Last weekend, the writers’ group I’m a part of experimented with a do-it-yourself writers’ retreat. We all thought it was a success and even discovered an unexpected benefit.
No surprise. This is one of the main reasons you go on a writers’ retreat. There’s nothing else you’re supposed to be doing. No job, errands, household chores, or running kids around. Just write, think, or daydream—whatever feeds the muse.
I wrote two essays and a new query letter in this room with a view
Each of us accomplished more than we normally would. Several of us drafted essays. Others focused on planning—reviewing what they already had written and seeing the possibilities for new work. Some concentrated on researching possible publications and sending queries. Everyone felt the time away helped their writing and creative process.
Getting away from your usual surroundings, even for a few days, is very freeing. When you leave the To Do lists behind, you mind clears and there’s room for big ideas. Inspiration bubbles to the surface more readily.
Writers could probably get a lot accomplished and maybe even be inspired if they rented a cabin or house-sat for a vacationing friend. But by staying at a bonafide writers’ retreat, you get more. Hundreds of other writers or artists sat where you sat and considered their creative work important enough to invest in.
The retreat center itself is dedicated to fostering your work. At the Anderson House, the setting includes floor to ceiling bookcases filled with literature instead of the ripped up mystery stories like you’d find at a rental cabin. Each bedroom has a journal full of entries by previous writers and artists who are wishing you well. You feel you’re part of a larger tradition.
If the retreat center thinks I’m an artist, I must be!
Many writers daydream about getting away from it all so they can spend focused time writing—no interruptions, no responsibilities—just writing for hours at a time. Often making that daydream a reality seems hard:
- That memoir workshop in Ireland sounds wonderful, but who has that kind of money?
- Places like Ragdale have a rigorous juried application process. Most writers won’t be awarded a residency.
- Getting away for a week isn’t realistic for writers with day jobs and/or significant family responsibilities.
- Attending professionally run writers workshop and retreats can trigger an attack of insecurity (I’m not as talented as all of those other writers. What if the people are cliquish and pretentious and I don’t fit in?)
What a writers retreat looks like in my daydreams
Invent the Retreat That Fits Your Life
Several months ago, the writers group I belong to began brainstorming how we could put together our own writers retreat, and we had the following criteria:
- We wanted a long weekend away instead of week-long retreat.
- The location had to be affordable.
- We wanted a place within an hour or two of the Twin Cities, so we wouldn’t spend too much of our precious time driving there and back.
- Each of us wanted her own room, and ideally, the place would have a kitchen and some communal areas. Staying in your room all day and all night could get claustrophobic. Having a place to walk would also be good.
The contemplative walk I envisioned
After doing some Internet research, we found that retreat centers would be better than motels or condos, because they are more peaceful, less expensive, and often have kitchens. The Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota met our specs and had an opening on one of the weekends we wanted to get away.
What our retreat location actually looks like . . .
Talk About Expectations and Set Ground Rules
We have been part of the same group for more than a decade. We like and respect each other, but we wanted to avoid some obvious pitfalls if we could. Our discussions led to these guidelines:
- This is NOT a girls’ weekend. If we’re too social, it will defeat the purpose of being on a retreat—getting the solitude to be creative.
- We’ll eat dinner together both nights, but aside from that, there’s no need to socialize.
- Each woman will set her own goals, which could be writing, revising, napping, reading, walking, daydreaming—whatever each person needs.
- We’ll go out for dinner one night and cook one night. For breakfast and lunch, you’re on your own.
That contemplative walk will actually look more like this
We’re excited, but we’ve never tried this before. Wish us luck!