Why You Need a Writing Retreat
We writers get to live more than one life. That’s awesome but also a bit of a problem. You see, we’re not given any more time in which to live all these extra lives. Also, this time frame in publishing is almost guaranteed to increase stress levels. In a video with Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, novelist and teacher James Scott Bell likened today’s mad rush to produce with the pulp fiction days of the past. You can watch the video in A Surprising Way to Increase Writing Productivity.
Going on a writing retreat is importantThere’s always been a tug-of-war between the needs of a writing life and the demands of everyday life. If you have a family, their expectations factor into your day. Between writing, editing, social networking, promoting, speaking, and emails flooding our email accounts, we have to focus to keep up. Most writers have endless to do lists, whether written or not. This wears us down over time, and usually drains creativity, the very lifeblood that infuses our writing. Finding some sort of respite becomes imperative.
A conference is not a writing retreat.
Writing conferences are all about connecting and learning, not resting and writing. That’s an important difference. Attending a writing conference can be important to your development as a writer, but you will usually go home crammed with information, weighted down with samples, and in need of sleep. I’ve often thought the ideal time to go on a writing retreat is immediately after a conference. That way you could spend a little time absorbing what you were taught, making sense of your notes, and acting on the opportunities you received.
You can attend an established retreat.
It’s true that some fine retreats can be located through a Google search of the location you’d like to visit or by visiting sites like the Poet’s and Writers conferences and residencies database and The Writers’ Retreat.
You can make your own writing retreat.
You can also create your own writing retreat. The advantage of putting together a writing retreat is that you can choose whether to go alone, with a retreat partner, or as part of a group of like-minded writers who are also friends. Over time I have gone with a partner and as a group, but I have yet to retreat alone. The idea appeals to me, so I may work in a retreat alone at some point. Some of the advantages of going with others is that you are less likely to become lonely and homesick. The main disadvantage is that you will probably write less than you would while alone.
Writing retreats don’t have to be costly.
Depending on the location and housing you choose, a writing retreat can be expensive or affordable. Give yourself enough time to shop around. Some retreat venues offer low rates. If you go on a private retreat with other writers, you can share costs and save money. My group has retreated for a week for about $80. Yes, it was old military housing with college dorm furniture, but the view and the quiet could not be faulted. Just be careful not to cram too many people into too small a space or it won’t be very retreat-like for anyone. Sometimes you can ask for discounts at retreat centers. My group’s week-long retreat this year will give us exclusive use of a 40-acre property, separate bedrooms, a large room to gather, and a place to prepare meals for about $200 each.
How to get the most out of a writing retreat.
You will be adapting to new surroundings, something that can disrupt your focus, so cut yourself some slack on that first day. You’ll probably still accomplish more than you would have at home, but work in stretches and save the marathons for a bit later in the retreat. You shouldn’t sit at your computer for hour after hour, even if you can. It’s not good for the body. Besides, part of going on retreat is to experience life as a writer not as a writing drudge. Your also there to feed your creativity, and that takes moments of quiet reflection. Allow yourself to take walks, explore your surroundings, and if there are other writers with you, to visit. Just be considerate of other’s time. That late-night chat may be just the thing you need but an irritant to someone else trying to concentrate. It helps to set guidelines for socializing to establish where and when it is acceptable. Depending on your surroundings, you may be able to establish quiet areas and places members of your group can go to talk.
The most important thing to do when going on a writing retreat is to put together a plan of what you want to accomplish before you arrive. This will help orient you sooner, so you’ll waste less time getting into your writing groove. Once you do, you should be able to accomplish far more than you would have at home.
Do you attend a writing retreat? What are your tips for making the most of one?