DIY Writing Retreats

DIY-writing-retreats-ya-buccaneers

Writing, for the most part, is indeed a solitary endeavor. It’s you and your notebook or your computer and your ideas. Yes, you can bounce ideas off your critique partners and beta readers, significant others and friends. You can meet up with other writers at a coffee shop on a Saturday or have a Twitter writing party, but ultimately, it’s up to you to put the words on the page.

And so you do, chunks of writing time scheduled in alongside your classes or day job or family stuff and whatever else you have to do. Day in and day out. I’ll spare you the details of my glamorous life as an example – it’s enough to say that I got up at 3 am to work on a proofreading project before work, isn’t it? Every day is a little bit different at our house, with various after-school activities. The weekends are usually jam-packed, too, but every now and then I’ll schedule an all-day write-in with other writers. Word sprints and Twitter writing parties are invaluable for holding me accountable.

And all this is fine, it is. It works.

But sometimes, a writer needs more.

For writers who are looking for conferences and workshops, there are plenty of options all around the country. Last summer, Curly McGee shared a Beginner’s Guide to Writing Conferences on the Ship’s Log – with tons of valuable information.

Like with conferences, there are many writing retreat venues available to you as an individual or a group of writers. Today I’m going to share some information about planning your own writing retreat. Here are some things you should take into consideration.

Setting

The location of your writing retreat depends on a lot of things. Have you always wanted to have a writing getaway in the Rocky Mountains or on Cape Cod? Perhaps it’s less about a specific place than it is about convenience – choosing a location that works for the participants of the retreat and finding the right venue in that area.

Last year, I planned a five day North Shore Writing Retreat on the shores of Lake Superior, north of Duluth, Minnesota. I knew that I wanted to be there (the place where my soul is most at home), and so it was a matter of finding a place to stay.

The view from our lakeside home

The view from our lakeside home

There are a couple of routes you can take for finding accommodation: stay at a hotel or resort that has common areas for get-togethers or rent a vacation home. I’ve used www.homeaway.com and had good luck with it. You can also check out the local Chamber of Commerce or Visitors and Convention Bureau. Many reputable rental companies will belong to and advertise through these organizations.

Of course you’ll want something inspirational and rejuvenating, but not too interesting or stimulating, right? You’re there to write, after all, not spend each and every day sightseeing (although if you can, work in extra days on either end of the retreat for this!). And while a remote location is good, you don’t want something so remote that you can’t pop over to a store when you run out of coffee.

Our lakeside retreat viewed from the rocky beach along Lake Superior

Our lakeside retreat viewed from the rocky beach along Lake Superior

When planning the North Shore Writing Retreat, I instantly fell in love with a lakeside home based on the pictures. The amenities seemed perfect for what we needed. However, you never really know what a place is like until you get there. Some important aspects:

  • Sleeping Arrangements - The rental sleeps eight – terrific, right? You have eight writers! Most places assume that there will be couples sleeping in the queen and king beds, so if you don’t want to share, count the actual beds/sleeping spaces. Not that I really care, because I am one of the most laid-back pirates you’ll ever meet, but I did spend four nights sleeping on a couch that was just slightly too short. (And I'd do it again!)

One thing I did that was helpful in planning the logistics of the week – I sent out a google form with questions about sleeping preferences to everyone who was joining us. This way I learned who needed privacy and complete darkness and who didn’t mind sharing a room, for example.

  • Parking – is there enough parking for everyone who will be driving?
  • Weather – we went to the North Shore in mid-October and we were pushing our luck. We might have had ice storms or several inches of snow. We lucked out and most days were sunny and warmish, but it could have been bad. Prepare for any possible weather events.

Participants

Decide how many people you want to have at the retreat. You may have a situation where you and six of your writer friends have been talking about doing a retreat for months, so now you just need to find a place to fit you all. Or you may have one or two lined up and would like to find a handful more. How will you do this? I put it out on my blog and on Twitter. The make-up ended up like this:

  • Two people I knew In Real Life, my critique partner Kari and a writer from my former writers' group, Jean
  • Two people I’d known from Twitter and blogs for a couple of years (Adrianne and Rebekah)
  • A friend of Adrianne's, Tricia, who happens to live in Minneapolis
  • Someone none of us knew who happened to see it on Twitter, Jill.

Did we take a risk having someone none of us knew? In this case, not really. After she contacted me and told me about herself, I vetted her as best I could before I put it out to the rest of the group. She is a non-fiction writer (gasp!) and she brought a fantastic energy to our group of young adult fiction writers. I only suggest that you proceed with caution in this case.

Meals

You can approach this in various ways as well. I’ve heard of one writers’ group that hires a chef so they don’t have to worry about meals. You could have everyone be responsible for all of their own food and beverages, or you can divide up the days. I made a calendar/agenda and marked whether we were eating at a restaurant or at the cabin. I split it up so that each person was either responsible for a lunch on their own or paired up for a dinner. Breakfast items, beverages, and snacks were on our own (although we all brought plenty to share). One thing that we didn’t plan for – leftovers. It worked out that we swapped an eating-out night for leftovers.

Agenda

I’m sorry, but you can’t go to the North Shore of Lake Superior and not see some of the sights, especially if you’ve never been there before. So I worked in an afternoon of sightseeing – two of the most iconic places on the Shore, Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls. This was completely optional, so anyone who wanted to stay back at the house and work was welcome to do so. Mostly the calendar was filled with blocks of writing time, meals, and optional socializing in the evenings. One of the highlights from our retreat was sitting around the dining room table after dinner, reading five pages from our WiPs.

Rebekah at Gooseberry Falls

Rebekah at Gooseberry Falls

We didn’t have any “seminars” or specific topics of instruction planned, but it’s definitely something to consider.

For those of us who spent those beautiful, productive days on the North Shore last October – and as our non-fiction guru, Jill, put it – the best part was “being left alone with other writers to write.”

Here’s what a few other Buccaneers had to say about their writing retreats:

Back from the Dead Red (Ellen Goodlett)

I went on an informal retreat that Ghenet and I organized with my local writing group. We drove outside of the city, rented a cabin in the Poconos, stocked up on groceries, and holed up for a three-day holiday weekend (I think it was President's Day weekend? one of those winter ones!). We weren't sure how productive we'd be, since there were four of us, and we were friends outside of writing too. But it worked really well, actually!

I ended up finishing a whole first draft of a novel that weekend (20k of new writing and I managed to edit another 50-70 pages on top of that). We pretty much wrote all day, took occasional breaks to walk around outside in nature, and at dinner each night we read aloud from what we'd worked on that day and made comments. So fun, and I've been eager to try another retreat ever since!

If you want to go on a retreat but you can't find a formal one near you, I definitely recommend making your own. All you need are friends, a spot to hole up (even one of your own apartments/houses would probably work), and plenty of food-fuel. And, of course, something to write with. Just giving yourself permission to focus 100% on your writing for a set period of time, and being in the same room as other people doing the same, spurs on creativity sooo much.

 

Curly McGee (G. Myrthil)

The Poconos retreat Ellen and I went on together was my first. Since that retreat, I went on a couple more with different groups of writing friends. One was at a rented lake house outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, and the other was in a hotel in New Jersey where we all took over a corner of the lobby to write. Each time, I was super-productive. There's something about being holed up in a house or hotel with other writers typing away that makes you want to keep working way longer than you would if you were by yourself. And, not only do you get more work done, but you also benefit from being able to chat in person with fellow writers about writing, books, and the publishing process. Those conversations are worth just as much as new words on the page!

 

Brunhilde the Black-Hearted (Rachel Searles)

I've been on three writing retreats with my writers group. Five of us had met at the 2011 SCBWI summer conference and we were all roughly at the same place with our writing, so we rented a cabin up in Lake Arrowhead for three nights the following May along with a sixth writer that one of us invited. That year I was working on an R&R of The Lost Planet for an agent I'd queried (which she later rejected, whee). We're a chatty group so I can't say I get a ton of work done at our retreats, but I love the camaraderie, and in such a solitary career, it's nice to have some together time for gossip, venting, and the like.

 

How about you? Have you planned and/or attended a DIY Writing Retreat? What worked? What didn't? If you could go anywhere in the world for a writing retreat, where would you go?