Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Planning a Writing Retreat


In the fast-paced times we live in, it's especially difficult to carve out those precious hours we need to do our writing. I've advocated "stolen moments" before, which is where you write when you can. It doesn't matter if it's just twenty minutes, those twenty minutes are precious.

However, it's wonderful to be able to dedicate two, three, maybe even four hours to cranking out words, edits or outlines. Those times are rare for most of us, but the amount of stuff done (when not on Facebook) can be amazing.


What would you do if you had an entire day to write? What about a long weekend? Think of the wonders that can be created! I don't think I need to expound further on the benefits of getting two or three days of solid writing time so I'm going to tell you how to pull it off. 

This is where writing retreats come into play. A writing retreat occurs when you literally retreat from the real world, isolate yourself from job, family, (maybe) the Internet, and the worldly concerns of being a social being.

There are several phases to organizing a writing retreat.

Planning

A vast majority of writing retreats are done in a group setting to help split the costs of getting a place to stay in a relatively remote area. I've seen retreats as large as twenty people and as small as four. The sweet spot seems to be right around eight to ten folks. Fewer than that, the price point can rise beyond affordability. More than that leads to logistical nightmares. Look to your critique group for folks to run away with.

Once you know who is going, dates need to be set where everyone can make it.

Next, set a budget. Figure out what individuals can pay for renting a cabin in the middle of nowhere. This will let you know what the group can afford.

After you know the who and when, you need to determine the where. This is the rough part. Communicate with your group and find a city or three where folks would like to spend a relaxing (yet productive!) weekend.

Reservations

There are loads of options for renting properties for a long weekend, and this can be overwhelming. For my critique group's recent retreat, I took the lead and found a dozen places (some in Breckenridge and some in Estes Park, our agreed upon cities). I took the details of each location and plugged them into the spreadsheet on Google Drive, then asked each person to rate (scale: 1-10) each location. The top two scoring locations were then presented to the group and we picked one.

How did I find a dozen properties to review and rate? The Internet! There are quite a few websites where property owners will do short term leases for folks like you looking to organize a writing retreat. Some of these sites include:
Once we found a place, I arranged the rental, which was a pretty simple process. I won't detail it here because I'm certain each rental property has their own process/procedures.

One caveat I want to bring up: The security deposit. There are logistics around splitting this between the group members, then getting the returned deposit back to the members. To make this easier on everyone, I decided that I'd directly pay the security deposit and keep it when it was returned. This worked out well for our group and made things easier on me in the long run. Yes, there are financial risks associated with this approach, but I know and trust everyone I had along with me, so didn't worry about it too much.


On Location

What do you do when you're "on location" at the retreat? 

Write, of course. Or edit. Or outline. Or brainstorm. Or research. Or whatever floats your writerly boat.

The key things to determine are food,drink, quiet times/rooms, and social times.

We did a two-part approach for food. We decided that Friday and Saturday nights would be social times around meals and that we'd run into Estes Park for a restaurant meal. This did raise the price some, but it was well worth it to get away from the keyboard for a couple of hours.

For quiet time/rooms, we decided the public areas would be quiet for  Friday afternoon, all-day Saturday, and Sunday morning. Everyone respected this quiet time, and it's amazing how much energy can fill up an almost perfectly quiet room. There were brief conversations, but it was limited to group-impacting questions. Things like turning on the A/C, asking if anyone needed a drink while on the way to the fridge, etc.

We also agreed that the times after returning from our evening meals would be social time in the public areas. After a full day of brain-melting edits or cranking out thousands of words, we all knew we'd need a break. Getting this downtime is vital to keep energy levels up for when it's time to write. The human mind and body can only do so much in a day.

Clean Up

When it's time to leave, do the fellow who ponied up the security deposit a favor. Clean up. You don't have to spit shine every surface, but most rentals have guidelines on what needs to be taken care of and how to do it. It's pretty minimal, to be honest. Take out the trash. don't make the beds (so they know which ones were used and need to be laundered). Clean up spills. Throw the dishes into the dishwasher. Stuff like that. It's not the wilderness, so you don't have to leave it as you found it, but be nice to the cleaning staff and the owners.

Decompression

After a retreat, it's time to head back home. Do so gradually. My favorite way of doing this involves a long drive. Keep the distance from home base reasonable, which will allow you to relax and smoothly slide back into the real world of responsibilities.

Another decompression approach is to have a "going away" breakfast or brunch for the group. I usually do this after we're out of the cabin and on the road back home. Picking a place to eat near the retreat is ideal. This is where everyone talks about his or her weekend accomplishments. Even if the accomplishments aren't as high as some hoped, applause and congratulations are in order for each person's efforts.

Conclusion

I highly recommend going on a writing retreat every 12-18 months to refresh your writing batteries and help remind you why you chose this very difficult endeavor. Even though my last retreat finished up in June, I'm really looking forward to the next one coming my way.

J.T. Evans writes fantasy novels. He also dabbles with science fiction and horror short stories. He is the president of Pikes Peak Writers. When not writing, he secures computers at the Day Job, homebrews great beers, spends time with his family, and plays way too many card/board/role-playing games.