What I did that worked:
Before going on the cruise I tried to read as many of the authors as I could. That turned out to be not all of them, because we were simply so busy trying to get the kids prepared for us being away for ten nights and all the other arrangements we had to have in place.
I quickly found out I wouldn’t have time to read full novels by all the instructors, so I opted to instead read short stories (many short stories can be found online for free). And that was so great, because it also gave me tons of inspiration for my own short stories!
I was deliberating which short story to send to my short story critique with Mary Robinette Kowal, and ended up sending the one that wasn’t already polished to my satisfaction, but that I felt needed more feedback on. And I’m so happy that I sent it, despite it not being finished, because the feedback that I got was great. There was almost no surprises, which just confirmed that I am on the right track, and thanks to the workshop I now think I know how I can transform the story from a good one to a great one. I am not there yet, that I know how to fix everything, but I can see when things are not working properly and if I get the right Beta reader’s they can help me identify the problem.
I was so nervous beforehand to attend the critique group, not to receive the critique (I have a teenager. I get critique for my stories!) but to give the critique to the other parties. I was the only newbie in the group, but they took great care of me.
If I had known beforehand just how great everything would run, I wouldn’t have been so nervous going on this trip. Whodonit Productions are just great, and all the instructors and everyone involved in the retreat went to great lengths to make it a safe and encouraging environment. And they totally succeeded! I think all us anxious newbies felt welcomed and if you went by the sound level during dinner – everyone definitely hit it off. Big thanks to all the people arranging the retreat and the encouraging talks in the beginning (like encouraging the veterans to take care of us newbies – that definitely worked!).
My iPad had problems, but we were able to fix it while still in Kiel. I am so grateful we went to Kiel with time to spare. We got the main part of the shopping done (the kids expected gifts when we came home) and we had time to fix my keyboard.
We packed a rucksack and that came in use all the time. Both on the boat and on the excursions.
I usually have problems when being in spaces with AC, and this was no exception. I am so glad I brought my eye drops and antihistamines, they helped a bit.
What I should have done:
I should have brought more pens.
I packed four of my favourite pens, and they all broke! My plan B (to visit a stationary shop in Copenhagen) also backfired because we were in Copenhagen on a Sunday, but we luckily got a free pen that I used on the whole cruise.
I should have brought an empty water bottle. We ended up refilling a bought one, but a proper sports bottle would have been better.
I should have taken pictures of our dinner companions every night, and not just the few nights I remembered. We talked to so many people, it is difficult to remember with who on which night. I should at least have written down the names of the people we had dinner with, but we were always so tired when we went to sleep, I totally forgot.
I brought a couple of books for some of the instructors to sign (which they did very gracefully, thank you!), and then in Stockholm we went to the Science Fiction Bookstore and bought books by almost all the rest of the instructors. We had some books on Kindle, but looking back I wish I had bought all the books beforehand in paperback instead of Kindle (because I love signed books, and not signed Kindles!). I am happy I got over my Nordic shyness and asked everyone for their signature, despite myself yelling inside my head ”No you fool, stop bothering these people – they don’t want to be disturbed right now when they’re on this fantastic cruise.” I am so happy I didn’t listen to myself!
I am happy I made the most of the cruise.
I talked to so many people, and would have loved to talk to everyone some more.
Every day we met new people on the cruise, even after we were certain we had talked to everyone, and I know there were some we never got around to talk to. That part was the best – to find your own tribe, people who like the same things you do, who think in the same way and that are so helpful and encouraging.
I asked all the questions I wanted to ask of the instructors. I asked the dreaded ”Am I on the right path, and do I have what it takes to be a successful writer?”.
I showed my first three pages to one of the instructors (Thank you , Piper!) and didn’t die on the spot. I even got some great feedback so that I now feel I know what to do with the novel.
I even asked a question in front of the whole group without the ship immediately crashing into a suddenly appearing iceberg, or me having a massive heart attack. I did have a muscle in my face that twitched suspiciously immediately after asking the question without anyone pretending to notice. Later on two guys came up and talked to me about that very question and gave me some great advice, so I am so happy I found the courage and said something.
I even did cosplay, my first real cosplay if you don’t count one Halloween when I went as Madame Vastra and our then-not-teenager was the Doctor where not one of our friends (we were only a handful of families at our house) knew who I was! This time I really put an effort and went as my favourite spirit animal at the moment – Nanny Ogg, from the books of Terry Pratchett. I need to be more like her, not minding what anyone thinks and just collection memories instead of trinkets. This was definitely a cruise she would have loved!
…and not many people knew who I was cosplaying as, which was also funny! Plus Niklas won a medal for best prop, which was superfunny!
I also, after talking to Emma Newman (we all love her – she is the best!) took the rest of the week off writing, and we decided not to go to Tallinn in spite of having already booked a tour. We took the day off and sat in the hot tubs, had massages and had really cruisey drinks and took selfies and pretended we were on the Love Boat (Yes, we are middle aged and that old!), and tried to make everyone on Facebook jealous without succeeding (thanks Mum and Dad for the likes!). Because it was just that awesome to be on a proper vacation after so many years, knowing the kids were great and everything was taken care of.
Advice I want to give myself If I could time travel to before the cruise:
Don’t fret. It will be great – everything is taken care of, and if there are glitches the people arranging the retreat will fix it
Don’t think you will remember everything – come on, you are trying to be a writer. Write a journal!
Do make the most of the cruise, and try not to be so anxious – you are with like minded people, and almost everyone is as anxious as you are, if not more. These are your people, remember that!