Monday, July 06, 2015

The Do-It-Yourself Writers’ Retreat

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Writers’ retreats can be an inspirational and motivating experience, but not every writer has the money or freedom to attend one. But with a little planning and creativity, you can create the writing retreat experience yourself in your home or close by. Hold a solo retreat, or host one for a few writer friends for a more "retreat-y" experience.

For a do-it-yourself retreat, the goal is to create time and space to write, inspire, and motivate yourself. Avoid anything that's going to hurt that goal, and create something you're comfortable with where you'll be able to thrive.

Step One: Determine the Length of the Retreat

Figure out how much time you can dedicate to writing. It could be a day, a weekend, a week—whatever you can spare in your schedule to focus on your writing.

Be realistic about what you can do. If you spend the whole time stressing about not fulfilling other obligations, you won’t get the full benefits of the retreat.

Step Two: Determine the Number of Attendees

Do you want anyone else to join you? Chances are you have local writer friends, or friends close enough to meet you. If you have multiple writers attending, that might open up options on where to go, such as a hotel room or rental space. (You might have to re-evaluate Step One if you add more people).

Step Three: Pick Your Location

Once you know how long and how many, decide on your venue. If it’s just you, where might you write best? Maybe a different room in your home will give you the quiet you need to focus, or you could go to the library, or a coffee shop. A bookstore could also work, if you can resist the urge to browse.

If you have multiple attendees, you might pool your resources and go to a hotel room for the day, or maybe a suite if it fits the budget. There are plenty of reasonable extended stay hotels that can sleep up to six.

Also ask around—someone with enough room can host the group, or you might have friends of family with a possible venue you could borrow.

Step Four: Decide on the Retreat Schedule

Some retreats are all about the writing, while others mix writing with activities and workshops. Decide what you want to accomplish during your retreat and plan accordingly.

Consider setting a goal for the retreat. What are you always wishing you had more time to do? Is there a word count you want to hit? A novel you want to outline or revise? Are there online classes or podcasts you’d like to take or watch? Part of your retreat could be workshops you watch online.

If you have multiple attendees, maybe each person can give a workshop on one of their writing strengths, or share part of their process. You could do writing exercises and word wars, using games and friendly competition to motivate each other (or yourself).

Don’t forget to schedule a little downtime. Occasional breaks are useful to clear your head and let your creative juices refill. Try getting outside as well for a change of scenery and a little physical activity.

Step Five: Lay in Provisions

Since the goal is to focus and write, you want to avoid time wasters like figuring out what to eat or traveling to get food. Have ready-to-go snacks and meals that take little to no preparation. Avoid fast food if possible—give your brain the healthy fuel it needs to work.

For a fun downtime group event, perhaps everyone could prepare a dish, or do a pot luck dinner that only needs re-heating. Don’t forget to ask about food allergies or any special diets.

Step Six: Verify the Logistics

Make sure there are enough electrical plugs for everyone attending. Bring extension cords if needed, and plan ahead for where everyone will write. Are there enough places to sit? Does the venue have wifi? Do you want access to wifi? You might get more writing done without it.

If you’ll have overnight stays, are there enough beds and bathrooms? Will you need to craft a shower schedule so everyone gets hot water? A shortage of bathrooms could mean there won’t be enough time for everyone to get up and dressed in a timely fashion, and that could eat into the writing time.

Step Seven: Commit to Write

It can be hard to carve out time for writing, so give yourself permission to be selfish. This is your time, so it’s okay to ignore family and work and everything else that pulls you away from the keyboard. Make arrangements to be gone so you can relax, knowing everything is being taken care of at home.

If dashing off to a writers’ retreat is impractical for you, try giving a do-it-yourself retreat a chance. The break in your regular routine might be just what you need to reinvigorate your writing.

Have you ever done a retreat? Share your experience! 

Looking for tips on revising or planning your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions! 

Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.

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  1. I've never had the experience, but I like the idea of a do-it-yourselfer.

  2. I've done brainstorming retreats but never a writing retreat. I'd love to do this.

  3. Hello Janice, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your articles. They are easy to read and contain such great advice for improving your writing. Thank you. A writing retreat sounds like a great idea. We've just formed a new writing group, and this would be so fun to do to get to know each other better. I'll suggest it at our next meeting and I'll let you know how it goes. I'm sure we'll have lots to share with you. Cheers, Happy Summer, and Happy Writing.

  4. This is such a great article! I've been wanting to do this, but waiting to find the right group... any takers in Oregon want to pitch in? ;)

  5. This is such a great article! I've been wanting to do this, but waiting to find the right group... any takers in Oregon want to pitch in? ;)

    1. If you haven't yet, go to the NaNoWriMo sites and see what groups are in your area. I found a wonderful group of local writers that way.