Mar 14 2019
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DIY writing retreats: When, why, and how

Adapted from a 2017 Center post about what to consider when planning your own writing getaway, in the absence of opportunities that meet all your needs.

Writing getaways can be incredible experiences for building a community around words and your writing practice. Some are quite affordable, with extras like meals and opportunities for fitness and exploration built right into the registration fee. Many offer both group and private instruction for a nice balance of camaraderie and the solitude that’s so vital to creation. Some retreats take place in luxury hotels, while others are more rustic.

That retreat in Prague sounds amazing, right? If you can afford to go to Prague this year, or ever.

That residency in the mid-Atlantic is driveable, but it’s for two weeks. You can’t leave your job and children for two weeks!

The weekend conference right in your city lists among its faculty some of the most recognizable writers in the country…in fiction. You’re working on a memoir.

What to do?

First of all, congratulations for seeking out a dedicated place to get some writing done. Retreats, residencies, conferences—these present opportunities to accomplish lots of writing and be inspired by a diverse group of writers at all levels of experience; investing in them can enrich your practice. Obviously, we would love for you to come write with us at our own retreat offerings!

But investing is more doable for some of us than for others, and can mean different things to different people. Sometimes, we have scheduling, budgetary, or health issues holding us back. Sometimes, we have to create our own opportunities. At the Center, we just want writers to write! So here are some tips on when, why, and how to create your own writing retreat, your way:

When you’ll know it’s time for a retreat

When your work-in-progress is literally all you can think about, it’s time to give it some space, time, and attention.

When you’ve been looking at retreat opportunities for a long time, but you can’t find anything that speaks to you, or that aligns with both your needs and your means, it’s time to write out those needs and think creatively about how you can meet them within your means.

When you feel stuck, it’s time to try something new.

Why to plan your own writing retreat or getaway

A DIY retreat is based exclusively on your own schedule and goals. If you already have next Monday off work, plan a three-day weekend getaway with the goal of getting three chapters written and three revised. If you know the kids will be at their grandparents’ from Saturday at 5 until Sunday at noon, get organized that night and block off dawn until just before lunch for an immersive writing session. You could even tack an extra day or two onto an already scheduled vacation or getaway, just for your writing. This is YOUR time. How can you make it work for YOU?

How to create a personal writing retreat: Three fundamentals

First, you want to change your scenery somehow. If you always write at home, go to the park or a coffee shop, or check into a hotel or AirBnB, or house-sit for a friend, or simply set up a work space in a different room of your home. Whatever your means, whether you can or want to spend money on this space or not, find a spot that isn’t your usual one.

Second, you need to bring your self-discipline. Unplug from other devices, steer clear of social media or even the internet in general, and stay on task. Let your people—your spouse or partner, children, relatives, boss, etc.—know that this is your time for writing. You will not be available from X to X. You are not answering work email. You have left the proverbial building. Whether you’re holed up with your iPad in your basement for an hour or doing a week-long stint at a Super 8 two towns over to finish your novel, you can’t and won’t be lured back from your retreat before the predetermined end time for anything short of an emergency. Letting the relevant people in your life know your plans not only limits the number of distracting calls and texts you’ll get while retreating, but it gives some intentionality, some accountability, to your efforts as well.

Third, find and concentrate on what inspires you. Put together a “kit” of inspirational images, memes, quotes, prompts, favorite pens, a beloved notebook, thought-provoking objects (rocks, a sentimental knick-knack, anything!) and use it to jump-start your DIY session. If you can channel your inspiration during a dedicated, distraction-free time slot, who knows what you can accomplish?

If you can achieve these three things—a change of scenery, self-discipline, and channeled inspiration—the rest of your planning will be purely logistical. Good luck!

Have you or will you ever make your own writing retreat? Let us know in the comments!

Related reading: Write more and better by embracing quiet

How to make more time to write (and why it’s probably not a time problem you have)

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