Making a Writing Retreat: Part I

From Edith, in the only-partially frozen reaches north of Boston.

Many of you know I am fond of going away on writing retreats. Addicted, one might even piretreatsay! Even if all I do is occupy a friend’s empty house in the next town, I love getting away from home (and all the obligations and joys thereof) to focus on nothing but writing. A couple of weeks ago I had a hugely productive solo five days at a friend’s empty beach house not far from my town. And I have my routine down by now: what I bring, what I wear, how I work.

Of course the Wicked Cozys also go on an awesome group retreat every year, but we’ve covered that here several times, here and here and here, among other posts.

So I thought I’d poll some other authors pals who also like to go on retreat – some of whom I have been on retreat with, but not all – to see how their experiences compare with mine.  Here are answers to my questions from Tiger Wiseman, Ramona DeFelice Long, Liz Milliron, and Holly Robinson – their bios are at the end of the post. Thanks for sharing, ladies (mind you, none of them saw the other’s answers).

Caveat One: I have edited down the responses a bit in the interest of space and reading time. Caveat Two: Everyone had such interesting and useful things to say (well, they’re writers, after all!), the post was getting really long. So I’ve split it into two parts. We’ll have the second part a month from now. This part has more to do with the purpose and feel of a retreat, while Part II will get into some of the practical side.

What’s your favorite part of getting away from home with a focus on writing?

T: Knowing I won’t have to worry about anything except being creative and productive –

Tiger at her very own Vermont retreat house

things that normally fall second to mundane necessities of cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

 R: Leaving behind all duties, from writing to meetings to housework, that interfere with creativity.
L: The removal of the distractions. With two teenagers, someone always has to go somewhere and someone almost always wants something. And then I have a husband to pay attention to. And the laundry. And the dishwasher. And, and, and… It’s always nice to get away for a day or a weekend where the only thing I have to worry about is feeding myself and writing.
H: Just that: the ability to focus! Even though my children are now out of the house, I find that between household chores, work deadlines, husband, dog, etc., it’s very tough to find the mental space to focus on fiction writing, especially when I’m starting a new project. 20160609_061555It’s so wonderful to be able to go to bed thinking about whatever you’re writing, and to get up in the morning and sit down to it first thing, with your papers scattered around just the way you left them.
E: I’m seeing a theme, here! All those comments apply to me, too.
Do you prefer to go away by yourself for concentrated writing, or with others? Why?

T: I prefer being with others in a structured environment. I like the company of others after the writing day is over, but during writing hours I want total silence.

 R: This is a tough one, because I love both. I like being with other writers, but I need a private space to write, sleep, and think. A small retreat with private bedrooms and studios is ideal.

L: I like going with others as long as there are solitary writing times built in to the schedule. I’m fairly good at shutting out the world, but knowing that this is my time and I’m relieved of the burden of being social lets me really concentrate. But all writers get stumped, so having a group to brainstorm with is always

Liz in pink shirt on right. Photo credit Paula Smith.

nice. And of course, after the writing is over, hanging with friends for snacks and wine is a great way to recharge for the next day’s writing.

E: I like both, but as Ramona says, only if I have a private space for work, sleep, and thinking.
Where is your favorite place to retreat to?
T: Vermont, LOL. Lake, forest or mountains. Actually for me a retreat needs to be quiet (no traffic, planes, kids); provide space for long walks; not have TV or too many sites of interest which I’ll want to visit; good restaurant in case I’m too lazy to cook.
R: For overall enjoyment, the beach. For productivity, a quiet country setting. Specifically, Rehoboth Beach for a solo retreat for a few days. Long term, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA).
L: I love the woods. My chapter does an annual retreat and we have frequently gone to the Laurel Highlands, about an hour outside Pittsburgh. If I could hole up there every few months for a weekend, I’d be a happy girl. Little wonder my series-in-progress is set there.

H: I usually go to mid-coast Maine in winter, because it’s so quiet and it’s very cheap to

Split Rock Cove

rent condos on the beach then. I occasionally go to a writer’s residence in the Berkshires (Wellspring House). I also like Split Rock Cove up in Maine—very cheap off season, and the woman artist who runs it is fun to get to get together with in the evenings. Mostly, it’s important for me to be in a place where I can take long walks or runs, and there can’t be too many shops or restaurants.

E: I’ve been to Wellspring House a couple of times. I also head down to a Quaker retreat house in West Falmouth on the Cape, but only when I can have the house to myself. Otherwise house-sitting or group retreats are my usual places.
My guests:
  • Tiger Wiseman is an aspiring mystery writer & confirmed foodie.
  • Ramona DeFelice Long writes every morning at 7:00 a.m. in her home in Delaware. She is an independent editor specializing in crime fiction. Twitter: @ramonadef.
  • Liz Milliron writes The Laurel Highlands Mysteries. Her short fiction appears in Blood on the Bayou, Fish Out of Water, and Mystery Most Historical.
  • Holly Robinson is a novelist, journalist, and celebrity ghost writer whose newest novel is Folly Cove. Visit her at her web site and on twitter @hollyrob1.
Readers: Do you ever go on retreat, whether writing or otherwise? Share your experiences!

46 Thoughts

  1. 5 AM has become my daily “retreat time.” Even when away on business or for family, if I can rise before others and have dedicated time to do nothing but write, it’s great.

    I would love to go on a retreat of 3-4 days where distractions are minimized and I can extend my writing time to more than 2-3 hours in one day.

    1. I wanted to do this, to wake up before every else and have my free time or as you say “retreat time” even for just 1 hour. But I still have not done it, my bed is more appealing for a couple of hours. It pays to be an early riser, we all know this. They catch the worm. Having retreats would definitely help me to be better and be more focused as a writer.

  2. I occasionally go on a retreat and a friend that has offered her lake house which is lovely. I usually manage to work at home without much problem. My family is great and supportive when I need to be left alone.

    1. Oh, yes, Carol, I second that: here’s to a quickie retreat in hotels! I often go to off-season places and stay in inexpensive hotels. Even one or two nights is enough for me to pound through some pages.

    2. I agree, Carol. Lately I’ve taken to arriving at Malice Domestic one day early and leaving one day late. Between that and the train ride to and from Boston, I’ve been super productive.

  3. My husband and I are lucky enough to have built a cabin in the Laurel Highlands (waves to Mary/Liz). It’s on five wooded acres and very peaceful. Even when we’re up there working on it on the weekends, I get more writing done there. And if I go up alone, that’s pretty much all I do. We have two bedrooms and a futon in the loft, so if anyone is interested in a mini-retreat sometime, let me know. I’d be happy to be your host!

    1. Oh, Joyce. You may regret putting that offer out there. But I’ll do my share of the cooking, so maybe that helps? We should get together with Annette!

    2. Count me in, Joyce, if you ever want a writing buddy on a mini retreat! No idea where Laurel Highlands is…

      1. The Laurel Highlands are in PA. Our cabin is right in the middle of the triangle made by Somerset, Johnstown, and Bedford PA–20 miles from each city.

  4. Thanks for asking me to join the conversation, Edith. Now you’ve got me jonesing for a retreat (and I’m planning our chapter’s retreat this fall, so I should get cracking on that).

      1. Isn’t that usually the way? I always say I’m going to work on holding on to the peace. Lasts until thirty seconds after I walk through the back door. 🙂

  5. I have always wanted to take/create/make a writing retreat. I am jealous of others who do so. Maybe now that I’m working part-time I’ll make this happen . . .

  6. Holly, I’ve been promising myself to rent one of those midcoast condos in the winter for YEARS! Would you post the names of a few likely places I could look into? Many thanks,

    1. Sure! The one I like the best is Village by the Sea–I book it through Expedia. It’s in Wells, Maine. I’ve gotten 1-bedroom condos there for as little as $60/night, and they have a pool & fitness center if the weather’s too cranky for much walking. Very nice condos.!e.ZzZz.4820000480408.0.103356942508._inurl%3A_feed_label%3Aposu%3Ausa_northeast-%24-pt%23inurl%3A_feed_label%3Aposa%3Acom-%24-pt.usa_eng_dom_pt_dsa_feed&gclid=CjwKEAiA8JbEBRCz2szzhqrx7H8SJAC6FjXX7N7pSWAEaP_ArVI3grwh3Kw0FT4uc0NmeLNg4G1KAhoCZC3w_wcB

  7. I’ve always gone on retreat with other people–super trusted friends who all have a common goal (either plotting, words on the page, or both) and who respect work time and visiting (talking) time. I’m fortunate that I have a friend with a spectacular ski house on a mountain in Vermont, and she opens it up to our group 3 or 4 times a year. I try never to miss it! But now I’m thinking about one of those Maine places…

  8. This past year was the first time I’d ever been on a writing retreat and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend three. Though I enjoyed them all immensely and learned a great deal about myself and the craft, I loved being tucked away in the old convent outside of Philadelphia. It definitely revived my spirit and my work.

  9. Thanks for asking me to participate, Edith! One thing I did learn about retreats–if you want a group one, you may have to be the force that makes it happen. It takes a little work and research to find a place, but it’s always been well worth it. And, Edith, I expect to see you again this summer!

    1. Hosting retreats is a lot of fun. At my VT house, we all share the cooking/cleaning duties for it’s not much work for anyone (no one expects gourmet meals and wine makes everything taste good), but Ramona is right — you need to make it happen. It’s worth the effort!

  10. Happy National Reading Day to all Wicked Cozy People.
    Also it is National Pie Eating Day today.
    Now that makes a great start of a retreat day right at home 🙂

  11. What fun! I love getting away when I can. A friend of mine is traveling to Europe for two weeks in April and I’m going to cat sit—and write! When I’m at home, I can find an infinite number of distractions, but when I’m at someone else’s house, I always find I can really focus.

  12. I’ve only ever been to one retreat but it was a great one. A week at a small conference center with only our large group, about 25 maybe. Breakfast and lunch provided, and socializing discouraged except at meals and dinner/evenings. And then a lot of writers to talk to after the work way. 🙂 Away from home distractions (I can always find a chore if I want one!) I finally buckled down to jump starting the next book. It remains in my mind as one of the best experiences ever.

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