A Guide To Creating Your Own Writing Retreat

Apr 3, 2019

When you read this, I’ll be halfway through a seven-day writer’s retreat in a cabin off the grid, up high in the Colorado Rockies.

I wanted to share my prep and my fears about going on a creative writing retreat because while I lead super fantastic in-person and online writing retreats, you can make your own writing retreat, and they can be terrific too!

What is a writing retreat?

It’s time you set aside from your ordinary life and away from your regular responsibilities (kids! lunches! eldercare! job! emails! dirty bathtub! cats on your keyboard!) to write AND to fill up your creative heart and remember the sound of your own writing voice.

  • A writer’s retreat reminds you “I have something to say.”
  • A writer’s retreat lets you rest, read, think.
  • A writer’s retreat gives you space to NOT be interrupted so you can string thoughts and sentences together.
  • A writer’s retreat refreshes your creative soul as cliched as that sounds.

But going on a solo writing retreat takes planning and courage revving.

When I hold retreats for my writers, I prep A LOT.

Holding space for women writers to go deep whether it’s a book writing retreat or an online writing retreat or one of my yearly general creative writing retreats, is work and you have to do that prep work fo yourself

Because a writing retreat is not a vacation! 

Also, if your life is anything like mine, finding an entire week to devote to a writing retreat is as rare as spying a snow leopard, so you want to make the most of it.

Without putting too much pressure on yourself.

Start by asking yourself, why do I want to go on a writing retreat?

Maybe to…

  • Start a project and gain the sweet chug-chug along to the finish line momentum
  • Get a bead on the whole scope of a project — tricky to do when you’ve been writing in small blocks of time
  • Quiet your jittery phone-addled mind so you can have an original thought (you have so many!)
  • Stop putting everything else and your chickens ahead of your writing (fun fact: my bonus son’s girlfriend has a tattoo of a chicken. She loves chickens that much.)
  • Take yourself and your desires seriously because if you don’t, chicken, nobody else will

Now ask your wise adorable self what do I want out of my creative writing retreat?

If you can get away, consider what kind of place would best support you. I’ve been fantasizing for years about being able to write without the Internet, without people, and with nature to walk in right outside my door. Hence my off-the-grid cabin I’m renting.

  • But you may want to go out at night and people watch, take a morning yoga class, or visit museums to conduct research. Get clear on where would support your best writing.

If you can’t get away, what kind of space could you borrow or create at home that would fill this need? Don’t assume because you can’t spend money on a getaway, you have to stay home. Follow your desire!

  • Is a friend going out of town? Could you do an apartment swap with someone? Cat or dog sit for someone? Take over a buddy’s mobile home or tiny house?

If you do need or want to stay home, can you ship your family out? Or sit your roommates down and explain you will be locked in your room in silence? Clear clutter even if that means putting distractions in a closet so you can’t see them.

  • Set super clear parameters with yourself (no house cleaning, no opening the mail, no answering the phone, no letting the cat highjack your time) so you have a sense of containment.

Eliminate ways to numb out aka shadow comforts. I don’t take any wine, tequila, or refined carbs with me on a writing retreat except my favorite popcorn. I want my head to be clear and free from distractions.

  • What would muddle your head or make it easy to escape when your writing gets hard? Can you leave it behind, take it out of the house, or turn it off?

Prime the pump. Do not – I repeat, do not! – go on a creative writing retreat or book writing retreat having not written or even having not thought about your project for weeks or longer. This is a total set-up for frustration and so-called writer’s block. Writer’s block is often “I don’t know what to write” or “I don’t know enough to write this yet” and “I don’t have faith in myself to write this well enough.” You can address all of these potential blocks by preparing ahead of time.

  • Write for fifteen minutes a day and increase by one minute each day. Read material in your field and make notes before bed or on your commute. Make a bullet-point outline for each chapter. If writing fiction, do the first few exercises in Story Genius.

Build-in outdoor time and ways to move. The body needs to move to think.

  • Make sure your writer’s retreat includes time for dance, yoga, walking, running, and/or rolling around on the floor moaning.

Gather supplies. I packed two boxes of books and files to take on my book writing retreat, along with a yoga mat, snowshoes (I’ll be at 10,000+ feet), running shoes, my sketching stuff, and my sweet old dog Stuart. I researched how to sync Scrivener with Dropbox when working offline. Lastly, I brought huge pieces of paper because I love writing out my chapter outlines on big paper and making “cluster” maps.

  • You do not need to pack a lot but give it some thought. What do you really need?

What will satisfy you? This is the question I ask people at my writers retreats to reflect on before we start and again when we end. I tell them satisfaction is not about a particular outcome – finishing a draft, writing brilliantly – because you can’t guarantee an outcome. But what you can guarantee is that you show up for so many hours without multitasking. Or you that you give yourself pleasurable breaks. Or that if the Itty-Bitty-Shitty-Committee gets loud and nasty, you practice self-compassion.

  • Focus on what is enough for you. Name it.

I hope you create a wonderful creative writing retreat for yourself very soon and tell me about it when you do.

And I hope you will join one of my very affordable online writing retreats or one of a book writing retreat soon too!

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