Writing retreats are hands-down my favourite way to make substantive progress on a manuscript.
At one point in my life, I was a single mother of a young child, doing a Masters degree part-time and working a full-time management level job in the non-profit sector. People would say to me “I just don’t know how you do it!” and I would secretly think “Gah, I don’t know either!”
But it’s also true that I had discovered a secret weapon.
I would organize writing retreats for myself.
Not the kind where you spend a month or so in the woods with a group of fellow writers, where there’s a lunch buffet every day (Hello Banff Centre!) or someone brings lunch to your studio door (Hello Yaddo!), but private self-directed retreats that gave me some much-needed alone time with my writing project.
Organizing Your Own Writing Retreats
Here's how I did it…
I would look ahead on the calendar, identify a time when I could arrange childcare for my daughter and book a long weekend.
And I mean “book” as in: outline that sucker in SHARPIE marker on your calendar and don’t let anyone talk you out of it, not even yourself. Especially not yourself.
Once I knew when I could retreat, then I’d find where. There are private retreat centres nearly everywhere, and I’ve used a few of those at times. A lot of them are run by Christian or Buddhist groups and so were set up to provide a place of sanctuary for people to use them for retreat. Sometimes I’ve gone to places requiring silence, or where others are also there on small group retreats.
And sometimes, I booked an AirBnB in a nearby city, or a hotel room with room service in my own city. It depended on what was available and what I could afford at the time. (There was a time in my single mothering days when room service and clean sheets could make me all weepy with joy.)
Those times when I couldn’t afford anything much, I designed my own writing retreat weekend at home. That can also work, if you design it right. (Pro tip: it’s all in turning off the wifi and setting up some great rewards for words/pages written.)
I’ve done this alone and with other people. Going with one or two other writers can provide some great built-in accountability as you meet in the evenings (#winedown) to share how the work is coming along, but working alone can have its own delights. (Staying in your PJs all day, for one. Unless that’s just me…)
While I was working on my first book, my friend Nadine and I would regularly organize writing retreats for ourselves. Nadine wrote a few of the stories in her gorgeous short story collection Blood Secrets on those retreats, and I completed a poetry manuscript. We may or may not have also completed a few bottles of wine.
I remember that at one point, we had all the poems from my emerging poetry collection papering the floor of the retreat house living room to help figure out how to best structure the book. Turns out walking on poems can help you build a table of contents: who knew??
If you’re struggling to find precious hours of concentrated and uninterrupted time to work on your latest writing project, then self-directed writing retreats might be helpful for you too.
My daughter Emma can vouch for this: I was a much better Mummy when I was writing regularly. These retreats were a huge part of how I stayed connected with my writer self in the midst of so much else going on, and helped me remember who I was in addition to being her mom, and the breadwinner, and a daughter, and a team leader, and a volunteer in my community. (I think I need a nap now.)
If you’re open to giving it a try, I’ve prepared a guide to help you structure your own writing retreats to make them satisfying and productive. If you scroll down to the bottom of this page, you can grab a copy for yourself.
I’d love to hear if you organize your own writing retreats – please come find me on Twitter, Instagram or on my FaceBook page. If you'd like to share a photo from your self-directed writing retreat with me (after your retreat, k?), then I’ve got a special gift for you so we can celebrate together! That is a serious offer: because making the time for your writing in the middle of ALL OF THE THINGS going on in your life deserves some real celebration. Remember to be gentle with yourself as you go.
And I’m here to cheer you on: GO TEAM! #writeronretreat