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A Step-By-Step Guide to Planning Your Writing Retreat

by | Jan 9, 2017

Now that holiday festivities are over and withered, tinsel-clad Christmas trees line the gutters, it’s time to think of warmer things.

While it’s cold and blustery outside, why not skip town for a destination writers retreat?

Winter is the perfect time to head to a warm and sunny locale to focus on your newest creative endeavor. Whether you prefer an organized retreat or residency or a DIY getaway—solo or with pals—you can take advantage of the season to get away, warm up and make some progress on your projects.

Don’t be discouraged if a getaway isn’t in your budget—you can also use these techniques to enjoy a closer-to-home retreat.

Read on to put those New Year’s writing resolutions to work with a focused retreat.

What kind of retreat?

When planning a retreat, the first step is to decide what kind of retreat you’d like.

There is no one right answer. Feel free to mix it up with different retreat styles, sometimes even within the same retreat.

Consider going to an official writers’ retreat or residency. These programs offer various formats and levels of structure. Some have formal workshops, classes and more, while others just offer a space for creativity and leave you to your own devices.

Going to a formal retreat is good if you’re not quite sure what you’re doing or if you’re seeking to meet other writers and work in community (though be sure to check and make sure the type of retreat or residency you’re going to encourages writers and artists to interact regularly if that’s what you’re seeking—some are more hermit-like).

Retreats and residencies have applications and deadlines, so apply now if you’d like to attend one this year. You can subscribe to their email lists and follow them on social media for updates as well.

If you’re looking for something more flexible than a formal structured program, consider a DIY retreat. You can enjoy these self-hosted retreats solo or in conjunction with writer pals.

Solo or with other writers?

Some people need solitude to get their creative juices flowing, while others crave community and co-collaborators to work through ideas with.

When planning your retreat, it’s important to decide if you’d rather have a solo retreat or join like-minded writers for a community-oriented weekend.

You can even try a retreat that includes solo time and group time (consider arriving a couple days early or staying a couple days late for alone time).

If you opt for the group experience, it’s helpful to have a meeting ahead of time to discuss goals.

See how much time everyone wants solo versus together. What will your days look like? How will you collaborate? How much social time will you schedule? Make sure everyone is on the same page and has similar expectations for a successful retreat.

Where to go?

Now that you’ve decided what type of retreat you’d like, it’s time to figure out where you’d like to go. While staying somewhere close to home is always an option, some people prefer to get a bit farther away.

If you’re applying to a formal retreat or residency, you’ll know exactly where you’re going.

But if you’re doing a solo or group DIY retreat, you have the whole world to select from. Figure out how much time and money you (and your retreat mates, if you’re going as a group) have and plan accordingly. Make sure your dates sync up and put it on your calendar as soon as you have a tentative plan.

Warm places are favorite winter getaways, but that leaves a huge range of possibilities, from Hawaii to California to Thailand to Costa Rica. Or you could find a place an hour or two away from home. If you’re far away from warm climates, cuddling up with your laptop by a roaring fireplace is also a great way to thaw out and get some work done.

How much does it cost?

Any writing retreat will have expenses.

If you sign up for a structured program you’ll have to pay program fees as well as transportation and perhaps room and board and other expenses, depending on what the program offers. But if you’re opting for a DIY retreat, you can flex it to your budget.

Teaming up with others and sharing expenses can be a great way to reduce cost. If you’re able to rent a VRBO or Airbnb in a town a few hours away (or even in your own town) and carpool there and cook your own meals, you’ll spend a lot less than if you fly somewhere and stay in an expensive hotel while indulging in constant fine dining.

There’s nothing right or wrong about any approach, just tailor it to the needs of the participants.

Some expenses may even be tax deductible, though you’ll have to check with your tax professional to see what you can legally deduct. Make sure to keep all your receipts and, even if you have a DIY retreat, you may be able to deduct things like pens and notebooks. Check with a pro to find the right information for your specific situation.

Or opt for a staycation writing retreat

If a getaway is not in the budget, or you simply don’t have the time to get out of town, you can still have a rewarding staycation writing retreat.

Consider switching up your surroundings to add to the novelty and spur your creativity. Perhaps go to the coffee shop across town or the library you rarely go to. As long as you switch up your environment and carve out the time, you should be able to find a nearby place that will be conductive to a productive retreat.

How to prepare

Before you head out, make sure you have packed everything you’ll need.

And be sure to have digital backups of any files you might need to refer to during your retreat. You don’t want a technical mishap to spoil your time.

Bring a variety of mediums to spur your creativity, including old fashioned pen and notebook or even some watercolors or another art form to challenge your creative side. If you’ll be working outside, be sure to have everything you’ll need to make the most of it.

If you’re attending a structured residency or retreat, you should receive information on what to do and how to prepare to make the most of your experience. But if you’re DIYing it, make sure to take some time to plan before you go.

First, figure out what you’d like to achieve and set goals for the retreat. If you’re meeting with others, have a group discussion about goals, strategy, scheduling and everyone’s individual needs.

Create an itinerary and schedule planning your time. Block off hours for solo writing, brainstorming, creative outlets, and collaborating. Make sure to schedule time each day to clear your mind, exercise, and enjoy the new environment, whether that means going for a swim or relaxing on the beach for a bit.

Do as much preparation as possible ahead of time so you can maximize the amount of time you spend being creative. If you’re planning on cooking, figure out your meals ahead of time and consider shopping ahead if you’re driving. If you’ll be going out to eat, take some time at home to research restaurants and select a few options so you’re not spending an hour each day poring through restaurant recommendations for a place to eat.

Plan your leisure activities in advance and know what you’d like to do each day other than writing to maximize your time.

Once you’ve planned your retreat, you know what you need to do. Go create!

After you return home, make time to evaluate the experience and see if you’ve met your goals. Figure out what went well and what could have gone better and use that knowledge to plan your next writing-focused getaway.

Have you ever gone on a writing retreat? Share your experiences in the comments below.