I am on a writer’s retreat. It’s not an official one, but I don’t care!
What is a writer’s retreat? There are actually several kinds: the writer’s residency, the writers’ workshop, the writers’ conference, and the writer’s retreat. All of them are designed to provide writers (and prospective writers) with space and time to pursue their craft, and perhaps inspiration and instruction. Some of these categories overlap a bit, but let’s tackle them one by one.
Writer’s residencies are perhaps the classiest of all these kinds of retreats. You go to a location like a large house, which you share with other writers-in-residence. Each of you has a separate room and are free to work on your writing as you please. The residency lasts for anywhere from a week to a month or two. The one catch is that, because residencies are so sought-after, you have to apply to get one, and the competition is fierce. So it’s not the kind of thing you can plan on and, as we’ll see, planning is one of the primary prerequisites of getting the most from your desk-away-from-desk.
A writers’ workshop is the place to go if you already have a work-in-progress, but are stalled. These are a combination of critiques and feedback on your work and some writing classes to help you improve it. These are typically held over a long weekend and may take place at a college or university. They’re a particularly good deal if you live in the same town. Otherwise, you’ll likely be put up in a student dorm, which is why they’re usually held during school breaks.
Like workshops, these are often held over a long weekend. Unlike workshops, though, there are usually industry professionals like agents and publishers in attendance. Frequently, there are professional writers there too. The pros give little mini-seminars on various aspects of writing or getting published. If you’re really lucky, you may be able to sign up for one of the spots on a speed-dating sort of consultation with one or more of them and pitch your idea or get feedback on what you should do next. There could also be interactive writing sessions, in which, for example, you have half an hour to write to a prompt then share your work with the others in your group.
Writers’ retreats can last for a week or a weekend. They provide a secluded location, often very scenic, where you can write for hours without distractions, other than going out to stroll about the aforementioned scenery to get inspiration. These can be solo affairs or be open to several writers, who generally write all day (or night) and gather for meals and perhaps sharing sessions. Writers’ retreats are sometimes held in really classy locations – in another country or overlooking a fantastic beach, for example. Hence, they can be quite pricey.
DIY Writer’s Retreat
The DIY writer’s retreat is when a writer retreats (duh!) to a secluded location near their home – a local hotel, for instance, and holes up writing for however long they can afford to stay. There are also stay-at-home versions which require that you have at least a room with a door, no children, and no phone (or your cell turned off).
There are several ways a writer can sabotage their own writer’s retreat, though. Sitting staring at the computer (or legal pad, if you’re a poet or merely old-fashioned) is one. Giving in to distractions is another. It’s best if you have a plan in place – a certain number of hours to write every day, an outline to show you where you’re going, or other way to organize your time and work. A DIY retreat doesn’t work for everyone, needless to say, but it’s by far the cheapest way to retreat, unless you run up a whopping hotel bill (which is still cheaper than the kind held in exotic places). And there is no feedback from other writers unless you have a regular writers’ group that meets during or afterward.
I’ve had my own personal 10-day writer’s retreat this past week-and-a-fraction. I did have one distraction – three cats who were pests when it came to getting their noms on time. It’s a pet-sitting gig for friends in another state who have gone on a cruise and didn’t feel comfortable boarding their little darlings. I had a plan – one writing session in the morning and another in the afternoon, with evenings free for research and relaxing and practicing my catspeak (meow, meh, ma-aa, aa-aa). I’m writing this during a morning session. That’s my plan and I have stuck to it, except for a long lunch with a nearby friend that spilled over into the afternoon.
And I have had specific projects to work on. I’m doing ghostwriting right now and have two overlapping projects. Mornings were for working on the book about pets and the afternoons for the self-help book. (I’ve finished the pet book, so I’m writing this during a morning session.) And the outlines were largely laid out for me, so I could just write away. The only phone calls were from my husband.
Fortunately, when I get back home, I do have a study with a door I can close, and our cats, while annoyed about not being able to get to their favorite window perch, have other perches and other windows available to them. It’s a bit noisier when my husband gets home from work, but hey, you can’t have everything. I’ve enjoyed this break enormously, though I don’t expect to have the opportunity to do it again soon. It’s even harder to get pet-sitting gigs than ghostwriting gigs!