We all know how hard it is to set aside time to write around jobs, school, home life and other obligations. When you’re putting in only a few hours of writing a week, it can be hard to feel like you’re getting much done. A few days of uninterrupted writing time can be an absolute godsend* — either to jump-start a new project or round of revisions, to finish a long-standing project, or simply to give yourself the opportunity of focusing solely and completely on your creative work. Over Memorial Day weekend, I decided to get away and go on my first ever solo writing retreat!
*Getting away isn’t always affordable or feasible for everyone, but there are other ways to create time and space for your writing. Check out our earlier post on At-home Writing Retreats to create the magic of a retreat in your very own home!
My only requirements for the location of my retreat were that it was within a 2.5 hour drive and that it was adjacent to some kind of nature — whether that was mountains, forest, river or sea (and yep, all of those things are within a 2.5 hour drive of me #californialife). Since I was going during a holiday weekend, I knew it would probably be tricky to get a good place for a good price, so I expanded my search to places that were less popular destinations. I ended up in a little mountain town about two hours north.
As for the accommodations themselves, I had a lot of specific things I wanted to make sure I would have — after all, most of my time would be spent inside writing. I knew I needed a good workspace, a microwave/coffee machine (if not a stove), and ideally be somewhere isolated, where I had access to nature. Bonus points for an outdoor area shaded enough to write in!
Some people retreat at hotels, but I thought an Air B&B would be cheaper and homier — for some reason I can’t imagine getting writing done in a super austere, anonymous space like a hotel room. But an Air B&B is riskier, because there’s a lot more variation. So I was pretty thorough when checking out each option, making sure they had all the things I required.
- Groceries. Snacks, easy or pre-prepped meals, etc. I brought cheese, bread, yogurts and popcorn to snack on, plus two frozen dinner meals that would be easy to stick in the oven or microwave while I wrote. I also brought a few avocados and lemons to make guacamole, because I wanted a fun activity to break up writing in the afternoon, and I love making guac!
- Internet blocker. My favorite one is Stayfocusd, which lets you set specific sites to block (in case you actually DO need the internet for legitimate, research needs). Or if you really want to get away, you can aim to go somewhere without wifi! Or somewhere you can “lose” the password.
- A book. I brought one I’d been reading on-and-off for the past month — it’s a book I was enjoying, but one that I felt I could put down easily enough. Nothing gets me more jazzed to write than reading, but it can be a problem if the book sucks me in so much that I don’t want to put it down.
- A plan. Whether this is a list of scenes you want to get through editing, a word-count you want to hit, or a list of plot problems you need to solve will depend on what stage of writing you’re in and how you like to work. For me, I was at the very beginning of a new round of revisions, and I knew I needed to turn a new outline in to my agent, so that was my #1 priority. I also knew there were a couple new ideas for the draft I wanted to explore, so I built in time for just brainstorming and thinking. There were also a number of scenes I already knew how to fix, so I added those to the list. Having a solid list of things to accomplish kept me on-task and motivated.
During The Trip
I used my time on the drive up to listen to one of my favorite writing podcasts — (88 Cups of Tea, which is amazing if you haven’t heard it yet!) which I knew would inspire and motivate me for the weekend. I also did some brainstorming in the car. Once I got there, I grabbed an iced coffee at their local coffee shop and got straight to work.
There’s something about being in a brand-new space that really gets the creative juice flowing. Maybe it’s the physical distance from all the chores, errands, and boring regular life stuff. Maybe it’s the unfamiliar sounds and sights (and unexpected earthquakes!) that make it easier to sink into your own fictional world. Or maybe it’s just a simple change in perspective. But I immediately felt more focused, excited, and ready to tackle my revisions.
In my ideal world, I could go on a retreat for a weekend and just work work work for three days straight before coming home to the real world. Unfortunately, that is not how my body or my brain actually work, and breaks are actually a really important part of a successful writing retreat. One thing that helps me make sure I’m taking breaks without sliding into inactivity or procrastination is planning out when and what my breaks will look like. Maybe it’s a half-hour break at 3pm to make chips & guacamole and eat it outside, maybe it’s a morning walk outside before sitting down for the day’s work, or reading a few chapters of someone else’s book before coming back to mine.
After You Return
I didn’t quite finish all the tasks on my list for the weekend, but I felt really good about what I’d gotten done over those three days anyway. The true value of a retreat for me is not just in what I can get accomplish while I’m there, but in the shift in perspective that comes after I get back. Getting a true break from all the stressors of adult life to focus on just my writing is such a gift, and it’s one that I carry with me for days and even weeks after I return.