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Writing Retreat: How to DIY

I think every writer has, at some point, maybe a point surrounded by dirty dishes and a whining toddler, wanted to get away on a writing retreat.  I find myself pining for a quiet cabin in some remote woods, surrounded by writers (at nice, comfortable distances from me and one another) who are as engrossed in their own words as I am, tapping away on keyboards and making notes in big, full notebooks.  Maybe we'd meet up for dinners and have long discussions during hikes in aforementioned remote woods.  Maybe we'd make new friends.  Maybe we'd learn new things.  Maybe we'd just get uninterrupted time to write until our fingers cramped up and refused to type another word.

Unfortunately, time and finances don't always allow for a writer to get away in order to submerge herself in a formal writers' retreat.  However, with a little creativity...

...Backstory.  My husband is a Navy Reservist.  He's gone at least one weekend a month and 4-6 weeks a year.  So I'm Mom in Charge at home a lot.  For weekends that, when he's home, we're splitting parenting duties and I can steal an hour or two to write.  So we agreed that, after a couple years of this action, I'd earned a weekend away.

I knew what I wanted to do.

Create my own writing retreat.

So I did--a couple weeks ago my Best Writing Friend and I took a weekend away to hide in the duneland near Lake Michigan and write.  And write.  And hike.  And write.

My DIY How-To

First:

Decide--go it alone, or find a friend/friends?  When I mentioned my plan to BWF, she was in in a heartbeat.  Here's the thing--we're both introverty types who can happily work side by side without feeling the need to talk.  We were both committed to lots of time writing, with some scheduled non-writing outdoors time and could agree on things like eating dinner out and then splitting a bottle of wine.  Sometimes your friends and your goals fit; sometimes they don't.  If they don't, it might be better to go it alone.

Second:

Find a location.  Home is unarguably the cheapest, but since mine is inhabited by a toddler, three needy cats, and a laundry list of chores (including laundry), it's also not the most suited to productivity.  Plus, for my BWF and I, we wanted to find a place that was between our houses.

Things that we looked for:

  • Quiet, with nearby natural awesomeness for hiking breaks.  We wanted to split our time between writing and recharging, so chose a location in the Lake Michigan Dunes area.
  • Lodging with places to write as well as, well, sleep.  This was harder than I had thought--I had planned to find a state park lodge, which tend to be inexpensive but full of public spaces so you're not stuck in your room if you want to write at the hotel.  They apparently don't exist in the area we wanted to go.  So we found an independent inn with a large two-story lobby, niches with chairs and tables around the place, and desks in the rooms.  Not perfect.  But better than it could have been.
  • Nearby town with restaurants and coffee shops.  We didn't want to go the "granola and cereal bars" route.  And though we did find a hotel with plenty of places to write, we both agreed that finding a coffee shop to camp out in was helpful.
Third:

Goals make you soar....like a juvenile bald eagle.
Awkward transition win.
Set on your goals and, ideally, set a schedule.  We were both starting new projects, and agreed that we would devote the mornings to writing only, would break for lunch and a hike, and then write more in the afternoons.

Don't underestimate break times--the recharge of getting out for a (longer than planned...we misread the  map) hike was much appreciated.  (Plus, we geeked out on nature-y things like a juvenile bald eagle, a tree that had been nommed on by a beaver, two sluggish young garter snakes, and wetland plants.) The point of a writing retreat isn't, in my view, just to get tons of words on paper, but to recharge and remind yourself why you love words on paper so much.  Burning yourself out won't lend itself well to that goal.

We agreed as well that evenings were for dinner out and girl time--talking over a bottle of wine about All The Things.  This might not be a consideration with people you don't know well, or if you're by yourself, but we both knew that we would want to spend some quality time talking, and setting aside that time kept us on track during the day.

Fourth:

Stick to it!  Make it happen!

Have you ever been to a formal writing retreat, or made one happen for yourself?

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