A group of my writer friends goes on an annual week-long retreat, and I’m joining them for the second time. One of my natural-leader-type friends has done most of the work, and I’ve been fortunate to reap the benefits of her careful planning. Having said that, I’ve observed enough to (hopefully) be able to offer some tips on how to plan a writers’ retreat of your own. Here goes….
Steps to Planning Your Retreat
Plan ahead. The more details you can work out in advance, the more time you’ll all have for writing once you’re there.
Agree on who is invited. If a space opens up, agree among the group how that space will be filled. Set a min. and max. number of attendees.
Get everyone on the same page. Not literally, of course. It’s good to make sure in advance that everyone is clear this is a working event. There will be social aspects to it, but the purpose is to accomplish some serious writing.
Make sure everyone knows what to expect before they arrive. Communication is key. We have a Google Group for communications, but an email list or Facebook group would work just as well. Whatever method of communication you choose, do your best to make sure it’s convenient for everyone. No one likes feeling left out of the loop.
Keep costs down. We’re writers, after all, and not getting paid much (or anything in some cases) for what we do.
Find a location that works for all your participants. This could include things like accommodating those who might not do well with a lot of stairs, or need a solo room because they keep unusual hours.
Agree on room arrangements in advance. It’s best to make sure any roommate arrangements are agreed upon beforehand. If anyone claims to be a snorer, a night owl, an early riser, or a sleepwalker, do the best you can to accommodate.
Make a meal plan that works for everyone. Our plan is to assign one day to each attendee for which they are responsible for making breakfast and dinner for the group. The first and last days and all lunches are on-our-own. This necessitates asking in advance for a list of “no” foods from everyone so no one is stuck being left out of a meal due to food allergies or preferences.
Make rules for quiet time. It’s a great idea to make this clear in advance. Our rule is that the “writing zone” is a no-talk-area. If anyone wants to have a conversation, they can go for a walk or into another room. The exception to this is of course meal time. Then it’s a regular gab fest.
Arrange carpools. With the cost of gas these days (am I the only one who’s getting really tired of hearing that phrase?), it’s a good idea to partner up for the drive to and from your destination. Just be sure everyone pitches in for gas.
Discuss everyone’s writing goals. It helps to encourage each other to set goals, and gives everyone a healthy sense of accountability. Every hour is precious. You’ll all accomplish more if you have clear goals planned out ahead of time.
What to do Once You’re There
Respect the Quiet Time rules. Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t want to talk when you do.
Divide up chores equally. It’s just like being at home, only you don’t get to shout out “Someone make me some tea. I have a cat in my lap”. Oh. Maybe that’s just me.
Take time out for fellowship. Writing is normally such a solitary activity. Take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the company of others of your own kind.
Celebrate successes. What could be more fun than throwing a little “Surprise!” bash for the attendee with a book just out? It’s appreciated by the recipient, motivating for everyone else, and a good excuse to eat cake.
Move it. You heard me. You have all day to sit and write. Let someone talk you into getting out for a walk and exploring your surroundings. Isn’t that one of the reasons you wanted to get out of town, after all?
Agree on planned outing details. Especially if you carpooled to the retreat, leaving some people without cars, it’s a good idea to discuss group outings to the grocery store, local coffee hangout, or wherever else you all might like to go. It will probably make a welcome break from sitting in silence being excessively productive.
Keep in touch with the peeps back home, but try not to obsess over how they’re getting along without you. I’ll admit, this is a tough one for me. I know that most likely, my house will still be standing when I return home, and no one will have starved. With a little luck, maybe they’ll all appreciate me just a little more. Well, I can dream, can’t I?
If you can swing the time and expense, and you can stand the enormous sense of accomplishment you’ll have in the end, a writers’ retreat might just be one of the best things you’ve ever done.
If you don’t want to plan your retreat yourself, The Writer’s Retreat is a great network of retreats:
Retreats for Writers offers another resource for locating retreats.
Here’s an e-How article on how to pack for a writers’ retreat: