I’m feeling that December frenzy. Holiday prep stuff. Work is hectic. Company is coming. All the to-dos and who-tos and yoo-hoos are piling up. There’s lots of jolly good and fa-la-la joy… BUT:
All I really want to do is finish my problem child novel. The one that’s been tormenting me for a good part of this year.
Which has me dreaming of going on a writing retreat. I’ve been lucky enough to go on three this year. I’m greedy that way. These were all personal retreats, planned by us, not an organization. Each one had at least one other VCFA grad there. I guess we know what we want. And each one included friends from all over the country–and even the wider world.
The wonderful thing about planning your own retreat is, you get to plan it. The harder thing is, you get to plan it.
Some things to think about:
- Convenient travel location. It doesn’t necessarily have to be close to everyone or even anyone; but it should be easily accessible. Pick a place within an easy distance to drive or near a major travel hub. Getting there shouldn’t feel close to impossible.
- Places to walk (or sit) outside. For me, it’s important to have some kind of access to fresh air and outside explorations. A nice walk is an important balance to sitting and writing whether it’s for a solitary stroll or a group walk-n-talk.
- Not too interesting. It’s good to stay somewhere interesting–but not so interesting it serves as a distraction from writing.
- Beds. Depending on the closeness of your group, as well personal idiosyncrasies, be sure to have enough beds and space to work around different sleep schedules.
- Work space. Personally, I think having separate work spots is more important than separate sleeping arrangements. I think it’s hard to work with someone else’s creative energy too close to mine.
- I’ve found four to five days, depending on the impact of travel, to be the perfect amount of time. A weekend is too short to settle in and feel comfortable, but fatigue and the disruption of ordinary routines can start wear you down. I usually get homesick on day three, then reinvigorated on day four and then end up in a good spot of feeling both accomplished and ready to go home.
- It can be a hassle to plan, but it is worth the pain to think ahead. Everyone needs to eat, but the food preparation can’t take precedence over the reason everyone is there.
- Generally it seems to work if breakfast and lunch are DIY and dinners are shared. One group decided to go out to eat for dinners–although we ended up with enough leftovers that we stayed in, also.
- It’s possible to assign different meals to different people, but I’ve found it to be that some people like to cook and others don’t. The non-cookers can prep and clean-up. Talk about realistic expectations before you are all starving and suffering from creative brain overload.
- Eating together builds community and camaraderie.
- Have a balance of healthy and naughty snacks!
- I think it’s nice to be somewhat familiar with each other’s work.
- If at all possible, share pages and/or a summary ahead of time. Not to critique, or even formally discuss, simply knowing what the others are working on adds a deeper dimension to the experience–and allows for more focused conversations.
- Book club! It can also be nice to read a book or two in common in preparation, simply to have a starting place for discussion. Or, for my picture book focused retreat, we brought an enormous stack of books to read and study.
- Goal setting. It’s good to start the retreat with setting goals. Think measurable and realistic.
- Some groups only want time to write.
- Having a set schedule–with room for flexibility and adjusting–allows for greater productivity. If you only have a certain number of alone hours, you’ll be more likely to use them for writing, as opposed to if you feel as though you have an endless amount of hours to fill. Brains need breaks and variety.
- Take advantage of having access to other people’s brains. The shared collective think tank is a powerful thing!
- It can be really interesting and helpful if each person leads a conversation or activity–again, planning ahead is key. It doesn’t have to be formal or complex, it’s just so enlightening to learn how someone else thinks and works.
- Readings. Make time to listen to each other’s work. No critiques, just reading.
- Downtime is crucial too.
- It can be an emotional experience to do good hard work with others. I think it’s good to have some kind of cumulative send-off in which everyone shares what they’ve accomplished and what they plan to do next.
- After every retreat, I always end up thinking about my friends’ stories along with my own. I love to hear updates and progress reports.
- Schedule check-ins, with one person serving as organizer.
What did I forget? What do you think is key to a successful retreat?