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Tuesday, August 19, 2008


One of the great pleasures of my writing career has been my discovery of the writers’ retreat. Now you may read of Writers’ Retreats in writing magazines and online. Many of these offer exotic locations, motivational speakers, gourmet food, brainstorming sessions, massages, workshops, or critiquing. Some offer uninterrupted time in fancy locales. Most of these are very expensive.

It works just as well – ok, better – to find a group of serious, motivated writers – your critique group, perhaps, or people you know reasonably well – and set up your own retreat. It can be a LOT less expensive. The idea is to get away from the everyday and focus on writing. Leave the spouse and kids (promising to make it up to them later when you are relaxed, focused, and elated from your writing progress.) Leave the laundry, the phone, (preferably) the internet, the dust on the furniture, and the soccer games behind. The keys to a successful retreat?

1. Location
Find yourself a comfortable location: cabin, lodge, condo. Look into YMCA facilities (you don't have to be Y, M, or C to rent their cabins and such.) Or maybe someone's mother has a lake cabin (as long as it has electricity!) or a timeshare.

Living near the Rocky Mountains, I am fortunate to have a choice of places. One of my groups rents a basic mountainside "housekeeping" cabin at a YMCA family camp that has about 100 cabins scattered over several mountainsides. Every cabin has mountain views and full kitchens and possible elk sightings. (These are not luxury cabins, but clean and functional with heat that works well even in January and fireplaces.) My other group congregates in a funky old hotel in Fairplay, Colorado that has a ghosts (so I hear), a great view, never emptying coffee and teapots, and a very cool sunroom that we take over with tables, surge protectors, extension cords, and laptops.

A site that provides visual inspiration makes a huge difference, plus provides good walks for times when your rear end goes to sleep from sitting too long. You really don't want to have to share the space with non-writing (ie. chatty) other guests.

2. Food
Arrange for good, non-time-intensive meals. My YMCA cabin group splits up the meals – one person cooks Friday dinner, one does Saturday, one does breakfasts. For lunch and snacks we share out whatever we bring, plus tea, coffee, wine, and cookies. We keep it simple but make it good. The others work while cooking is going on, but we all stop and talk and share as we eat.

The hotel in Fairplay provides continental breakfast, afternoon cookies/popcorn/fruit, and, for a special rate, a Saturday night dinner. Everything else is on the economy, which, in Fairplay is limited, but decent, and within walking distance.

3. (and most important) People
Pick the right people. People who want and need to spend the weekend writing. People who don't crack gum, require music (without headphones), or talk too much. People who don't get grouchy when an occasional writing conversation flows from a grammar question or "what is the word for ___ " question or "Eureka! I finished chapter 15!" People who are courteous about taking longer conversations outside, or sharing surge protector outlets or reference books.

You can adjust the activities by mutual consent. If someone gives massages or reads Tarot (and you're into that) or you decide to get together and read what you've written in front of the fire in the evening, that's great. But get these big three right, and you will be amazed at how the energy flows.

(And yes, I finished Chapter 15! Eureka!)


Anonymous said...

This sounds so great!

I've never done a retreat, I guess because all the people who write that I know live so far away from me (many live continents away - sigh!), but I did have some nice, writing-focused conversations with friends who live nearer.

It's happened very rarely, especially lately, but it is indeed something special :-)

Anna said...

Chapter 15.. yay! Moving right along :)

Both retreats sound fabulous. What could be better than sharing a weekend in a cozy place doing what you love with a group of people who feel the same way?


ssas said...

I was so mad to miss this one! But since I was at WorldCon, the family took precedence. When con season ends, I'll be back up there with y'all.

carolwriter said...

Having friends who will talk writing is very special. And having the time and space to pursue the work itself is a real treat.

I don't think I'll get to do it again until January. Right after the holidays is a great time to get refocused. And I'll have 6 weeks until the Unholy Alliance deadline. Yoiks! (Hope to see you that weekend, Bets!)

Anonymous said...

Carol-- Congrats on getting on the recommended list for the Nebula for your novella! Whoo hoo!

Kerrie said...

You are absolutely right, a retreat doesn't have to be expensive. It just needs to be a place where you can talk to other writers and a place where you can be creative.