and her staff were sensational and attentively catered to our every need. Moreover, the food they served was incredible! We had at least two three-course meals daily (lunch and dinner), which I looked forward to almost as much as the workshops. Honestly, after this trip, I believe Italy should be pronounced “eat-aly” because its culture revolves around the dinner table.
While the retreat was rich with knowledge and advice, mealtimes were a particular highlight for me. Each day, I made a point to sit in a different chair and speak to someone new. I enjoyed talking with Cyle Young and Johnnie Alexander, who became my mentors, offering invaluable insights and feedback on my novel. I really appreciate the time they spent dissecting my story and showing me the areas I need to improve.
Although the retreat focused on writers coming together, I loved how Serious Writer also incorporated families into the week. Many attendees brought their spouses and kids to join in the experience, and when we came together during meals and tour days, we had a fantastic time. I connected with the son of one of the writers and shared many laughs with him, especially during our pasta-making class, where he “fell” into the flour before our group picture (hehe).
Since I traveled to Italy alone, I was assigned a roommate. Unfortunately, Sally missed her connecting flight and was delayed a day. Nevertheless, when she finally arrived, she was every bit as spunky and fun as I had hoped! Within minutes of meeting her, we spoke as though we’d known each other for years, giggling like teenagers at a slumber party on our first night together. The highlight, though, was Sally’s chicken purse, a rubber accessory that stole the show and became a staple throughout the retreat as it accompanied her to each workshop and destination. Two other authors had brought their promotional props, so finding a chicken purse, styrofoam donut, or gingerbread people scattered around the villa and cities we visited throughout the week wasn’t unusual.
During our afternoon breaks on conference days, Nicole, a fellow writer, and I became walking buddies and explored the picturesque grounds of the villa. The weather was stunning, and apart from the two days it rained during our week in Tuscany, it was wonderful to stretch our legs and soak in the spectacular Tuscan sunshine.
While many were exhausted by the end of our packed days, a small group of us stayed up late to play Five Crowns, a card game similar to Rummikub, each night. Sharyn, who brought the game, graciously gifted me her set at the end of the trip. Since then, my family and I have played it at least once a week.
My time on the Serious Writer Retreat was fantastic and memorable! I learned so much about the writing industry, made lifelong connections, received great feedback, and ate some of the best food I’ve ever had! I’m so glad I listened to God’s nudge to join this retreat. Although it was sad to say our goodbyes during our last breakfast and at the train station (though we had an extra hour together since our trains were delayed), it was so fun to reunite with a few of my new friends during the second week of my epic Italian adventure! Next stop… Verona!! 😀