Writers’ retreats/day 2: d-i-y how-to’s & d-i-y mini-retreats

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How to Create a D-I-Y Full-scale Retreat

The how-to part is a lot like planning a vacation, without the complications of factoring in everyone else’s needs and wishes. YOU are the only one you have to accommodate. What will you need? A big worktable? A plain desk? A reading chair? An Internet connection? Stores within walking distance? Cell phone coverage? Make a list of your requirements. 

Now find a place to go: If you want to do this retreat on the cheap, think about who might be willing to lend you a place for the amount of time you think you need. Possibilities:

  • Someone with a second home she doesn’t use all the time
  • Someone who needs a house-sitter
  • Someone with an empty apartment over the garage
  • Someone with an apartment in your city, who’s taking a trip and would love to have you stay there to pick up the mail and feed the cat

Once I did that in Manhattan: my uptown friends were going away for a week, and even though I lived just a couple of miles downtown, I moved into their apartment for that week—and it worked just as well as being farther away. New neighborhood, new workspace, no interruptions.

If you’re single you might also ask around or go online to find someone who wants to exchange homes for a week or two. (Be cautious about this approach when you’re getting involved with folks you don’t actually know.)

Look for off-season rentals advertised online or in a local newspaper. Try off-season B-and-B’s. And don’t discount the possibility of checking into an inexpensive hotel for a week—the Hilton’s Homewood Suites, for instance, or another low-budget chain. Set-ups like that can be really reasonable, especially if you qualify for a discount of some sort (like AARP members!).

There’s usually a complimentary breakfast, and since the suites have kitchens, you can save on meals. If there’s no airfare involved, the cost of a week in a place like that could be less than it would cost to go to an official writers’ retreat.  Maybe not as pretty, but hey, you’re supposed to be writing, not sightseeing.

Try not to take more work materials than you need, maybe just your laptop (and possibly a printer), plus whatever files, notebooks, books are important. Be realistic about how much you can accomplish in the time you’ve allotted.

Take some comfort with you too, because you’re likely to have a few tough moments—when the work isn’t going well, when you miss your partner or friends, when you feel isolated. Those feelings will dissipate, but it’s nice to have your [teddybear; music; poetry; M&Ms] with you until they do.

What’s the worst that could happen? You’ll hate it and you’ll go home. But what’s the best that could happen? You’ll love it and you’ll start planning regular writing retreats, one way or another.

Do-It-Yourself Mini-Retreats

Never underestimate the value of a two-, three-, or four-day mini-retreat. What’s most important, though, is this: Even if you can only snatch a few days, get away from home. That’s the trick. I’ve tried mini-retreats at home, and I doubt they’ll work for you any better than they’ve worked for me. Working at home can be productive, but it’s not the same as getting away to a less familiar venue. The unfamiliar pushes you to think differently. And no one asks you to make dinner or do the laundry.

Mini-retreats are especially good for:

  1. Reconnecting to work you’ve been torn away from by the daily grind of your life, even if that means you simply reread your manuscript from start to finish
  2. Focusing on the problems you’ve encountered in the work, to get them into some sort of order that will relieve your anxiety
  3. Working on one specific section of your manuscript
  4. Rewriting—one of a writer’s greatest pleasures

There’s sometimes a certain desperation hovering around a mini-retreat, a sort of “how can I get anything done in such a short time?” panic. You may feel like you’re gasping for air—but you’ll probably find that by the end of the first twenty-four hours you’ve begun to breathe again. Then you can think straight and accomplish a day or two of serious work. Which will send you home in a much better frame of mind to keep working.

Consider doing your mini-retreat with a writer friend—that can be a good way to ward off nighttime nerves. Be sure, though, that the two of you set ground rules for the workdays, so you both do get work done. Do not go on a mini-retreat with a high-maintenance pal.

Once you’ve tried a full-scale retreat or mini-retreat that suits you and makes you feel like a writer again, you’ll repeat the experience over and over. You’ll learn to give yourself the time and place you need for your work.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Ugly Dog Books, Attleboro, MA

Square Books, Oxford, MS

Rakestraw Books, Danville, CA

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