A few weeks ago I attended my first-ever writing retreat, organized by my friend and fellow writer Natasha Watts (of RMFW’s Writer’s Rehab). I spent a weekend in a cabin in the Rockies with five other writers, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing life. Here’s what I learned, and what I’ll be doing next time.
1. Have a plan.
To get the most out of your retreat, you should have an idea of what you’re going to work on. This can be a specific goal, such as plowing through 20,000 words of your first draft; or it can be more vague, like researching a new project. Just make sure you spend time before the retreat deciding what you’ll work on, so you don’t waste any of your precious retreat time. It’s also a good idea to have a backup project in case you get burned out on your work-in-progress. For this retreat, my main goal was to make a dent in the next round of revisions on my novel. I also had a couple of short stories to work on when I needed a break from the novel.
One of the biggest draws of a writing retreat is the chance to get away from ordinary life—and all the responsibilities and distractions that come with it. Take advantage of this. This doesn’t mean going completely MIA, it just means scheduling your communications rather than being in touch constantly. Check your phone two or three times a day, and then turn it off. Skype with your family for an hour after dinner, then disconnect from the internet. Don’t get on social media, and certainly don’t stay on it while you’re trying to write. Minimizing these distractions helped me maximize my productivity, and contributed to the overall calm, creative atmosphere of the retreat.
3. Take breaks.
It’s easy to think you’ll spend every waking hour of your retreat toiling diligently on your work-in-progress. But in reality, nonstop writing is rarely the best strategy for your productivity, or your general well-being. Everyone has their limit, and it varies from day to day and project to project. After a few hours of feverish writing on my novel, I sensed when I was running out of steam and allowed myself to take a break—whether to watch a movie, socialize with my fellow retreaters, take a nap, or work on a different project. When I returned to the novel an hour or two later, I was refreshed and recharged enough to dive into it again. And guess what? I made huge strides in my novel revisions, even though I wasn’t working on them 24/7.
4. Be social.
Again, you may envision yourself locked in your room, writing away, for the entire retreat. But try to suppress this urge. One of the main benefits of my writing retreat was the connections I made with fellow writers. Loosely scheduled activities such as hikes, board games, meals together, and critique sessions helped us get to know each other and share valuable writing lessons. We discussed our works-in-progress, time management strategies, conference experiences, and pretty much anything writing-related—which really got our creative juices flowing and lent a great energy to the retreat.
5. Enjoy the view.
You can hole up in a room at your own home—so while you’re on retreat, take advantage of the change of scenery. My retreat took place in a cabin in the mountains, so it was perfect for hiking, hot tubbing, taking photos, and enjoying the view. If you’re in a city, visit museums, art galleries, libraries, and restaurants. Go for walks around a park, zoo, or botanical garden. Take a class or work on an art project. These things will invigorate you and get fresh ideas flowing for your next writing session.
The biggest thing I learned from my first writing retreat is that I have to do it again. I got a lot of writing done, as expected, but I also got so much more out of the experience. If you get an opportunity to do a writing retreat, take it—your muse will thank you.