Monday, August 21, 2017

7 Ways to Make the Most of a Writing Retreat by Caroline Starr Rose

Adorable Boo, my writing companion.

Last year my husband took our boys to the Mountain West Basketball Tournament, giving me four days with the house to myself. I planned to use the time as a stay-at-home writing retreat, just Boo and me and fiendish typing. 

It was spectacular. 

I decided I needed to be prepared but open when it came to this writing time. While I hoped Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine would be back in my possession, I couldn’t plan on that happening (It wasn’t. I worked on it anyway and was thrilled with what I accomplished). My goal was to have a sense of how I wanted to use the four days, but not be so rigid that I missed a creative opportunity. I ended up splitting the time between two projects, one in its very beginnings and the other nearing its end. 

planned ahead about regular commitments and how I’d handle them. For example, I got up at roughly the same time I would have had my family been home. I kept my Thursday running date and attended church on Sunday. But I made room for flexibility, skipping the gym on Friday and going to a book signing Saturday afternoon. As for meals, I pulled a few things out of the freezer, cooked twice (with leftovers for when my family returned), and even ordered pizza one night. 

Most importantly, I knew I needed to have realistic, relaxed expectations while still committing to hard work. I am not a fast writer and never will be. With four days stretching before me, it would have been very easy to convince myself I’d do super-fantastic, out-of-character things, like write 10,000 words a day. Not happening, ever. Instead I focused on these things:


  •  I decided not to serve my ego (those 10,000 words) or my anxiety (worry I wouldn’t accomplish anything), but simply show up and enjoy the work.
  •  I told myself it was more important to be productive instead of producing. (In other words, I didn’t have to have loads to show for all the time I put in. Creativity isn’t always something that can be measured. I’m learning to be okay with this.)
  • I strongly believe that every writing moment teaches me. That makes it worth it, whether it’s eventually cut or kept, whether it sells or doesn’t.

The view from our retreat house balcony. Isn't it gorgeous?

Every September my critique group meets for a writing retreat. We rent a house in town, plan out who will make dinner what night, do a bit of critiquing in the evenings, watch a movie together, and spend the rest of our time in creative work. 

The years I've been on deadline, I've made quantifiable! Great! Leaps and bounds! with my writing. During the other years, not so much. But here's the thing: those slower retreats were still creatively important, whether I produced much or not. Have I believed that during the retreat itself? Nope. I haven't. I'm still learning to trust in the moment that every writing experience teaches me something.

I have no deadline this time around, but I do have a project underway -- the one mentioned above, in its early beginnings (and honestly not much further along than it was a year and a half ago, during my stay-at-home retreat). It would be easy to head into the week with my ego and anxiety kicked up in high gear. Instead, I hope to apply what I learned while I worked alone: to stay prepared but open, relaxed and willing to work, ready to learn from each moment as it comes.

What words of wisdom can you share about writing retreats?

10 comments:

  1. I've found Retreats generally great for brainstorming, especially if I can get outside and move around (physical activity helps me think). They can also be great for heavy editing. For me, A retreat in a building with other people may not be ideal for drafting. I use voice recognition software, and I don't want to bother my neighbors. Plus, it keeps crashing on my laptop. So I love Retreats, and I've gotten amazing work done during them, but it helps to plan ahead, considering the practical constraints of the situation.

    PS - there's an SCBWI Retreat coming up the third weekend in October, in the mountains of New Mexico! Who wants to join us?

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    1. Great points, Chris! And yes to the SCBWI retreat in NM. Gorgeous mountains. Fall colors. Lots of potential for creativity.

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    2. What?!! I want to join you!!

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  2. I so look forward to my occasional retreats. I am fortunate to have a beach house in the family (thanks, in-laws!) and even more fortunate that they never installed a phone line or wifi. I get to wander on the beach, ignore Facebook, and create. Honestly, it's when I seem to get the most done.
    I'd love to visit NM one day... One can but dream!

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    1. I was worried when I was alone I wouldn't be as disciplined as I might be with a group of committed people. But I was pleasantly surprised. How nice to truly retreat from all the ways we can be distracted or tracked down.

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  3. Ah, I need a writing retreat. I was thinking that it's about time I tried this. My kids and husband are out of town tonight, so I have the evening free after work, but that's not exactly a full retreat, is it?

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    1. Not a full retreat, but something to work with!

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  4. Not serving ego or worry. I love that. Such wisdom.

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    1. This is one I have to work on daily.

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!