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January 2023 Winter Writing Retreat

“I don’t have all the answers. But I can help you ask the right questions so you can find the answers yourself.”

Hello, you gorgeous thing! I’m over the moon excited to be planning and preparing to host you on a writing retreat January 8-10 in Ponca State Park. Ponca State Park is a place I’ve found both peace and inspiration on my solitary writing retreats as well as those I’ve hosted, and I know you’ll find the same.

But first, let’s talk about Northern California and Liz Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed. I was at a writing retreat at the 1440 Multiversity in the fall of 2018 where the two of them (my favorite authors) were speaking. While I was overjoyed and grateful to be there, I wasn’t sure if I belonged. In fact, I was pretty sure I didn’t. I felt “on the fringes,” and I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would normally cope with those feelings of discontent. I’d make friends. I’d be the center of the social circles. I’d fill my time with group activities. Instead of following my typical methods of numbing, I stayed on the fringes, and I wrote these words for you:

Do it. Go on the retreat. Learn the thing you want to learn.

When you think you could go with a friend: don’t.

You’ll think it could be a bonding time for the both of you; it will be.

Don’t bring her. Bond with yourself.

Go alone and feel loneliness. Feel unconnected. Connect with yourself.

Have conversations with strangers and talk to the stranger living inside of you.

Look into people’s eyes and into your own sacred heart.

When your mind tells you it will cost too much, remind it that life has cost enough of your soul already and there’s no price tag to be placed on the beauty you bring to the world when you are most wholly, fully alive.

Pursue the learning with curiosity and the loving with passion.

Go. Learn.

Meet yourself in the center of what you find.

That very feeling was the inspiration for hosting this group of courageous, soul-searching women at the Melissa J Creative Fall Writer’s Retreat, and now at the Winter Writing Retreat in January. Feeling untethered and discontented? Like there’s something different that you’re supposed to be doing or working towards? Let’s explore that and write through those thoughts together. This three-day (two nights) respite in northern Nebraska is on the banks of the Missouri River in picturesque Ponca State Park. You’ll take some deep breaths, write some genuine words, and find inspiration all around you.

The retreat includes:

  • Two night’s accommodations in the Red Fox or Grey Fox lodges.
  • Chef-created nourishment with all meals provided and a takeaway lunch on Tuesday as we depart.
  • A welcome bag upon arrival filled with ‘Melissa’s Favorite Things.” This welcome bag includes some of Melissa’s go-to comfort items she brings with her on each of her own writing retreats. (I promise you’ll love what’s inside!)
  • A beautiful new journal for all the words you’re about to bring forth.
  • Daily programming, sessions, and writing assignments, as well as time to write and reflect on your own.
  • A one-on-one post-retreat reflection call with Melissa to discuss insights, goals, and next steps. (Calls to occur within 45 days of the Winter Writing Retreat.)
  • A warm, welcoming, and safe space to bring your authentic self and to connect with a community of women who are seeking their own truths, just like you.

What to bring:

All you need are comfortable clothes (layers suggested for any hiking or outdoor time you might want to enjoy), a cozy blanket, your favorite beverages and snacks, and a willingness to be open and curious about what you’ll discover.

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About the Accommodations:

Each lodge boasts 4 bedrooms and two bathrooms, a warm and inviting living room/gathering space with a fireplace, and full kitchen.

Situated in the picturesque Missouri River bluffs in northeastern Nebraska, Ponca State Park is the eastern gateway to the 59-mile section of the Missouri National Recreational River, one of two unchannelized stretches of the river bordering Nebraska. One of Nebraska’s most visited state parks, Ponca State Park is popular for its forested hills, scenic vistas, great wildlife watching, Missouri river access and beautiful and varied lodging options. During the spring months, the wetlands at Ponca State Park are a popular layover spot for many migrating bird species and the park offers many seasonal activities. Ponca State Park offers walking and hiking trails, a nature center, and a place of peace and solitude.

Location/traveling information:

Ponca State Park is just 28 miles from Sioux City, IA, 90 miles from Sioux Falls, SD (FSD) or 115 miles from Omaha, NE (OMA). While Omaha, NE is a little further, flights in and out of OMA will provide the most option and flexibility.


All-inclusive package price is $975 per person (single occupancy) or $895 per person (double occupancy.) An Early Entry rate of $895 (single occupancy) or $850 (double occupancy) is available when you sign up and place your deposit prior to November 25th.

To reserve your spot, email or

The little things:

Each car entering Ponca State Park will need to have a parking permit or state park sticker. Parking is $6 per day or $30 for an annual state park sticker. Parking and/or state stickers can be purchased at the Visitor Center upon entry, or ahead of time at

Arrival and check in time is Sunday, January 8th beginning at 4 pm. Early check in is not permitted. Check out is on Tuesday January 10th by 11 am. Note: I am working with the Ponca State Park superintendent on the possibility of us entering the park at noon and using the Visitor Center conference room for our first sessions, prior to checking into our cabins at 4 pm. Full schedule will be released once this is finalized.

About Melissa J Creative:

Melissa M. Johnson

Melissa sees possibility and potential in people even before they believe in themselves. Melissa is the founder and CEO of Oh My Cupcakes!, Sweet Cream Candle Co., and Melissa J. Creative. Her businesses are each built with intention to create beautiful things that bring people joy.

With a background in broadcast media and communications, Melissa is a sought-after keynote speaker with both Melissa J Creative and the Jon Gordon Companies, where she is a Power of Positive Leadership Certified speaker and trainer. Melissa finds purpose in helping people discover and engage their own greatest gifts and has a mission to spread the message of empowerment or growth with a positive mindset. Melissa delivers dynamic and electrifying keynotes and trainings. She engages her audiences with personal stories, a twist of wit, and a warm, approachable spirit that moves people to their own lightbulb moments of understanding. She is frequently invited to appear on panels presenting on topics of building phenomenal company cultures, women's business ownership, positive leadership, and adopting and parenting children who come from hard places.

People have said Melissa "just has a presence about her." Her genuine desire is to inspire and uplift, leaving people better than she found them. She currently serves on the Volunteers of America Foundation board, the Children's Home Society of SD Programming board, and the Avera Philanthropy Council.

Melissa was born and raised in the heart of the Midwest and is blessed mother to four children, three dogs, and one disagreeable cat.

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