I once arrived with a group of writer friends on San Juan Island for a writing retreat. We had just carried our luggage into a gorgeous rental home with picture windows overlooking the Salish Sea. All six of us heaved a sigh at the same moment, then looked up and laughed. This wordless exchange remains fixed in my mind.
By its very nature, being a writer rubs against the rest of life to create tension. Family members need meals, spouses deserve attention, children require rides, jobs have time cards to punch. The demands of everyday life split our focus, causing constant interruptions that kill creativity. Sometimes you just have to get away, take a deep breath, and write.
Make the Most of Your Writing Retreat
There’s nothing more disappointing than going on a writing retreat and accomplishing less than you would have if you’d remained at home. After organizing private writing retreats for six years now, I can tell you from my experiences what makes a writing retreat successful and what doesn’t. This article gives my observations on how to make the most of your writing retreat.
Retreat with Like-Minded Authors
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Decide in advance what you want from the retreat and make sure you invite writers who expect the same thing. Otherwise, you’ll be frustrated, and so will your retreat partners. Writers are at different stages in their careers, and this causes them to bring varying expectations to a writing retreat. A new writer may have yet to develop the same level of self-discipline as one with strict deadlines, for example. Some writers need more socializing than others.
Be careful to invite those with similar expectations as you. If you are desperate to wrack up a word count to meet a deadline, you won’t appreciate a retreat partner who wants to spend the retreat developing a marketing plan with your help.
There’s nothing wrong, in my opinion, in going primarily to network or brainstorm with other authors. Be sure that’s what everyone wants though, and count the cost. Time spent talking is not going to advance your word count goals.
I’ve never gone on a solo retreat, but I’m certain that isolating yourself is the surest way to find the necessary quiet to write. This type of retreat strikes me as useful when you are under pressure to produce a high word count. Going on one is on my radar, and I’ll report what I learn.
Set Retreat Goals
Know in advance what you plan to accomplish. Write it down so you can remind yourself when balmy winds blow and the birds are singing outside or you’re tempted to go sightseeing instead of writing. Not that you can’t mix sightseeing with a writing retreat, if that’s what you want to do. However, you’re writing retreat goals should reflect that.
Don’t Let the Needs of Life Intrude
Bring adequate laundry so you won’t have to wash clothing. An exception might be if you’re staying for an extended period and/or there’s a washer and dryer in your accommodations. Stock the kitchen with food you can prepare with less prep time. If you cook for one another, agree that you won’t get fancy. Its best to take separate meals so you can have all the days you don’t have to cook to write. My retreat groups usually find it easiest to bring our own breakfasts and lunches and provide dinners for one another. We also bring snacks to share.
Make Sure You’re Comfortable
If you use a desk, make sure in advance you’ll have at least a small table at the retreat on which to write. Check that there are enough comfortable chairs for everyone, especially those who write with their computers on their laps. In older or foreign lodgings, ask whether you will need to bring electrical adapters. It’s nice to bring an extension cord in case you want to write outside or find outlets in inconvenient places.
When it’s hot, you’ll want air conditioning or a fan. I for one have trouble thinking, let alone writing, when the temperature soars. If that’s you, too, you might want to reconsider going on a retreat in summer. My favorite times of year to retreat are fall and winter. If a storm blows it, my creativity scores bonus points. I usually bring a blanket scarf to ensure I stay warm enough. Sleeping in a strange place can sometimes be difficult, so I always bring my pillow from home.
Allow Yourself Time to be Fully Present
Setting retreat goals is important, but so is being fully present. Leave yourself room to breathe or your writing retreat will become as stressful as the lifestyle you left behind.
Final Thoughts from Janalyn
- If you still need convincing that writers need to retreat, read “Writing Retreat (Why You Need One)”.
- Want to know more to help you make the most of your writing retreat? Read “Writing Retreat Review (5 Things I Learned)”.