Finishing Things Up
Jet Lag

The Art of Retreating

Travel_paris_france_942640_hI'm in France, embarking on a week-long writing adventure, co-leading a workshop/retreat.  (Not to make you jealous or anything.)  There's probably nothing more invigorating for your writing than to get away with the specific intent to write.  And, if you struggle to find time to write in your daily schedule, a retreat can offer that time.  I have a client who gets all his work done on his novel by taking writing retreats every month or so.   Here are some ways to accomplish this:

1. Find an organized retreat, where a group of people comes together to create time to write. Sometimes other activities are planned and in most cases, these activities are optional, should the writing be going well. You can find listings at Shaw Guides, or if you're looking for the best of both worlds--instruction and time to write--check out my retreats at Let's Go Write.   (We're heading overseas again in 2014, possibly to Italy, so stay tuned.)

2. Band together with a group of friends and create your own retreat, as I have done on several occasions. Going in a group can reduce expenses considerably, and the camaraderie after writing sessions are over is priceless. Some writers like to read their work at night, either what they've been writing that day, or finished work, and some prefer to keep to themselves and ponder the next day's session. You can rent a house, stay in a bed and breakfast, or find a resort. Just make sure everybody is clear on the ground rules from the outset.

3. Design a personal writing retreat. When you're coming down the home stretch on a project, going off by yourself to work on it can help you finish. Hours of solitude devoted only to your writing fuels a lot of inspiration. Find an inexpensive room in a nearby city and take yourself away to work. I have a friend who often takes personal writing retreats at a college town, because accommodations are plentiful. Resort towns in the off-season are also good. Or check out this site for more options.

4. Go to a writer's colony. This is a bit different in that there will be an application process involved. Writers apply for residencies of anywhere from a week to several months, and in many cases, meals and everything you need are provided. Competition is fierce, especially for the most prestigious colonies, such as MacDowell. But there's also quite a list of lesser-known colonies that might interest you. Either google or check them out here.

5.  If all else fails, design your own retreat while you stay at home.  Inform everyone you know that you'll be focusing exclusively on your writing and then follow through--turn off the phone, shut down the email boxes, refuse to answer the door. Because in reality, retreating is a mind-set more than anything else. It is committing to keeping outside influences at bay while focusing deeply on your own work, that which is most important to you. And that can be accomplished anywhere.

Retreat Guidelines

Once you get there (whether there is across the ocean or behind the doors of your office), here are some guidelines to get the most out of the retreat:

1.  Go with a specific project in mind.  It is generally best to stick to working on one thing, but if you have a crazy right brain like me, you might want to bring several.  Retreats are great for making lots of progress on a novel, for instance, or for conceptualizing and get a great start on a short story or essay.

2.  Have a goal in mind.  We start our Let's Go Write retreats with a session in which every participant names their goals.  As with all goals, it is good to be specific.  Not, "make progress on my novel," but "write 8000 words on my novel."

3.  If the muse hits, go with it.  If you're in the flow, don't stop.  Doesn't matter if you are at a retreat with planned activities, go with the flow and get those words on the page.  That's the point, after all.

4.  Don't overlook the power of bonding.  One of the best things about organized retreats is that you'll meet other writers.  Connecting is vital for writers, and something we often overlook in our furious efforts to become good writers.  You can go to a retreat, have plenty of time to work, and still meet other people.  Our Let's Go Write retreats are famous for our convivial Happy Hours.

5. Don't judge by word count alone.  If you don't hit your intended word count, don't brand yourself a failure.   You've probably gained more than you think, because having space and time away from the concerns of day to day life allows the mind to open up and expand.  It is easier to conceptualize, and to look at the big picture. 

Do you take writing retreats?  Do you prefer going in groups or alone?  Leave a comment--I'd love to hear your experiences!

Photo by beggs.

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