A Writing Retreat Re-Defined

Last weekend I spoke at a writers’ conference, and my last talk was on self-coaching and self-care. If no one else got anything valuable from the talk, I did.

I realized as I preached about self-care for writers that my own had slipped badly. That was part of the reason I was talking armed with cough drops and hot tea with honey.

I needed some time apart to get rejuvenated. I needed a retreat.

I Don’t Have the Time or Money!

Most of us have preconceived ideas of what a “writer’s retreat” would look like for us. Anything outside that box (we think) just wouldn’t fill the bill. A cabin in the woods–alone. A week at a convent–alone. A long weekend at a hotel with room service–plus writing friends in adjoining rooms. Everyone has an idea of the perfect writing retreat. And that’s often why our internal response is, “But I don’t have the time or money for that.”

So, if that’s your situation, what do you do when your body and mind scream for a retreat? Dig into The Writer’s Retreat Kit: A Guide for Creative Exploration and Personal Expression by Judy Reeves, author of A Writer’s Book of Days. She challenges writers to think of retreats in other ways–and thus to see the possibilities around us to create such retreats. Her themed retreat ideas can be for a weekend or scaled down to a few minutes, depending on what time you have available.

Make a Mental Shift

Chew on this quote for the weekend and see what you come up with.

Much as I believe that the idea of a writing retreat will always include Time Away Alone (I expect secluded mountain cabins or pri­vate, distant seashores will also remain in our writer’s mind’s eye), I also believe it is possible for each of us to create other, less extensive writing retreats that can refill and restore us, that can be containers enabling us to produce new work and to open us to creative expres­sion and that allow us to dip into the solitude we need to communi­cate with our inner selves.

  • Consider that a writing retreat is not necessarily a place, but a concept.
  • Consider the word retreat not as a noun but a verb.
  • Consider time not as a measure in length, but in depth.
  • Consider the idea of being alone not as being distant from people but as not allowing others to intrude on your solitude.

Get Practical and Make It Happen

In other words, let loose all those old ideas about what is nec­essary for a writing retreat to be “real,” and open your mind and heart to another way of giving yourself this gift of self-care. Get out your notebook and begin listing retreat ideas that last fifteen minutes, an hour, half a day, and a weekend. Brainstorm ideas that range from free to a trip to a European hide-away, if that’s your dream retreat.

Then choose several ideas and put them on your calendar as important appointments with your writer self. I added one ten-minute retreat idea to my daily routine this week, and I’m loving it. That tea and pumpkin spice candle does it for me.

How about you? Do you have mini retreat ideas you could share?

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10 Responses to A Writing Retreat Re-Defined

  1. Meena says:

    I recently tried taking half-a-day retreats – once my whole family is out for the day, I get ready and head to my safe haven – the library. This place didn’t distant me from people but I got the solitude I needed. It helped me get in-depth into my project. As a result, I got major work done by keeping myself away from the distractions at the home front.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Meena, that is one of my favorite places too because I have no Internet access on my laptop there, and I can turn off my phone and no one thinks anything about it. Being “non-accessible” is so helpful to me!

  2. I like to hit a coffee shop and follow Natalie Goldsmith’s advice about cafe’ writing. And now that my kids are out of the house, every business trip my husband takes turns into an in-house writing retreat.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Hi, Kristin! Oh, yes! Being home alone, especially overnight, can feel like the world’s most economical retreat…and you get to sleep in your own bed! :-) I wish I could concentrate in a cafe. That always seemed to me to be the thing that REAL writers would do. :-)

  3. Damon Dean says:

    Your session at NF 4 NF was valuable for me. I love a retreat and take a couple each year, in a small camper, for a week alone at an inexpensive state park. No internet, just me and my notebooks and laptop. But even a time like that needs a ‘retreat’ mindset, which is core and critical to reaping the full benefits of getting-away.
    Like Meena, earlier this year I used Wednesday mornings at the library. Was so productive. Then I let that habit slip. Need to get back to that.
    Thanks for your encouragement and insight.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Damon, I’m glad the session at the conference helped. It’s a subject I love talking about! A week alone in a state park sounds heavenly! The whole “no Internet” is crucial to me too. Being out in nature like that would be a huge plus to me. Walking and thinking and writing and eating. Life doesn’t get any better than that for a writer! :-)

  4. Todd Burleson says:

    Pat Miller shared your site with me and this post in particular resonated with me very strongly. I am planning a five day retreat for myself. I’ve found a local state park that has very primitive cabins and I’m reserving one for myself for a week during spring break. My kids and I do not match up with breaks again this year, so I am going to take this time away and write, read, rest and hopefully get out and explore some wilderness. I just ordered the book you highlighted above: The Writer’s Retreat… I have to admit, my cabin is going to look a lot like the one in the image above. Thank you for this lovely post about the ‘idea’ of retreat as opposed to the need to actually be in a specific location, etc. While I spend most of my year eeking out time to write, this one week is going to be a true treat for my senses and hopefully for my writing. Thank you and I look forward to learning and reading your work in the future.


    • kwpadmin says:

      Todd, all of us who read your comment will be jealous! :-) That sounds like the perfect retreat to me. In this day and age of always being “connected,” we really have to plan for ways to disconnect from the world and reconnect to our writer selves. I hope your retreat is everything you need it to be! (And thank Pat for sending you here!)

      • Todd Burleson says:

        I am so looking forward to it. Isn’t if amazing that I’m thinking that far ahead and it is helping me make it through this sometimes crazy season? I look forward to enjoying your archives. Thanks for the kind words.


        • kwpadmin says:

          Oh, Todd, that is so true! They say that anticipation is half the pleasure, and I think that’s true. And knowing something like your retreat is coming up does away with that “I’m trapped in this hamster wheel and can’t get out!” feeling. I hope you let me know how it went after you go. :-)

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