Writers’ retreats/day 1: the readymade & the do-it-yourself

This two-day post is about writers’ retreats: why we need them, what your options are, how to find retreats, and how to create them for yourself.
Today, Day 1: Readymade Writers’ Retreats & Colonies  AND  Do-It-Yourself Full-scale Retreats
Thursday, Day 2: How to Create a D-I-Y Full-scale Writer’s Retreat  AND  Do-It-Yourself Mini-Retreats

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Writers need retreats. We need to get away from interruptions, demands, social engagements, responsibilities, families, friends, and all the other distractions that come between us and our work.

Even if you live alone, as I do, phone calls, e-mails, chores, and a hundred other things can yank you away from what you intended to be doing. Learning to say no (see posts “No is YES” and “The No-is-YES multiple choice quiz“) is a positive way of going about getting more time for your writing, but it’s not the only way. Sometimes you simply have to get out of Dodge.

Readymade Writers’ Retreats & Colonies

There are dozens and dozens of writers’ retreats and colonies scattered across the country (and abroad too). Some residencies are competitive and require applications and acceptance (like MacDowell and VCCA ); others are independently-run retreats for which you pay a fee to stay in a beautiful setting where you have both a bedroom and some common space to use for writing, and no one will bother you.

The Writers’ Retreat website, for example, lists eighteen retreats from New York State to Oregon, from Costa Rica to New Zealand. Doing a little research will yield a lot of information. So will this article in Huffington Post: “Why You Need a Writing Retreat and How to Make the Most of It.”  And this one from Writer’s Digest: “6 Insider Tips for Finding and Applying to Writers’ Colonies.”

The only drawback about many of these places is that they require long-range planning—you have to know when you’ll be able to go. That may not be an issue for writers who are very organized and very sure about their schedules, but it could be a serious problem if you can’t plan too far ahead.

And here’s something else to consider: In some retreats there will be a lot of other artists and writers around while you’re there; in others there might be two or three—or none. How will you feel about having a little or a lot of social contact during your stay? Can you tolerate small talk after a hard day’s work? Do you want pleasant company? Or do you want complete solitude? Factor these questions into your choice.

Do-It-Yourself Full-scale Retreats

I’d like to make a pitch for one alternative to the readymade retreats: planning and carrying out your own custom-made retreat. There are lots of ways to do this, once you identify a time frame and make a few stylistic decisions.

But before we get to the how-to discussion (on Thursday), you’ll want to read about a few examples of made-to-order writers’ retreats:

  • One of my friends spends a week every late spring with a small group of other women writers, in a rental house in New England. Each writer has a bedroom of her own; group dinners are cooked on a rotation plan; no one intrudes on anyone else unless specifically planned. My friend always gets work done, including the thinking kind.
  • Several times artist friends in Putney, VT have invited me to use the small house behind their big main house as a writing retreat.  It was like living in a delightful doll house for a week at a time. We all worked separately during the day, and then convened for dinner in their kitchen, where we cooked, talked, relaxed.
  • My closest guy-friends have a weekend home on Shelter Island, NY, and twice I’ve been invited to use it for a two-week stretch of writing. The day I arrive they drive me to the supermarket for a big food-shop, and then they leave me at the house and return to the city. It’s the most blissful solitude because the house is so comfortable and well-appointed—and since I don’t really know anyone on the island, no one bothers me.
  • When the Girl Group was only a year old, the members decided to have a writing retreat at the upstate home of one of the members. They invited me to come, but I declined: I wanted them to be on their own with their work, to help each other and not look to me for guidance. Varying amounts of work got done, including one major breakthrough—and they had a wonderful time together.
  • Another writer I know holes up in his country cottage several times a year, when his wife takes week-long business trips. He informs colleagues only on a need-to-know basis, and he turns off his cell phone for most of each day.

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To be continued on Thursday, Day 2: How to Create a D-I-Y Full-Scale Retreat  AND Do-It-Yourself Mini-Retreats. Don’t miss. 


FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

G.J. Ford Bookshop, Saint Simons Island, GA

RiverRun Bookstore, Portsmouth, NH

Kepler’s Books, Menlo Park, CA

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