Planning Your Writing Retreat Part I: Why It’s a Good Idea
Do you struggle to find the time or energy to write amidst the demands of your busy life? Do you wonder when you’ll ever have the space to finish your book? For many of us, juggling work, family, and some semblance of a social life barely leaves time to catch up on email, let alone dig in to a creatively demanding project like writing a book. Even those like myself, who are lucky enough to write for a living, can still find it challenging to carve out the focused time and space to be satisfyingly productive and creative.
A great solution to this dilemma is to plan a Writing Retreat. Whether it’s a week, a month, or more, set aside a period of time when writing your book is your number one priority. You may not be able to finish your book in one retreat, but you can make very significant progress. Even as little as five days can be worthwhile.
The greatest benefit of a writing retreat, in my experience, isn’t just more time—it’s momentum. I find that if I’m moving between projects in my usual daily busyness, I waste a lot of time getting “in” each time I return to a particular piece of writing. I have to re-establish my connection to the material, the voice, and the flow before I can be productive. On a retreat, however, I stay “in” even when I’m not writing because I don’t work on anything else. I’m able to pick up each day where I left off the previous day, and find a “flow” very quickly. The exponential difference in my productivity at times like this always surprises me.
If you have the option to do your Writing Retreat somewhere other than your usual home or work environment, it’s often a great idea. Getting away from routines and distractions can give your creativity a boost and being in a new place can provide a much-needed fresh perspective. If you need to do your retreat at home, you can still create a focused environment by letting friends and family know you’re on retreat; turning off distractions like phone, email, and social media; and designating a space within or near your home as your writing sanctuary. (I’ll be writing more about choosing a place for a writing retreat later in this series.)
What Kind of Writing Retreat is Right for You?
1. Solo. Just you and the blank page. Some writers find solitude the most conducive backdrop for creativity and relish the opportunity to get away from all distractions, including other people. When you’re on your own, creating structure for yourself is essential. (See Part II of this series for advice on how to organize your time.) If you choose this option, it’s also important to pick a place where you can easily take care of your day-to-day needs. A cabin in the woods may sound romantic, but if you have to drive two hours to get decent food it may not be the best choice!
2. Collaborative/Coached. If you’re working with a co-author, writing coach, or collaborative writer, a writing retreat together can be a great way to deepen your partnership, establish your book’s voice, and produce a lot of content fast. In this case, again, planning is essential. Talk with your collaborator about how you can prepare so that your time together is most productive and both of you are kept busy. You don’t want to waste half your time arguing about how to use your time, or waiting for the other person to finish essential tasks before you can get started.
How and when you plan this kind of retreat will depend on the type of collaboration you’re engaged in. A good professional collaborator will be able to help you think this through. For example, when I’m working with a client who is writing his or her own book but wants my help in structuring, refining, and editing, it makes sense to schedule the retreat after the client has done the initial writing (sometimes on a solo retreat.) I make sure to read and review the client’s draft before the retreat, and make a list of tasks the client can work on while I’m editing, as well as a list of new content we need to generate together and issues we need to discuss. But if I’m ghostwriting, a retreat can be more useful early in the process, so that I can use the time to interview the client, work together on the outline and structure, learn the voice, and gather material. After this, I may follow up with a solo retreat to do the actual writing. If I’m dividing the writing with a client, I take time before the retreat to identify who will be writing which parts, what research needs to be done beforehand, and which sections of the book will benefit most from being created collaboratively.
3. Coached Group. Some writing coaches offer retreats for small groups where you can focus on your writing in a supportive environment with daily coaching. This can be a great option if you don’t have a collaborator but are someone who benefits from having a structure of accountability. Plus, these kinds of retreats are usually held in beautiful places with all of your needs taken care of. (I’ve never offered this kind of retreat but have always liked the idea, so contact me if you’re interested and maybe I’ll finally do it!)
4. Peer Support. If you can’t afford a coached or collaborative retreat, but like the idea of having other people to support you, consider teaming up with a friend who’s also writing, or a local writing group, and planning a retreat together. You’ll still be responsible for structuring your own time, but you can support each other by setting and sharing goals, reading aloud to each other, or reviewing each other’s work. If you choose this approach, make sure you know choose people you feel at ease with, and whose goals for the retreat are compatible with yours. You don’t want to find yourself distracted by interpersonal drama when you are trying to focus on your writing. Do as much forward planning as possible, so that you know you’ll be in a conducive place with enough space for each person to have the privacy they need.
See Part II in this series for tips on How to Make the Best Use of Your Time.