Conference Testimonials

To Sheila, Meg and Jack, thank you for being such good teachers and so inspirational.  I learned more in 3 days with you than I did at all the other conferences (3) that I have attended in the past 3 years.

— Mary Lou Todd

“I also wanted to thank you again for a great conference. Just days after meeting with you individually and Jack in the manuscript group I felt my writing turn a necessary corner. It is a great feeling except for the fact that now I`m writing late into the night!”

Pat La Pointe

What a wonderful weekend I had in Arizona! Once again the three of you gave a fabulous conference. You each bring a tremendous body of knowledge to those of us who aspire to the writing life, and your skill and kindness in teaching us makes the experience rich and pleasurable. Thank you so much. Each time I meet and work with all three of you, I gain skills, knowledge and an ever-increasing enjoyment in the process of writing.  See you at the next one! 

Carolyn Terry

“I loved the conference. Some professional institutes offer helpful assistance, but not personal connections; some offer friendships and networking possibilities, but little in new techniques. There also those that offer the best of both, but a sterile convention hall environment. PT was excellent in all three regards. I`m still glowing.”


“Six of my new poems have been accepted for publication. All germinated in last April’s conference in Pt Townsend. How about that?  I am so thankful for you and the healing I have experienced. I hope you understand the power of your work and your importance to all of your students.”

— Gary Anderson

“Attending the “Writing It Real” Conference in Port Townsend was, for me, a weekend of inspiration! I especially enjoyed the warm and welcoming community of writers! But your in-class exercises with Meg Files and Jack Heffron invited a roll of energy, up-beat and positively, motivating!” 

“I did treat myself to one of the best teaching teams! Thank you. I would love to attend again!”

“Thank you for a wonderful experience. I came away with both some specific ideas for what to do with the pieces I brought and, perhaps more importantly, with a sense of what might help me with all of my writing. This morning I did a little “__ is like___” in my early morning journal writing and came up with the beginnings of a little essay. And that felt very satisfying.”

“We`re home now with much to do: Scripts to rewrite, books to buy Lessons learned, now to apply Watch modifiers, don`t leave `em dangling Expunge exposition, delight and excite. Like Momma, the reader knows best.

We caress our keyboards afresh Letters and words screen in military line. Port Townsend inspired, the faculty challenged, Colleagues flattered, encouraged Those two days in sun by the sea.”

“Graci, graci to all of you for sharing your wisdom and writing passion with all of us – AND for welcoming us, at all levels of ability, to the higher bar, as individual as that is. You are a fine trio together. What great chemistry.”

“Wonderful–you all create something profound, cooperation rather than competition (true, deep support).”

“Excellent teachers! Well organized.”

“This was a wonderful experience. I learned so much.”

“This experience has built my confidence, given me encouragement and provided me with concrete guidance for improving my writing. Thank you.”

“I loved that the conference is limited to 30 people and is such a warm and encouraging environment.”

“Thanks to Sheila and Jack, Meg, Dana, and all my co-participants for a completely satisfying weekend. The workshop increased my confidence as a writer (Look, I`m even able to say “as a writer”!) and taught me important techniques that I know will improve my writing immeasurably. It was a beautiful combination of learning, fun, and friendship which I would definitely do again.”

I wanted to let you know the cotyledon you nourished has sprouted well. My first children’s book, Substitute Groundhog (Whitman), was named a Junior Library Guild Selection, and was recently bought by Scholastic for paper and audio. I’m told it immediately sold out and they were unable to fill their orders with the initial print run! My third children’s book will be out in March.

At your workshop, I won the “Worst Beginning Line” contest, which might seem inauspicious. However, it gave me confidence that I could create what my audience would like. Thank you for all the inspiration and humor you bring to the process.

This conference is the best thing I have ever done for myself in a very long time. Speakers were excellent, the organization was fantastic and all the personal touches were very much appreciated. I feel full!

What a fantastic experience. Loved the intensity & full immersion for the weekend. Loved the camaraderie of fellow writers & teachers. I feel so inspired & energized for the return home in terms of my writing.

Thank you for organizing such a personable, inspiring conference. I had such a special time, and would love to come next year.

— Pat Miller

“I wanted to write, be with the writers, learn something, and get inspired and motivated. I got it all! Even sunshine.”

This conference was more than I could hope for. It was well organized yet flexible and accepting of writers at all levels.”

“Thank you so much for such a personable and helpful conference!”

“I expected a week of learning and growing, but I couldn`t have predicted the directions they would lead. I learned to hear the poet in my heart. The door to publishing was opened and I`m not nearly as afraid to walk through.”

“The community of writers, the professional approach to serious craft, the expertise of the facilitators, the variety of the curriculum and the perfect pace – bravo!”

“I wanted the peace and time to start writing again and it was fulfilled.”

“Thank you! I`m inspired and dedicated! Can`t wait for next year!” “I`m impressed with the spirit of the workshop participants. I`ll be back next year!”

“The conference exceeded my expectations in almost every way. I gained greater understanding of the craft, of various approaches to writing, of good workshop technique, and of the community of writers. I felt very much at home and nurtured as a professional by professionals.”


What Writing Professionals Say About the Conference Faculty

“Sheila Bender is an extraordinary teacher in person and on the page. In Writing and Publishing Personal Essays, her enthusiasm, her wit, and her expertise provide us with exciting ways to approach the art of creative nonfiction. This book is chock full of useful instructions and prompts that will keep you writing a long time.”

—Brenda Miller, author of Season of the Body: Essays, Tell it Slant:Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction

“Jack Heffron`s Writer`s Idea Book has quickly become a favorite among writers, no matter what their experience level. The thought-provoking prompts alone make this a valuable tool any writer can use for their own projects.”


“Meg Files performs the most ancient story-teller`s art: she insistently leads her characters to the precipice of loss, despair, submission to the large terrors and small anomies of their times; and then allows them to achieve a kind of grace and hopefulness in the very teeth of the abyss–in her own unforgettable phrase, `human and winged.`”

Ron Powers, author of Far From Home and Cruel Radiance 

May 2-4, 2014 — West Bend, Wisconsin

Plan now and arrange to join us in West Bend. WI at the Cedar Valley Retreat Center north of Milwaukee. We’ll meet Friday evening through Sunday noon. Email us at if you’d like us to put you on our “interesteds” list for conference related emails. Scroll down for a description of the conference, the retreat center, faculty bios and the schedule of sessions.

Faculty members Sheila Bender, Meg Files and Jack Heffron will offer you interactive craft lectures, in-class writing instruction, small group manuscript workshops limited to 10 participants per instructor, and writing and publishing consultations. Whether you are experienced or new to writing, have a special project in mind, need a jumpstart or are switching genres, our conference provides the professional guidance you are looking for in writing and publishing memoir, non-fiction, fiction and poetry. Our faculty’s trademark is enthusiasm, warmth and genuine down-to-earth instruction. Be sure to think about what you’d like to work on in your one-on-one session, appointments to be made during the conference.

We hope you’ll reserve your spot soon with an email to us as we keep our participant numbers low to guarantee the faculty can work effectively with each participant.

Faculty members Sheila Bender, Meg Files and Jack Heffron will offer you interactive craft lectures, in-class writing instruction, small group manuscript workshops limited to 10 participants per instructor), and writing and publishing consultations. Whether you are experienced or new to writing, have a special project in mind, need a jumpstart or are switching genres, our conference provides the professional guidance you are looking for in writing and publishing memoir, non-fiction, fiction and poetry. Our faculty’s trademark is enthusiasm, warmth and genuine down-to-earth group and one-on-one instruction.

Two nights retreat center lodging, all meals from Friday dinner through lunch on Sunday, skilled writing instruction and consultations in one of Wisconsin’s most beautiful settings conveniently located near Milwaukee and shared shuttle to the center! 

Visit our website for conference schedule, faculty bios and retreat center information. We hope you’ll reserve your spot soon with payment via the website or an email to us, as we keep our participant numbers low to guarantee the faculty can work effectively with each participant.

For full conference registration, including room and meals, the price is $670.

For those who want to commute, the price is $520 and includes meals.

Refund Policy

Fees are not refundable unless we can fill your spot from our waiting list. We will deduct a $50 processing charge.


Sheila Bender is an award-winning and widely published poet, author and writing facilitator. She founded Writing It Real in 2002 for those who write from personal experience, whatever the genre. A contributor to Writer’s Digest Magazine, she has written a dozen popular instructional books on writing from personal experience, including Creative Writing DeMystified, Writing Publishing Personal Essays, Second Edition, Writing Personal Poetry: Creating Poems from Life Experience, A Year in the Life: Journaling for Self-Discovery and Keeping a Journal You Love, among others. She has also written instructional prompts and writing tips for LifeJournal for Writers software (Chronicles Software). Her memoir, A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief, was published by Imago Press in September 2009 and in 2012, Imago published Behind Us the Way Grows Wider, a poetry collection. Her newest book, available on iTunes and Kindle, is Sorrow’s Words: Writing Exercises to Heal Grief. Sheila is currently Seattle University’s Distinguished Guest Lecturer in “Writing Lyric Poetry: Poetry and Spirituality.”

Meg FilesMeg Files is the author of Meridian 144, a novel; Home Is the Hunter, a collection of stories; Write from Life, a book about using personal experience and taking risks in writing; The Love Hunter and Other Poems; and Galapagos Triptych: Three Ways of Seeing the Galapagos Islands. Her novel The Third Law of Motion was a finalist for the University of Michigan Press’s Michigan Literary Fiction Award. She edited Lasting: Poems on AgingMeridian 144 will be published as an e-book by Permuted Press in February. Her stories and poems have appeared in many publications, including Fiction, Writers’ Forum, Oxford Magazine, The Tampa Review, and Crazyhorse. Her awards include a Bread Loaf Fellowship. Her work has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, for the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, and for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She was the James Thurber Writer-in-Residence at Ohio State University. She teaches creative writing and directs the Pima Writers’ Workshop in Tucson.

Jack HeffronJack Heffron has been a professional editor for more than twenty years, serving as editorial director for three book publishers in that time. He is the author of a number of books, including The Writer’s Idea Book, published in an expanded tenth-anniversary edition December 2011. His most recent book is The Local Boys: Hometown Players for the Cincinnati Reds (Clerisy Press, 2014). He was the managing editor of Man of the House, an online magazine, and a founding editor of Story magazine, which twice won the National Magazine Award for Fiction. His own fiction has been published in numerous literary journals and twice was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His nonfiction has been included in Best American Travel Writing and has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and Authors. His column in Cincinnati magazine was selected as the best in Ohio in 2009. He teaches magazine and feature writing in the journalism program at the University of Cincinnati.

For questions or to let us know you want us to contact you with conference registration information, send us an email at If you’d like to reserve your spot now, mail a check to 394 Colman Drive, Port Townsend, WA or use the buy button on this form with a credit card.

Schedule of Sessions 

2014 May 2nd – May 4 th

Note: You might want to book yourself into the Cedar Valley Retreat Center for a night before or after the conference to take advantage of the spa offerings.

Participants will schedule their 15-minute consults with the instructors for before or over meals.

Friday, May 2 st
2:00 – 2:45  PM Introductions
3:00 – 4:00 PM Sheila’s Craft Lecture — Writing & Spirituality: Our Writing is a Friend With Extraordinary Benefits
Check Into Rooms & Dinner
7:00 – 7:45 PM Teach-In — Writing Exercises to Prime the Pump — Jack, Meg and Sheila
8:00 – 9:00 PM Faculty readings
Saturday, May 3 nd
7:00 – 8:00 AM Breakfast
8:30 – 9:30 AM Jack’s Craft Lecture — Dot the Dragon’s Eye: Bringing Your Writing to Life
9:45 – 10:45 AM Meg’s In-Class Writing Exercise — Fun with Sentences (Really)
11:00 – 12:00 PM Manuscript Workshops small groups
12:00 – 1:00 PM Lunch
1:00 – 2:00 PM Sheila’s In-Class Writing Exercise — Interviews, Letters, and Lists, Oh My! New Takes on the Personal Essay and Poetry
2:15 – 15:15 PM Manuscript Workshops small groups
7:00 – 9:00 PM Participant Readings
Sunday, May 4rd
7:00 – 8:00 AM Breakfast
9:00 – 10:00 AM Meg’s's Craft Lecture — The Audacity Component: Style and Voice
10:15 – 11:15  AM Jack’s In-Class Writing Exercise — Rescuing Shipwrecked Ideas
11:30 – 12:00 PM Panel – Keeping the Spirit Alive