Authors In The Media With Laura Munson

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Authors In the Media Q&A With Laura Munson 

In late 2023 into this year, Emi Battaglia was kind enough to connect me with several authors for Q&A and did a Q&A with me herself. I have the honor of collaborating with New York Times Bestselling Author Laura Munson again for this edition of Authors In The Media. In this edition of Authors In The Media, we will be discussing Laura’s writing retreat Haven Writing Programs in Montana. 

Q: How did the idea for your writing retreat come about? Did the idea come spontaneously, or did you think about it for a while and then one day decide, let’s do it?

A: It was a confluence of things that all came together at once: Being on a mission to eradicate the tortured artist paradigm, knowing that writers need community and usually don’t know how to find it, discovering that I have a teaching spirit after my memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is came out and I heard from so many people all over the globe who read it as a self-help book, being out on the road at my speaking engagements seeing what daunts and dashes people in the realm of self-expression, knowing what a lifeline writing can be after having lived the writing life since 1988, and much more. I did it alone for the most part, but I did have five blissful years in Seattle, in which my beloved writing group met every Monday night without fail, and it prompted me to want to create that circle for writers and bring people to the place which has been my major source of inspiration for decades: Northwest Montana. A writing retreat in Montana…hmmm…

The idea just kept coming after me, with retreat leader friends telling me that it would be a perfect match for my skill sets and personality…and to be completely honest here, just because you’re a bestselling author, it doesn’t mean you’re rolling in the dough, and on top of it, I was in post-divorce reinvention. I needed a steady job. I refused to lose my house for myself and for my children. We’d designed and built it on acreage in one of the most glorious places on earth. It held so many beautiful memories and possibilities for future generations. It was, (and thankfully still is), our haven. 

So one day I put it on Facebook: “Hey, anyone want to come on a writing retreat with me in Montana?” At that point, I had a lot of readers of my memoir and people told me it was like reading a book written by their best friend. They said they trusted me because I was willing to be transparent but emotionally responsible. They felt like I was a kind but strong leader, and could tell that I wasn’t interested in being anybody’s guru. Just a sister in words. A fellow seeker. A word wanderer. I mean the book shows a woman writing her way through a crisis and focusing on her well-being in the face of great rejection and not letting it take her down. That made them feel safe with me, I guess, because in two hours, twenty-four people signed up, and I knew I had something. So I created Haven Writing Retreats and haven’t looked back. Even if I was a gazillionaire, I would still lead Haven. In many ways, outside of my mothering and my own writing, Haven is the work of my life.

Q: Laura, in our Q&A we briefly spoke about the Haven Writing Program & that you created it to help writers where they were on their journey and helped their craft grow. I think that’s amazing! How long have you had this writing program for? 

A: It’s true. Haven meets each writer where they need to be met, and in any genre, whether they’re just starting, or are actively working on a project, and everything in-between. It makes for such a rich experience to be out of a competitive environment, and truly with these elegant, seeking, insightful minds. I started Haven in 2012 and over the years it’s grown branches which include the original program, Haven I where it all begins, and then Haven II for alums of Haven I who are writing books and know that if they want to get to the finish line, they need a protocol and a dedicated writing group. We hold it in my living room like an artist’s salon, where I teach them the protocol I use in editing people’s work so that they can continue to support each other in this very specific and masterful way, independent of me, which saves them time and money in the end, and allows me to write my own books vs. being a fulltime editor. Just because someone signs up to be in a writing group doesn’t mean that they are good listeners, or have insightful comments, or are even safe in a small group setting. So the Haven II method ensures that their books are structurally sound, have multi-layered characters, and a narrative that flows, and when I see those manuscripts at the Haven III level, when I become their full time editor, those books are like most people’s ninth drafts! I weep with joy every time. I’ve never had to take more than three passes before it’s time to start looking for agents and publishers and other ways to get their work out in the world!

Q: Laura, what made you choose to have Montana as the location for your writing retreat? Would you also please give a description of the location as though it were in one of your books?


A: Part I:

Montana has held my muse for three decades. Even though I hail from Chicago, and have lived in other major cities, this wild place is what has me on my knees every day. It serves up a whopping dose of truth and abundance which has me running to my writing desk. For a while I was on the speaking circuit, speaking at these massive 10,000 women conferences to ballrooms of 2,000 women at a time, and after my speeches during the book signings, I would hear the same things over and over again: I want to write. I have a story to tell. And they would light up. And then the light would fade, their body language would wilt, and they’d repeat the same refusals: who do I think I am. Somebody already did it better than I ever could. It’s self-indulgent at best. People would judge me. I’m not creative. I don’t have a voice. It crushed me. And I thought, I need to get off these stages and get these women to Montana to be in small, safe circles of support, inspiration, and really move these stories out of people so that they can tell themselves new ones, true ones, free ones, when it comes to their essential self-expression. 

Montana has become a major character on the retreat! I’ve led Haven in chic urban hotels, at gorgeous retreat centers in California, Morocco, Mexico, and at lovely resorts…and there’s just nothing like Montana for this work, especially the Dancing Spirit Ranch where I’ve led Haven for the last eight years. The land. The woods. The river. The meadows. The ponds. The gardens. The FOOD! The refurbished beautiful historic barns. A one room schoolhouse! Miles of paths to wander and wonder. So much love everywhere you look. Staring into the peaks of Glacier National Park. Truly sublime.

Part II:

I love this writing prompt! Thank you! People don’t give me writing prompts very often! My novel, Willa’s Grove, while it isn’t about a writing retreat, it is about what happens when people come together to intentionally share about their crossroads moments, tell their stories in a trusting circle, and get support about how to move forward in their lives. You can bet that it was inspired by what I see happen at Haven, time and time again. I set that book in central Montana, an area I’ve spent very little time in, but the land and the house is very much my own in spirit, yet I imagine it all very differently in my mind. So if I was to write about the place of Haven, it would be hard to match interior and exterior terrain, because it’s all happening all at once for me. Here’s a try at the exterior terrain you requested. I won’t overthink it or edit it. Just see what flows… Which is, in part, how I teach the morning class at Haven.


It’s dawn. The geese have come back and their wings lap the lake as they land in proven and proud migration patterns, finally home again. I wonder how their southern winter was. Mine was long and gray but full of writing. Now I am about to go into the first morning class at Haven, as a teacher once again. A version of myself that I haven’t known since last fall. 

It’s another miraculous group of kindreds who don’t know what they’re about to experience. I feel them having their coffee and tea in front of the massive stone hearth in the main barn now, nervous and excited for morning class. I’m nervous and excited too. 

I go out onto the porch of the white cottage where I get to stay for these sacred days, butter sun sending rays through the fog lifting off the lake. I have a promise with the land here and so every morning I offer a porch-prayer, given to the peaks of Glacier National Park and grounded by the land of the Dancing Spirit Ranch: 

Please help me allow Haven to give itself to me. Please help my students allow Haven to give itself to them.

          I stand in my robe and feel the March Montana morning chill on my bare feet, knowing that it will warm as the day goes by. People will wander in their words, and they will wander on this ground. Sit in the one-room schoolhouse and write. Gather at the firepit or in Adirondack chairs or at the hearth and share about things that they don’t talk about in their regular lives: like creative flow and what blocks it. Books they love. Books they are writing. Books they’d like to write. Essays, short stories, poems, songs. Word wanderers coming together from all over the world, strangers, but not really. Instead, kindred seekers give themselves this big, beautiful thing called Haven. 

          It’s clear today and I can see all the way down the Rocky Mountain front, to the Swan and Mission ranges. Such a big sky, but such holding offered by this sacred place which will nourish us in every way I hold dear. Word-wandering requires soul food and I know that the ranch staff and I will provide as many opportunities for it in as many ways as we know how. And with true love and pleasure and honoring in our hearts. We will all be different by Sunday. These paths will know our soles and our souls. These brave writers’ spirits will dance. They just don’t know it quite yet. But I do.

          I breathe in calm. 

I breathe out a smile. 

It’s time to begin Haven. Again.


Q: If I understand this correctly, is the writing retreat like a camp where writers pay a fee to stay at the retreat for however long so they can grow their writing skills and confidence? Do you have a team of people helping you run the retreat?

A: Haven is a five day, deep-dive, writing retreat and workshop with a morning class dedicated to craft instruction and intensive guided-writing exercises, afternoon free time to write and have one-on-ones with me, and an evening workshop wherein each writer shares work, usually something they’ve created on the retreat that needs support. Some writers have worked with me as their developmental editor prior to the retreat so their work is structurally sound coming in but still needs support (structure is usually the hardest part for writers), some writers come in with an idea but have no idea how to put it into motion. Some just know that they want writing in their lives and not necessarily for public consumption. They know it’s a powerful tool. In no way is Haven a self-help retreat, but it can’t help but profoundly connect each attendee deeply with themselves, and in many cases, for the first time.

You wouldn’t want Haven to go longer than that, though many people choose to stay in Whitefish afterward to explore Glacier National Park and to keep their writing flame burning, post-retreat. I’ve had many alums who have come back over and over again. It’s like their muse’s measuring stick. Who are they now? How have they grown in their writing and in their lives? Some even say on the last day, “You know…it’ll forever be before and after Haven.” I can speak about it like this because it’s not about me. It’s just the magic of Haven and the magical people who allow it to give itself to them. It’s so rare to be held safely in a small group, outside of scrutiny, competition, ambition, the need to be a “success,” the need to prove, and the crushing need for perfection…and to just be gentle with yourself and your pen. Because of all of this, and the extraordinary Dancing Spirit Ranch, I see major shifts happen for people. Boulders just roll off their backs that they didn’t even realize they’ve been bearing, sometimes for years and years. They look like different people on Sunday when we say our goodbyes. And I love that these groups usually stay together. They know they’ve been through something life-changing together, so why would they not honor that.

Q: Laura, how does it feel knowing that you’ve helped over 1,000 writers?  I think that’s also amazing! 

A: Me too! Thank you for acknowledging it. It’s like a miracle to me. Here’s my knee jerk response: It’s not about me and it can’t be about me. In fact, before someone is accepted into Haven, we have a one-hour Haven Intro Call in which they share about their writing dreams no matter how big or small, and then I tailor-make my presentation based on how I think Haven could be a match for them. One of my most important talking points is this: When you’re looking for a retreat, it has got to be about the program, not the retreat leader. I designed the program based on what I know writers need, having lived the writing life all my adult life. But it’s the program that holds my attendees. I hold the program, the incredible ranch staff holds me, and the miles and miles of pristine Montana land holds all of us…so it’s a highly healthy symbiosis. I believe that this is the reason Haven changes lives. I watch it happen over and over again, retreat after retreat. And now with over 1,000 alums, I have to believe that there is a Haven ripple in the world that is making its way…through books, through self-expression, through kindness and community, through having the potent tool that is writing to help navigate this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. And yes…it feels really good. I also am able to offer partial scholarships through my Haven Foundation, so we’ve been able to support people who would never be able to afford it otherwise. And when I put my head on the pillow at the end of the day, that feels really good too.

Q: For future authors who want to write and attend Haven Writing Program, what is your advice for them?

A: We write in solitude, yes. But our writing is born out of our experiences, many of them, if not most, in community. Don’t forget that piece of it. Writing is living. Eventually it comes down to pen on paper or fingertips on a keyboard, or whatever device we use to get our words out of us. But living the writing life means living in a way that helps you find what you need to say. And you don’t have to do it alone. Find support. Find a mentor. Find a writing partner. Find a writing group. And fight for your writing. No one asks us to write, and like anything that requires every cell in our bodies to be activated in order to produce what we want to produce…it’s hard, and often thankless work. If you know you want to write, you must fight for it. But please…be kind to yourself. Develop an Inner Champion. I’ve got two books coming out in the next two years that are all about the how behind this concept. I can’t wait to share them with the world. I hope they help.

Q: How can we spread the word about the Haven Writing Program? I know you already get a ton of students; I say the more the merrier. 

A: Indeed! A lot of it is word-of-mouth now but we need people like you to help people find this completely unique and unparalleled program. So thank you for giving me the chance to toot its horn! If you are interested in setting up a Haven Intro Call with me, go to my website and you’ll see how to contact me. If you are a seeker, and a word-wanderer…then quite possibly…Haven is for you.