You know the situation. After a long day of working, taking care of your kids, cleaning the house, or whatever it is that you do, you’ve finally carved out the time to get some writing done. You’re feeling pretty great about this—after all, ideas have been swimming around in your head all day.
But then you sit in front of the computer, open up your project document (or worse, a blank document), prepare yourself to type those first brilliant words . . .
. . . and nothing happens.
The brilliant words don’t come. The ideas that were crystal clear in your mind hours ago seem like a dream from last night that you forget. Instead of blissfully typing away, you stare intently at the keyboard for a minute, then decide a couple of rounds of Candy Crush might get the juices flowing, and before you know it, you’ve been on Facebook for two hours, and it’s time to move onto the next thing.
If you’re anything like me, fighting the resistance that seems to always rear its head when I sit down to work is a full-on battle. I’ve disabled my internet. I’ve turned my phone off and stored it downstairs in my purse. I’ve locked my pets out of my office.
You do what it takes to get the work done.
But sometimes, it takes more than that.
Enter writing retreats.
Now, before you start in with questions about how much something like that would cost, what to do about your kids, how far you’d have to drive, etc., let me explain what I mean. I’m not talking about going to some big event for writers.
I’m talking about putting one on just for yourself. Just for you. And maybe a couple of other people (we’ll get to that).
Because sometimes, an idyllic writer’s retreat right in the middle of your crazy life is exactly what you need to get words on the page.
Reasons Why People Go on Writing Retreats
Traditionally, writing retreats are an opportunity to get away with like-minded people to create together and learn. Many of them have time set aside where you can go off on your own and write, as well as teachings from featured authors and occasions for writers to socialize over drinks and meals.
It’s as much of a chance to share the joy and frustration of creating with words and encourage other writers in their journey.
Other writing retreats are more monastic. You spend most of your time alone with your story, with time to reflect and work, except at mealtimes, when you see other people who are participating.
These events are structured in various ways, but the general concept is that you have the chance to get away from daily life to see your work differently and create differently as a result.
And yeah . . . getting words on the page is a big part of all that.
The benefit of structuring a writing retreat for yourself is that you can take the best of all these formats and put them together into an event that fits your goals and work style.
Let me clarify: a writing retreat does not have to be elaborate. Remember, the goal is to get you out of your daily environment and routine and create some shift that makes writing easier.
It might help to change your thinking about writing retreats from an event you pay for and attend to a period of hours to days when you care for yourself and your work.
The objective is to rearrange your life in some way that makes creativity easier and more enriching—not complicate your life by adding a bunch of other stuff you “have” to do.
Here are a few guidelines that have helped me create my own writing retreats and escape my daily environment, if only for a few hours.
Pick a Good Location
No, I’m not talking about a private beach or a hotel room at a five-star resort. Sure, you can do something like that. I know writers who have booked themselves Air BnB’s for a weekend and made themselves disappear.
But let’s face it—most of us don’t have that luxury or the funds and time to make it happen.
Remember: this doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Your retreat can happen anywhere as long as it’s in an environment that will facilitate imagination and focus, not detract from it.
Here are some places I’ve done personal writing retreats that I’ve found to be productive—and for the most part, they cost me absolutely nothing.
A coffee shop
Yes, you can have a retreat at a coffee shop—with a few caveats. First, pick a relatively large one. I get the most work done if there’s a corner table or a booth where I can easily hide.
I don’t know what your local Starbucks is like, but I find that it doesn’t work well as a setting for a writing retreat. There’s too much activity, and the space is usually pretty cramped. I like Panera because it has many of those corner spaces and seating arrangements I’m talking about.
Once you’ve found a spot, you’ll want to have some earbuds to play something to drown out the ambient noise. It doesn’t have to be music—I know whether or not to write with music is a topic of debate. But if you think the noise around you might be distracting, something to cancel it out might be helpful.
I took my laptop to one of the pavilions in our local park last summer and camped out for about three hours. The great thing about writing in nature is that there’s no internet, and unless some sporting event or picnic is going on, it’s pretty quiet.
I also brought a to-go mug of coffee, a bottle of water, and snacks so I’d have everything I might need for the three hours.
For those of you in more temperate climates, this is a very real solution that you can put into practice now. Those who live in places with winter temperatures will have to wait on this one.
Libraries are even better than coffee shops. They’re huge, and there are multiple places you can find to hide while you work. In college, nothing was better than the private study cubicles in our library. The enormous floor-to-ceiling windows gave me a view of the whole campus while I worked.
Downside? They usually don’t let you bring food in, so make sure you load up on the coffee first.
Set a Specific Goal & Length of Time
The length of your retreat will depend on your goals, which should be manageable according to the time you have. If you only have two or three hours, you can plan to write a novel chapter or a short story. You could also use the time to map out your plot or do character work.
Realistically, for most people, this is all the time they will have. We’ve got jobs, families, and lives that don’t involve writing. If you can get away for a weekend and an AirBnB is possible, then great. Do it.
But even if you only have a few hours or half a day, you can still get some serious work and refresh your mind and soul in the process.
Bring Your Essential Items
Depending on the setting for my retreat, here’s what I bring along:
· A laptop—If you’re not a typer and enjoy hand-writing your work, bring your favorite notebook and pen
· Reference materials—Bring them along if you need a style guide for writing or are reading a craft book that would be helpful for your work.
· Anything you need for your day’s work related to your project, including character bios, plot outlines, etc.
· Beverages and snacks—need I say more? If you are working at a coffee shop, obviously bring money for goodies.
Don’t bring more than what you need. Carrying a heavy backpack full of stuff you won’t use will only add stress to your event.
Put Away Distracting Technology
Unless I am doing some work that requires access to information on the internet, I don’t ask for the wifi password at the places where I work. It makes it too easy to make excuses about being online. I also turn off my phone or put it on Focus or Airplane Mode.
Again, there may be legitimate reasons for using the internet depending on your project, and you can set up parameters about what you will and will not allow yourself to access during your time.
Invite a Friend(?)
One thing that sometimes helps me when I’m writing is to hop on Zoom with some friends. We all mute ourselves, turn off our cameras, and work for an hour, then report back and share how our writing time went.
There’s something about the presence of other people that I find invigorating and inspiring. If you are one of those people, you might consider inviting a friend to join you. However, if you work best alone, by all means, do that.
Want More Information About Creating Your Own Writing Retreat?
These tips from my own experience barely scratch the surface. If you’re interested in learning more about creating more time to focus and work, my friend Charlotte Donlon has some great resources and tools. The founder of Spiritual Direction for Writers, Charlotte is an author and writing coach who helps writers of faith to see how they belong to themselves, each other, God, and the world.
Also . . . got specific questions about creating time to write, creativity, working with other writers?
Schedule a FREE 30-minute Virtual Meetup with me to get solutions to these questions and reach your full creative potential so you can impact and inspire readers.