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#WritersLife: The 411 on Writing Retreats


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WEBB

I’m at a writing retreat this week and it just occurred to me how often I’m asked about where to go or how to set one up on your own. As a writer, retreats are one of my very favorite things. I get to be away from the family and all of the real-life responsibilities for several days, and relish in taking care of only myself. I get to dig in to my writing uninterrupted, with lots of space to let my mind wander and process. When I go on retreats with others, I’m so often inspired to try new techniques or styles or types of stories. My friends also help me untangle a mess I’ve been grappling with, and I do the same for them. I also allow for a little fun on the side. It sounds like heaven, right?  

 There are many ways to make a retreat work for you from pre-arranged sessions to creating your own. Let’s take a look at how to make the most of it. 

Pre-arranged Retreats 

Scope out the location:  Is it drivable or will you need to fly? Is the environment conducive to being productive? This should be a careful consideration. For example, when I retreat near the beach during warmer temperatures, it’s mighty tempting to abandon my writing and spend the day on the beach. For this reason, I often do a beach location during cooler temps. This way, I can walk on it every day during breaks, but I’m not tempted to completely abandon my work and play instead. The same applies to going to a city I’d love to explore more. I don’t want to be pining for adventure while I’m supposed to be getting in my word count. But perhaps these things don’t tempt you. Be honest with yourself about locations that will help you be productive.  

Look into what’s included: Obviously you want has much included as possible. Some places will include all meals, others will include just a handful but have other great amenities. Read the fine print so you can plan your budget accordingly.  

Decide whether you want programming (i.e. retreat leaders and workshops):  Sometimes programming can be terrific and just the sort of inspiration you need to galvanize your writing. I like both kinds of retreats. It just depends on where I’m at with a current manuscript. There are also lots of smaller retreats led by writers or editors that can be just as fantastic as a larger, more established event. Ask your friends, post to forums or group pages, or consult any writing groups you may belong to for suggestions of where to retreat. 

Residencies can also be a great way to retreat but often require an application process or extended stay.  

 

A few I know of that are great 

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Association hosts a retreat every March in Colorado Springs on a beautiful campus with mountains as a backdrop. It’s lead by a pro who presents craft talk as well as reads a sample of your work. There’s also a workshop component. Food and lodging is included. You don’t need to be a member to attend. 

The Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association puts on a retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, complete with programming, every September. They also host a retreat in Baltimore, Maryland. You need to be a member of the group to attend.  

The Highlight’s Foundation in Milansville, PA hosts many classes and workshops for children’s and YA authors, but there’s also an option to retreat on your own outside of their programs in one of their cabins. Lodging, meals, and happy hour are included. It’s a cozy and beautiful compound set in the woods. It’s a great way to gather friends and set up your own retreat without having to figure out any of the logistics. 

Ireland Writer Tours is a company that hosts a combination writing-touring retreat. The authors (or agent/author team) that lead the retreat read and provide feedback on a sample of your work, meet with you individually to discuss your path forward, as well as host a series of workshops and classes on certain days. The rest of the week is spent viewing the incredible sites of western Ireland. (I will actually be co-leading this retreat in summer of 2022. Maybe I’ll see you there. Woot!) Breakfasts are included as well as a handful of lunches and a couple of dinners, all tour site entry fees, and the transportation (buses as well as the ferry to the Aran Islands) are included as well.  

VCCA in Virginia hosts short and longer residency programs. For this retreat, you must apply but I’ve heard rave reviews about how great it is. They house writers, artists, and composers. 

 

Personal Retreats 

Another great way to retreat is to pick a location on your own, either for a solo experience or with a group of friends. The sky is the limit here so let’s look at some important aspects of planning. 

Lodging:  The sky is limit here, as I said above. You can travel to a new state—or country for that matter. You can settle in the woods in a cabin or go to the beach. You can hang out in a city. It’s up to you! Both hotels and rental properties can work, and there are pros and cons to each. During off-season at the beach, I shack up in a hotel on the water if I’m going solo. It’s cheaper that time of year and I also select a place within walking distance of a grocery/restaurants, and one that has both a mini-fridge and a nice desk in the room. While retreating with others, I tend to rent a property in various locations to keep costs down. One of the most important aspects of renting a property is their workspace areas. You want to make sure there are plenty of tables and chairs, couches and countertops so that those with you have plenty of room to spread out and be comfortable while working.  

Invite friends with caution:  It’s not that you don’t love all of your friends, it’s that the goal is to get as much writing done as possible. If you invite people who don’t understand that they need to be quiet in communal spaces during the writing day or that need to silence their phones or go outside to make calls, you’re going to become very frustrated with that person. Another issue to consider is sleep habits. Some people stay up super late and write at night while others go to bed early so, they can be ready for pre-dawn wake-up times. Make sure you all jive in your habits.  

Timing:  Less time may be more, which might seem counter-intuitive, but it can be very true. For example, I’ve discovered after working intensely for four days, I tend to burn out a bit and need a break with at least one day off, maybe two, before I dive back into the manuscript. My brain needs that regeneration time, and some subconscious processing time. If you’re booking a full week away, build in a day or two that can be used for either some sort of fun activity or for less demanding work that will feel like a nice break from your manuscript. 

Set ground rules:  Devise a rotating schedule for cooking/cleaning so one person isn’t stuck with the duties all week when they’re also trying to get things done. If everyone pitches in, you can all be as productive as possible. More optional rules may be to set up, too. You can designate writing sprints, plot discussions, or storyboard time. You can decide on play time (Music? Movies? Swimming? Nighttime walks?) Anything that will keep the group motivated that’s also fun! If you do it right, you’ll get loads accomplished, feel refreshed, and have some great memories of fun times with friends. Wins all around!  

How about you? Where do you like to retreat? Do you have any advice to share with us as we prepare for our next? 

 

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About Heather Webb

Heather Webb is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction. To date, Heather’s books have sold in over a dozen countries worldwide. As a freelance editor, Heather has helped many writers sign with agents and go on to sell at market. When not writing, she feeds her cookbook addiction, geeks out on history and pop culture, and looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.

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