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

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

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.

Filed Under: Craft


  • Anita says:

    I attend a writers’ retreat every year with a group of other women writers in Mill Valley CA. We are coming up on our 4th year and have become a close community. I’m one of those who needs silence and solitude to write. But I also need the sharing and feedback of others to find out what I do well and to get better. We meet in a beautiful 100-year-old house with many rooms and lots of nooks and crannies for individual writing time. The property has its own walking trails, bubbling stream and old growth trees! It’s a beautiful experience I allow myself each year with beautiful people.

  • Hans Graf says:

    Great tips…Thanks…

  • I’ve created my own DIY retreats the past two years. They are awesome! I didn’t know how much I needed it until I had one, and now I’ll plan them annually. I like to start my year this way now. I usually just use hotel points, and don’t go too far from home since I’ve just traveled for the holidays. But just being out of your own environment is amazing, even for just a night or two. I would love to attend one of the planned writer retreats or residencies in the future, but for now, I’m making the effort for myself however I can.

    • Brenda Hill says:

      I created my own writer’s retreat thanks to my son who sailed to a rural fishing village in Mexico. He invited me to visit and now I cannot wait to return.

      I stay at a small hostel style guest house. As a travel writer, I prefer to explore new places, however I am returning next month to my secret hideaway for the third year in a row.

      Each year I plan a different writing project to complete in 21 days. The first year I wasn’t disciplined and posted sporadic travel and culinary blogs.
      I also joined an excellent writer’s group.

      Last year I invited my co-author of 16 years to join me
      for one week. (We have published three books in tandem.)

      We made a flexible schedule for 7 days. Rising early for a long walk along the beach, or in the village with our cameras was our cool beginning and exercise.

      Then breakfast at an outdoor cafe that offerrsfree wifi and quiet shady corners. The owners encouraged us to stay to write or interview chefs and authors.
      We would sit for hours with our laptops and write columns for both our websites.

      One day were invited to tour, swim, dine and enjoy the spa at a five star resort in a nearby resort town. This resulted in many travel blogs about luxury travel.

      This year while my associate is cruising the Nile,
      I will travel solo, and begin my memoirs. I have named my next book Morsels, since food and wine will be involved.

      My plan is to begin each day by writing the first draft of each chapter or short story, for 5 days a week. That will be 15 chapters in 21 days.

      Because I am a morning person, I will stop writing at noon to take time for exploring, swimming, siestas, and photography.

      In addition I will hire the excellent editor I know from the writers group when needed.

      A bonus to my writers retreat is the low cost.
      I fly to Mexico with frequent flyer points. By renting a small room with private bath, it costs me less in Mexico than living in my own California home. The private guest house has an outdoor library, with quiet places to write. There is also a pool, sun and shade decks with hammocks, a communal kitchen, and views of the sea.

      The cafes and markets are a few minutes walk.
      I only spend a total of about 12 – 16 US dollars a day, unless I go out for drinks or dinner. The food is delicious and reasonable with tropical ambiance.

      I also go to the local dentist every year at a
      tremendous savings and top notch modern care.

      When I learned that the dentists offer free care to the school children I published the story in a Puerta
      Vallarta newspaper.

      The editor invited me to be a contributing reporter, by writing about other local events such a the annual fashion show, Gerrman beer fest and a restaurant opening. This has helped MeV to learn to speak better Spanish and get to know the locals.

      My experience of creating my own writer’s retreat has resulted in enhancing my career, and my life, in many positive ways.

  • Harish Desai says:

    I have never attended a writing retreat because such things do not happen in my country, India. If at all they are happening, then I have no knowledge of it. In case anyone has any information about writing retreats in India, please let me know.

    • Marie Beswick-Arthur says:

      Perhaps you can be the first to start a small writing group and organize a writing weekend for your likeminded friends/collegues.

      • I agree, Marie! That would be an excellent idea.

        Trish O’Connor
        Epiclesis Consulting LLC
        Freelance Editorial Services, Retreats, and Writer’s Resources

  • Retreats of various kinds are a great way to stimulate the mind and uplift the spirit! I’m overdue for one now, and need to start making plans. (It’s kind of sad when someone who gives retreats for others gets behind on her own retreat time, but I suppose that is the way of things.)

    If you are trying to put together a group retreat but don’t know where to begin, you might want to check out the “Retreat Planning Tips” on my website. (I claim no monopoly on the information. You can find useful suggestions and checklists other places, too. That’s just one that I know where it is.)

    I wish you all fruitful retreats!

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC

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