Writing Retreats: Get Away From it All to Write it All
Imagine sitting down to write in a beautiful spot, up in the mountains, away from distractions and demands on your time and energy. You’ve got a comfortable chair, space for your power cords, an endless supply of your favorite foods, meals you don’t have to prepare, minimal chores. Other writers of like mind sit nearby, busy at their work but not so busy that they won’t appreciate the ridiculous and ironic typo you just made. And, now and then, one of the talented people attending gives a class on what they do best – and we can always learn a thing or two from each other.
That, friends, makes the ideal writing retreat… at least for me!
One weekend in June, I took time off work and drove a few hours into the mountains to attend my third ever writing retreat. This was the best one by far.
I’m a member of ANWA, a nation-wide LDS writers’ association, and I’ve been with them for several years. They host an annual conference and regional events, including retreats. Last year I attended two, one for the southwest region held in Arizona, the other for the northwest which was held in Washington.
This June was the southwest region’s retreat, held at the beautiful Stone Haven Lodge in Show Low, AZ. Last year, the retreat was relocated to a hotel in the city because of wildfires in the area. I was very glad to finally see the traditional location for myself.
Here are a few things that can make all the difference in putting on a quality writing retreat:
1. A clear purpose
Those coming to the event should know why they’re there and come prepared. A retreat can be anything you want it to be, but if it’s about getting as much done as possible away from distractions, activities should be minimal, productive, and clearly scheduled.
This year, classes were in the morning, fun games at night. The rest of the day there were silent spaces, soft talking places, and specific spots to be loud.
Last year, at the northwest retreat, classes were all the time. For many of the attendees, the event was a kind of mini conference those who couldn’t attend the official one in Arizona. I really wished I’d known that beforehand, rather than banking on the silent work time to finish a project.
I don’t mean Wi-Fi. I mean plugs, surge protectors, and extension cords, working outlets, and industrial strength supply. While hand-writing is excellent (for some, that’s definitely the way to go), having the capacity to have allow every attendee to plug in is essential. A major portion of writing is editing, and that’s a million times easier on a computer.
The Wi-Fi thing is nice, but in my opinion the best thing about this last retreat was how unreliable the Wi-Fi was. I was much more productive that way, though there was some quiet grumbling going on about it. More the, “I know I should be working, but I love my distractions…” kind of grumbling.
3. Group activities
I am fond of speakers, classes, and instruction. It can be a draw for some writers to justify coming. You can also do things like outings or group inspiration exercises, even group writing exercises.
Part of the appeal of a retreat is being with like-minded people. Some might say the networking alone is reason to go, but I’d have to say the bonding is more important. Writing is a lonely enough activity without people you look forward to seeing, whose company you can enjoy, and whose projects you can cheer on when you know they’re rooting for you too. Without a few good group activities, it could just become a work-away camp with little interaction.
Look to the location you get, and the size of the group, for inspiration. If you’re up in the mountains, maybe a hike is in order. If you’re at a hotel in the city, maybe go to a museum or a shopping center with prepared writing exercises to get everyone’s juices going. That’s up to you, and hopefully the team you’ve put together to help.
4. Places to get away
I know, I just said group activities are essential. So are ways for people to get away if they’re on a roll, under a deadline, or just aren’t into that group stuff.
This isn’t a kids’ camp (or if it is, look to some other kids’ campy rules since that was never my favorite experience). Let attendees be the adults they are and choose how they want to spend their retreat. If there is an activity that takes up space in the common areas, assign rules or places where people can be and not be disturbed.
One of my favorite features of the retreats I’ve attended is the reversible name tag. One side has your name, and the other side is a “do not disturb” sign. Name out – okay to talk/interrupt. Sign out – bug off and let the writer write.
You’ll notice these points don’t include things like how to book a place, budgeting, feeding a group, etc. That’s because those types of tips apply to planning events in general. There are plenty of resources for that.
I do recommend getting away from it all once in a while just to get going on your projects. It’s invigorating, even if you’re on your own, but it’s doubly encouraging and positive with others around. Play nice, follow the rules, and respect each other. It makes for a lovely weekend!