Susannah/Sadie here, just trying to keep cool…
A few weeks ago the Wickeds posted about the annual retreat they take to the Maine coast. Today I thought I’d post some tips about how to plan your own retreat. Whether you’re a writer, a scrapbooker, a knitter, or have some other craft or hobby you want to have some uninterrupted time to work on with other like-minded folks, a retreat can be a great way to get away from (most of) the responsibilities of daily life and really focus.
I’ll use a writing retreat as an example for the rest of this post, but this basic template will work for most other types.
First you need to decide whom you want to ask to go on your retreat with you. Think very carefully about your roster. You will be in close quarters with these people for several days. Make sure you choose a team of people who don’t have habits you can’t live with, and whom you can trust to pull their weight with shared chores, and whom you can trust to leave you alone when you are working. Don’t bring a diva along with you, anyone who needs to be the center of attention, or you’ll spend the whole weekend focusing on or distracted by her instead of your work. In a similar vein, make sure the people you ask are at more or less your level of skill and expertise. You don’t want a rank beginner, or you may end up doing more teaching than writing. The group I go with has been together for several years and we know each other well in and outside of the writing world. Although, we’re never really out of the writing world.
Next, you need to decide on a venue. I’m blessed in that one of my retreat partners owns a large, beautiful ski home on a mountain in Vermont that she is generous enough to open up to 8-10 of us twice a year. There are 4.5 baths and 5 bedrooms, good Wi-Fi, and, oh, a hot tub. If someone in your group has a second home somewhere, that might be just the place. If that’s not an option, depending on your budget, you may wish to rent a cottage somewhere, or even go to a hotel for a weekend. Obviously, the size of your venue dictates the size of the group you can take. Make sure everyone understands what kind of shared expenses there will be.
I highly recommend having a focus for your retreat. With my group, we set aside several hours (in two blocks) to work on plots and characterizations. We have a designated time where everyone sits around the big table, and we brainstorm a plot for each attendee. You would be amazed at how complete a story can be hammered out by 10 women in a half hour to 45 minutes. This ensures that everyone gets equal time, is giving as well as receiving, and comes away energized and ready to get to work. Bear in mind that we’ve been working together for a while now. The more times you retreat with the same group, the more efficient the process becomes.
Decide how you will handle meals, snacks, and cleanup. For our Vermont weekends, we potluck it, although we do a little advance planning so we don’t end up with 8 slow cookers full of chili. Anyone who’s crunched for time or not much of a cook can bring wine or offer to do the dishes. Oh, and we consider wine our eleventh member of the retreat.
Depending on where you hold your retreat, you may want to set aside a couple of hours to make a field trip into town. Where we go in Vermont (Manchester), there are both an amazing independent bookstore (Northshire Bookstore) and a yarn shop (Yarns For Your Soul). Do set a time limit so you don’t spend your retreat shopping instead of writing.
Finally, decide on some personal goals for the weekend. Perhaps you have a new project and you want to complete several chapters. Or you’re nearly finished with your first draft and you want to bring that puppy home. Or you have a word count target. Be fairly aggressive with your goal setting. The energy that comes from the group may surprise you. Take advantage of it and get as much, or more, done than you ever thought possible.
Oh, and do something nice for your hostess. Bring her a gift, and don’t leave her with a dirty house to clean after you’ve gone.
Do you go on retreat? Would you like to? It’s not that difficult to organize one!