Finding uninterrupted time to focus on your craft is tough. That’s why attending a writing retreat or residency is often a highlight of a writer’s year.
But if right now isn’t the right time to head away for a writing retreat or residency, that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy uninterrupted time on your work.
You can create your own DIY writing retreat without even having to leave home.
Is a DIY writing retreat right for you?
Before planning your own DIY retreat, make sure it’s right for you. Decide what you’d like to gain from the experience and evaluate if you can get that experience from a DIY retreat or if another option would be better.
If you’re yearning for some uninterrupted time to work on a project or time to do some deep thinking about your next career steps, a DIY retreat could be perfect for you.
But if the primary reason you want to go on a writing retreat or residency is to meet other writers and creative types, a DIY writing retreat will likely not offer the results you’re looking for.
Get the timing right
When you’re planning your DIY retreat, try to pick a time when life is a little slower.
Select a time when you don’t expect to be working a lot of overtime, or you’re not going to be busy preparing for holidays or other events. Maybe even pick a time when the kids are away at camp or at Grandma’s house.
Whatever time you choose, the most important thing is to put it on your calendar. Respect the time you set aside for your DIY retreat just as you would if you were traveling to a formal, organized retreat.
It’s easy to say you’ll spend all weekend on your DIY retreat, but then the dishwasher needs unloading, piles of laundry need folding, your mom’s calling to chat, there’s a game on the TV, a friend wants you to come over for a barbecue, and the farmer’s market sounds inviting.
No matter how tempted you are by these distractions, stick to your original plan. If you don’t carve the time out of your life for a DIY retreat, you won’t find it. Let people know you’re unavailable. You already have a commitment: your retreat.
If a whole weekend seems like too much time to set aside, consider planning a mini-retreat. Spend an afternoon at a coffee shop or bring your notebook to the local park to have a quick mini retreat.
Select a location
Now that you’ve decided when to have your retreat, you have to decide where.
Some people work best holed up in the basement with no distractions, while others work best in beautiful surroundings.
If home is distracting, consider getting a room in a nearby hotel. The less time you spend traveling, the more time you can spend writing and indulging in deep thinking.
Make sure you’ll be comfortable and undisturbed and will have easy access to food, exercise, and anything else you need to get the most out of your time.
If creativity or deep thinking is your main objective, consider a camping and journaling retreat. Go camping, bring a Moleskin and pen (or your trusty laptop), and get all your thoughts down on paper.
You can even combine this with a home or hotel retreat by taking a few hours to be out in nature with pen and paper to gather your thoughts and ideas.
Set a goal
To make the most of your time, take a few minutes to decide what you’d like to accomplish.
Your goal could be outlining a new chapter of your book, writing a few poems, or putting together a fellowship application.
You could work on a new longform article, put together a list of pitches, or write 5,000 words of your romance novel. Whatever you’d like to do, decide ahead of time and focus on it.
You can always change your goal as you go, but having one to start with is helpful. You can’t reach it if you don’t have it.
Consider writing your goal on a whiteboard or large piece of paper and having it nearby so you can remind yourself about why you’re doing in this retreat.
Whether you’re staying at home or moving to a new venue for your retreat, be sure to gather all your materials. Bring your laptop and charger, a favorite Moleskin and pens. Consider an adult coloring book or yoga mat or another favorite item to fire up your creativity.
Plan a schedule and stick to it
You only have a limited amount of time for your retreat, so plan to use it wisely.
Before you begin, make a schedule of how you’d like to spend your time. Allocate time for brainstorming and creativity exercises along with dedicated time to work on your goal projects.
Be sure to schedule breaks into your day for meals and chances to recharge. Your brain won’t work as well when your stomach’s empty.
Turn off the Wi-Fi. Turn off your phone. The world won’t end if you take a few hours off.
If you’re worried about urgent messages, check your phone every few hours or use your phone settings to allow only calls from certain numbers, like specific family members.
Ask important people ahead of time to only call you in an emergency, just as they would if you were away at a writing retreat or vacation without cell phone coverage.
Don’t fall into an internet black hole while you’re writing. If you need to look something up for your draft, make a note and look it up later. It’s too easy to look up one little thing and then see an email and check the weather and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour online.
After the retreat, take time to review (and schedule your next retreat)
Spend the last few minutes of your retreat assessing how it went. Were you able to accomplish your goals? If no, why not? Were you distracted? Did you not have enough time? Did you have a comfortable space? Were you procrastinating?
Taking some time to think about (and perhaps journal) what went well and what you’d like to do differently next time. Then get your next retreat right onto your calendar.
Have you ever planned a DIY writing retreat? What did you do to protect your time?