How to Pull Off a One-Day Writing Retreat

This November, I participated in NaNoWriMo with the goal of finishing the first draft of my next novel. I had a disadvantage, though, because I had family visiting for a week at the end of November. Unsure if three weeks would be enough to finish my draft, I decided to try something new at the end of those three weeks: a one-day mini-retreat.

I checked into a hotel at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday and checked out at 11:00 a.m. the following day. In that time, besides getting eight hours of sleep and eating two meals, I wrote over 12,000 words and got my first draft finished. It was easy, cheap, and invaluable—here’s how I did it.

  1. Get a room. It’s important to get away from your natural habitat, and all the distractions that come with it. If you can afford it, get a hotel for the night. Join hotel loyalty programs like I did, and put your points toward your retreat. If you can’t swing it financially, try a cheaper alternative like Airbnb, or ask a friend if you can hole up in their guest room for a night.
  2. Plan your meals. Snacks are fine, but you can’t get through a write-a-thon on protein bars alone. You need real food to keep those creative juices flowing. If you get a hotel with a fridge and microwave, you can bring leftovers to reheat between writing stints. Or, if there are restaurants near your hotel, you can take a break to grab dinner.
  3. Plan your words, too. When I’m struggling to get words on the page, the problem is never my typing speed—rather, it’s a lack of ideas. Set yourself up for success by mentally diving into your WIP the night before. Think about what you want to work on during your retreat. Make a list of scenes you could write, settings that need descriptions, or characters that need development. When you begin your retreat, you won’t have to waste any time thinking about what to write—just review your list and get to work.
  4. Ditch distractions. When you arrive at your retreat, set the tone for the rest of your stay by organizing your new space, settling in, and writing. For me, this meant clearing the coffee tray and phone from the desk, setting up my laptop, filling my water bottle, and turning on my favorite ambient sounds for writing (they’re Harry Potter-themed, and you can find them here). Don’t turn on the TV. Don’t check your email or Facebook. If needed, send a text message to your loved ones—then silence your phone and put it somewhere out of sight and out of reach.
  5. Adjust your goals as you go. You should go into your retreat with some idea of what you want to get done—preferably, something ambitious yet reasonable. For me, it was writing 9,000 new words. When I hit 9,000 at 9:00 a.m. Saturday, I could have given myself a pat on the back and left early. Instead, I set a new goal: 3,000 more words before checkout at 11:00.
  6. Take breaks. Writing is hard, and exhausting. I kept a pace of about 2,000 words per hour in the first two hours of my retreat, then slowed to half that in the third hour. I realized I was starting to lag; I needed a break to recharge. I stopped for dinner and a shower, then returned to the novel with renewed energy. Don’t feel bad taking breaks—in fact, you should plan to. But you should also plan when the break will end, and hold yourself to it.
  7. Push yourself. This retreat isn’t supposed to be relaxing. You’ll be drained by the time it’s over, but you’ll also have some major progress on your WIP. Be prepared to work hard. Then, when it’s over, celebrate.

WHEN, WHERE, and HOW do I write a book?

I’ve been so busy writing, editing, and reading, I almost forgot about this blog.

 

WHEN:

A wise friend of mine said to me, “Time is there, you just have to take it.”

If you have trouble with it, then tough. That’s right, I said it—tough! Too many writers use lack of time as an excuse not to write. When you say you don’t have the time, what you are really saying is, “Something else is more important right now than writing.” ~Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D

Create a schedule (please don’t forget about pets, spouses, children, and a steady income).

An old song’s chorus begins like this: "To everything there is a season..." Be sure this is the right season for you to write an entire manuscript. If not, one suggestion is keeping separate files for future characters, settings, plots, etc.

If you ride a bus to and from work, well, there you have it.

 

WHERE:

Be prepared to write wherever you may safely do so. Jeffery Deaver writes in his office in the dark. The only light is from two computers, one for internet use and one for writing. Anne Perry often writes (by hand) overlooking a beach.

“When you’re reading, you’re not where you are; you’re in the book. By the same token, I can write anywhere.” ~Diana Gabaldon

 

HOW:

Invest in you. Join RMFW for classes, retreats, conferences, blogs, critique groups, or monthly presentations. There are many incredible authors (traditionally published and self-published) willing to help—check out the wealth of education, knowledge, and experience our members have.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.” ~Stephen King

“You start at the end, and then go back and write and go that way. Not everyone does, but I do. Some people just sit down at the page and start off. I start from what happened, including the why.” ~Anne Perry

Be observant. “You see something, then it clicks with something else and it will make a story. But you never know when it’s going to happen.” ~Stephen King

Participate in RMFW’s NovelRama. “25,000 words in 4 days. Because you can.”

Invest in your Writing Career

If you didn’t attend the 2017 Annual Education Event last month in Golden, take a moment to kick yourself. Really.

The event was nearly sold out, and if not for a last minute storm that came through it would have been a tight fit to get everyone in, and for good reason. With a morning panel of published author, editor and agent, a small publisher speaking at lunch, and a panel of self-publishing experts in the afternoon, the full range of publishing options was well represented. We had lively Q&A sessions, specific information on what works and doesn’t straight from the editor and agent, and step-by-step instructions and timelines on self-publishing. It’s rare to have this many experts all in one place and those of us who braved the weather were well rewarded.

I often hear writers say they don’t go to workshops or conferences, or join groups like RMFW because they “can’t afford it.” I say if you want to be a published author, either traditionally or self, you can’t afford not to. Often new writers finish a story and think that because they got to “the end” it’s ready to go, only to be heartbroken when they can’t get an agent or publisher interested, or their 150,000 word tome sits on the Amazon shelf and doesn’t sell a single copy.

Attending education events can prevent heartache, and heartburn, by getting you to the place where you’re ready to submit or self-publish. It allows you to network with other writers, hook up with critique groups, and hear how other authors have overcome problems with their books. Big events like Colorado Gold have dozens of workshops that let you focus on areas you might be weak in, or you don’t know about.

Going it alone, trying to save a few bucks, will cost you in the long run. Cut back on a latte or two each month, watch network movies instead of paying for on-demand, have a yard sale and dedicate the profits to paying for a conference, or find some other non-critical habit you can cut back on and SPEND THE MONEY ON YOUR WRITING CAREER, if you actually want a career. RMFW costs $45 annually, and anyone who has attended a workshop that I moderated has heard me say it’s the best $45 you’ll ever spend. Most of our workshops are free. Conference has scholarships, volunteer opportunities, and low cost on-line classes. Genre-specific groups like Sisters in Crime or RWA offer the same things.

I know many writers, including me, don’t have unlimited funds to pay for attending events and classes, travel, software, cover art, etc. But as the adage says, fail to plan and you plan to fail. Set a budget of money you can allocate. Just $10 a month gets you a RMFW membership and you still have more than half of it left over for an on-line class or two. If you can manage $50 per bi-monthly payroll, you’ll have more than enough to attend a major conference each year, plus membership fees for a couple groups. We all have stuff we don’t need – put it on Craig’s List and stash the proceeds in your writing fund. You don’t have to shortchange your family or let bills go unpaid to support your writing habit, you just have to make a plan and stick to it.

It’s time to think about Colorado Gold in September. You still have time to register, but from what I’ve heard they will probably sell out. If you can’t swing Gold, at least get your plan in place going forward. Get the education you need to produce the best possible book you can, and WRITE ON!