Writing Retreats

In a recent conversation with a friend, the subject of writers’ retreats came up. This friend is a non-writer and knows nothing of the writing process but had heard about writing retreats. I got the impression that she saw them as some kind of mysterious, almost romantic, sojourns that writers go on to create our art.

I personally have never been on a retreat. I’ve never had the money or the luxury of time. (I had plenty of time during my long stretch of unemployment, but money was even tighter then, of course.) But I have often fantasized about going on one (especially the Maui writers’ retreat!).

Spending money on a retreat, however, would stress me out on another level. I would worry that I’d travel to this place—wherever it happens to be—spend days or weeks away from home, and accomplish nothing. The thought of  spending all that money and coming home with nothing to show for it is horrific to me. Not just because of the wasted money but because of the sense of incompetence and failure that I would have.

I totally see myself taking long walks along scenic paths, sitting outside on a porch drinking lemonade, and visiting local shops, restaurants, and points of interest instead of buckling down to write that novel. I’d linger over that cup of coffee in the morning, while gazing out at a mountain view, or lake, or waterfall, or forest. Or ease into my evening with a local wine, or hard cider, or mai tai. And I would wind up playing with the house’s cat, or watching the local birds fly from tree to tree, or feeding or running away from the wild….whatever. That would be my retreat. Or, at least that’s my fear of what a retreat for me would be. And I can do all that stuff for free at home.

What do you all think about writers’ retreats? Has anyone ever gone to one? What did you think? Was it worth it? What, if anything, did you accomplish?

7 comments

  1. I have never been to a writers’ retreat. Like you, the combo of money and time has been a hindrance. And even if you scored, say, a month-long grant or scholarship or something to do a retreat, you still have to make arrangements at the home front to make sure your bills are paid, your pad taken care of, and your pets, too (many writers’ retreats do not allow pets).

    I know that if I did go on a retreat, I’d definitely get a lot done, because I tend to be pretty good at writing for long stretches with no interruptions. I also have friends who’ve done them who found them really helpful to be able to work without interruption on an idea they were developing. Overall, I’ve heard from the people who’ve done them that they’re helpful, whether it’s just getting long stretches to oneself or working in a community of writers and having discussions now and again while in that retreat.

    I’m not sure, though, that it’s something I’d do. It depends on the where, when, and how long, I suppose.

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  2. I’ve never done one but would love to. But like you, I fear I’d waste the time–I certainly do at home. But I also do well under deadline pressure, so maybe knowing it was only for a week or two would spur me to produce. It would just have to have no internet access!

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  3. I’ve never done an “official” writer’s retreat but I do love to take myself on my own. The last book was 10 (yes, TEN!) days alone at a rented house in Bodega Bay. The book before that was another ten days in a little cabin on the Trinity River in NoCal.

    Alone of course for me includes the dogs. We get up with the sun, go for a long walk, then have breakfast and I settle in to write. No distractions until late afternoon when I’m hungry again. Then we go for another walk, I feed us, then get to spend the rest of the evening doing what I want – reading, meditating, going to bed early, or even writing if I’m still feeling driven. It is unparalleled bliss. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Be nice to yourself.

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