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.

To Progress, Sometimes You Must Retreat

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend (and teach at) the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' 2017 Writing Retreat in Colorado Springs.

The retreat took place at the lovely Franciscan Retreat Center, a beautiful, serene location surrounded by mountains and inhabited by lots of fuzzy deer.

The attendees, fellow presenters Anita Mumm and Susie Brooks, and I spent three days working, learning, and sharing our craft and our stories.

Each morning, after a tasty breakfast, most of us gathered for a teaching session--though other attendees set up computers in their rooms, on couches in the comfy lounge, or outside on the retreat center's lovely campus, for private writing time. Afternoon activities included blue pencil critiques, writing classes, and round-table critiques in which attendees both gave and received constructive (and positive) criticism of one another's works.

In the evenings, we gathered in the lounge for readings, talk, and wine (the tasty kind . . . without the "h").

At any hour of the day or night, you could find people writing, editing, or talking through plot points with other writers, either in the lodge or on one of the center's many lovely trails.


Did I mention there were deer?





We laughed. We talked. We worked on our stories. We let the "real world" slip away for three delightful days . Regardless of the jobs we do or the lives we led below the mountain, for this delightful, peaceful weekend, we were writers . . . first and only.

The atmosphere was encouraging, invigorating, and inspiring--just the thing to shake loose blocks and get the writing gears in motion.

Also, they had deer. Yay, deer!






Writing is mostly a lonesome art. Unless you write with a partner (and often, even if you do) you probably spend a lot of hours alone at your desk--or wherever you write--creating words in a kind of artistic vaccuum. This doesn't bother most of us - writers are often introverts - but even the most introverted of writers can benefit from time in the company of others who share our peculiar, solitary art.

Hence the title: sometimes, a retreat may provide precisely the atmosphere and inspiration you need to move forward with your writing. Although they do cost money, retreats pay enormous dividends in craft improvement, professional connections, and inspiration. It's easy to let the needs of the world come between you and your writing, and a retreat is often the best prescription for writers suffering from self-doubt or flagging strength.

If you can, I hope you attend the RMFW 2018 retreat--and if you can't, I hope you can take the time to retreat on your own, or with a group of writers close to you. I think you'll find the benefits well worth while.

Have you attended a writing retreat? I'd love to hear about your experience too! 

Writing Retreats: An Experience and an Invitation

Writing retreats…they beckon some of us and frighten others. Each is unique and the decision to retreat or not to retreat is deeply personal.

My own retreat experiFB_IMG_1440138334406ence, until last year, was limited. Hamstrung for years by my introverted nature, I participated only in gatherings with my critique group. Every other year or so, we would get together for a long weekend to write and discuss story ideas and plot issues. In 2015, I stepped outside my box and attended a retreat in Ireland.

There were several factors that were key in my retreat selection. With limited funds, I considered only retreats that were small in number that would feel comfortable, would have workshops with real benefits for me, and that would be worth the expense. Ireland Writer Tours fit perfectly.

The group was limited to twelve participants, a manageable number for my social level. I’ve grown from the introvert I once was but still prefer smaller groups. An added bonus was that I knew others who were going. The instructors were fellow members of RMFW and it was soon evident that others I knew were attending.

As well, I was well acquainted with the teaching skills of both instructors (Heather Webb and Susan Spann). Their strategy of learning the needs of each participant and tailoring their topics to fit our ne20150817_070143_000eds appealed to me. I knew this wouldn’t be a cookie-cutter retreat full of classes that would target only beginning craft or general technique.

Finally, this retreat was special. It was in Ireland, a place on my travel list, and it included workshop days and touring days, all for a very reasonable price. Sure, there was airfare but I would have the chance to see Ireland as well as experience a writing retreat. I could add on extra days to see more of the country and non-writer traveling partners could be included. Hotel and many of the meals were included. Dollar for dollar, compared to other retreats I had looked at, this was a great value.

In fact, Fiona Claire, owner of the tour company that offers the retreat, planned the tour exactly to offer the experience I was looking for. Claire, a writer herself, attended a writers’ conference in the U.S. and was realized the literary festivals then offered in Ireland seemed solely seminar-based versus having the unique combination of learning, energy, interaction, and fun she experienced at the conference. Upon investigating other options, she noted, “…most international writers’ retreats are about writing only. You sit. You write. Someone talks. And then in the afternoon, you’re free to toodle around Dublin or Santorini or Florence on your own. The next morning, you get up and do the same thing all over again. No change of scenery. No one shows you anything about the place you’re visiting except maybe where the bathrooms are.”

20150819_084523_000Claire decided to combine the best aspects of U.S. writing conferences with her tour business. “I decided to start my own writers’ conferences here in the country I love and know quite well. But these would be different. They’d include fun and tours, along with all the usual writers’ conference stuff.” But she went one step further. “Putting together an international writers’ conference involves a huge amount of work, and, unless maybe you’re someone like Cheryl Strayed, they are not profit-making ventures. They’re also nasty-expensive for participants, averaging between $2,500 to $3,000 U.S. dollars, and up, plus airfare. I wanted to put together something a writer without a trust fund could afford, but would also offer great value.”

The result was Ireland Writer Tours. Her goal was to combine tour sights that were favorites with travelers who’ve CIMG3056booked with her before with workshops and editing offered by authors whose work she enjoys and who also happen to be dynamite teachers. “My dream is that these retreats/conferences/tours (they’re actually all three combined) will be a huge boost for all the participating writers. I want them to leave Ireland feeling like they’re not only better writers, but they’ve also just had the best time of their lives.”

I returned home feeling she had accomplished just that.

My trip began with extra days in Dublin, seeing big-city sites, museums, and getting a feel for the country. Then, I travelled to Galway for the retreats itself. Our touring days were filled with medieval abbeys, ancient stone circles, castles, and magical forests. We saw ancient burial mounds, the famous Cliffs of Moher, and visited the Aran Islands. There were pony-cart rides, pubs with thatched roofs, and dinner at a haunted castle. In between, there were days packed with writing workshops tailored to meet our special needs, feedback on our manuscripts, and one-on-one interaction. We spent time writing alone and socializing with fellow writers. Projects were jump-started and friendships cemented.

20150822_110243_006For me, the experience was rewarding and unforgettable…so much so that I accepted an offer to return in June of 2016 as an instructor and encouraged fellow Denver author Janet Lane to do the same. We’re hoping some of our fellow Colorado writers and those reading today’s blog will join us. We’d also love to have you spread the word to others who might be interested as well as to share and tweet about the opportunity. If you’ve thought about retreating, I encourage you to take a deeper look at Ireland Writer Tours.

Though many of you already know the two of us, here’s a bit more about us and our retreats.

Pamela Nowak is an award-winning author whose novels straddle the fence between historical fiction and romance with modern issues woven into the stories. Her extensive experience with small press and self-publishing, as well as teaching credits, means she comes to this retreat ready to share loads of knowledge about not only the craft of 20150816_092655_000writing, but also how to open doors to publication. Pam was the 2010 RMFW Writer of the Year. Her 2008 release, CHANCES, was named one of the “101 Best Romances of the Past Ten Years” by Booklist, and her 2015 release, ESCAPING YESTERDAY, has received critical acclaim. Pam’s co-instructor is Kate Brauning, author of young adult fiction and a senior editor at Entangled Publishing. Pam and Kate will teach on Choosing Your Path: Craft, Career, & Publishing June 5-11, 2016. Registration for this session closes April 1.

Janet Lane is an editor and a multi-published, Amazon bestselling author. Her novels have been traditionally and independently published in the medieval romance and contemporary women's fiction genres. She graduated with honors from the University of Colorado, where she completed the creative writing program. Her workshops cover all aspects of the writing craft, as well as practical strategies for self-promotion for both traditional and independently published authors. She is a contest judge and staff blogger for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a national writer’s group. Her novels, TABOR’S TRINKET and TRAITOR’S MOON have received numerous national and international awards. Janet’s co-instructor is Dianne Salerni, fantasy and YA historical author. They will teach on Character, Conflict & Stakes: How to Grab the Reader and Never Let Go, August 21-28. Registration for their session closes in June.

More information about the tours can be found on the tour website: