DIY Writing Retreats by Morven Westfield

writing retreat

Advice on how to find time to write is invariably the same: “Place butt in chair” or “Make time” or “Set your alarm a couple of hours early.”

What if you’ve tried all that, and it isn’t working? Stealing an hour a day is too segmented for you to write with any sense of flow or rhythm. Stealing a few minutes to write while you watch your child’s soccer game isn’t productive because you’re too distracted by the noise, the glances to see how she’s doing, and the threatening buzz of yellowjackets.

How about a writing retreat? Imagine sitting down to write with your breakfast and later getting up from writing to refill your coffee cup, stretch, or answer the call of nature. Imagine being able to ask the other writers for ideas any time youโ€™re stuck. Imagine walking into the kitchen and just blurting out “So, do zombies freeze? I’m thinking of having my characters escape to Alaska…” and getting answers instead of strange looks.

Think you can’t afford the time or money? Do you have a weekend? Do you have writer friends who want the opportunity to buckle down to write? Organize a retreat yourself. You don’t need a formal schedule, speakers, coaching, or workshops to benefit.

Search online vacation rental websites for a place. Ask friends and family if they know anyone who has a rental property available.

Encourage writers to carpool. They save money, have the opportunity to chat with another writer en route, and they don’t have to worry about finding a parking space at the rental property.

Instead of going to restaurants during the retreat, have everyone chip in for condiments, bread, cold cuts, coffee, tea, garbage bags, and so on. If allergies and eating habits make that impractical, ask people to bring their own easy-to-prepare foods. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; you can nibble as you write, with the exception of breaking formally for a communal Saturday dinner of potluck dishes.

For an even less expensive retreat, consider an at-home event. You don’t need to live in a mansion. Air mattresses are comfortable and you can set them up in the living room. TV trays make adequate laptop tables, as do computer lap desks. If you don’t have enough room for sleepovers or feel uncomfortable having strangers in your house overnight, make it a day retreat: People arrive in the morning and leave at the end of the day.

For the ultimate in inexpensive, try a virtual retreat. Everyone writes from their own desk. You select a select meeting software (Skype? Facetime? Google Hangout? Other?) and set up a meeting. Writers call in and spend about half an hour talking about their goals for the weekend, then everyone starts to write.

Leave the meeting software running; hearing keys clacking in the background, even if you’re not using video, can be very inspiring. This also allows people to throw out questions. If the occasional conversation bothers you, just turn off your sound until it’s over.

One idea I’ve bandied about but have no idea if it would work is a camping retreat. The cost can be very low for tent sites, but you have to worry about weather (wouldn’t want it to rain on your laptop!) and recharging your laptop and cell phone. If you have a spare battery for both, that could be a solution, but you can also check to see if the campground has tent sites with electrical hookups will rent you an RV site. Some campgrounds allow tents on an RV site if you’re willing to pay the higher hookup price.

Cabins are another option. Family cabins sleep 4 or more. Some campgrounds have “luxury cabins” that sleep 6-8 and include electricity, air conditioning, and WiFi. If you have more people than would fit in a cabin, hardy souls could rent a tent site, using the cabin only to recharge their laptops. Personally, I’d love to try writing outdoors at a picnic table, but nature wimps might be more comfortable inside.

If WiFi isn’t available, work offline or see if your smartphone can become a hotspot for your laptop. It’s true that WiFi makes it tempting to check email or Facebook, but if you have a research question or you need to ask an editor something, it’s good to have the ability to get online just for a few minutes.

For the Saturday evening meal, have a communal cook-out at the campfire. Keep it simple: meat or veggie burgers on the grill with salad or grilled veggies. While preparing the meal, chat about what you’ve been writing, talk out thorny writing problems, or read aloud what you’ve been working on that day. When planning your retreat, know who you’re inviting. Besides the issue of personal safety, consider the security deposit of the rental. Your writer companions should be responsible and respectful of others’ property. And if the rental contract stipulates no smoking in the house, they shouldn’t be sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom.

Decide on your focus. Will this be a write-a-thon, a critique session, a bonding exercise, or a combination of the above? Are you there to chat, socialize, write, network, or do a little bit of each?

Writing is a solitary task, but don’t underestimate the motivating power of the gentle peer pressure of being with a group of writers all working hard at their craft.


MorvenWestfieldMorven Westfield attended her first writing retreat in 2013 when a writer friend invited her to her writing groupโ€™s retreat. She was hooked by the camaraderie of people who actually understand a writerโ€™s soul and by the energy from other writers. Since then, Morven has attended other mini-retreats or hosted mini-retreats in her own home at least once a year.

She is a member of Broad Universe, the Horror Writers Association, New England Horror Writers, and New England Speculative Writers. She is particularly active in the New England chapter of Broad Universe. Her supernatural-themed short stories have appeared in multiple anthologies, and she regularly contributes articles on folklore and the supernatural to The Witches Almanac. Her two novels feature vampires who battle modern witches. For more information, visit her website at www.morvenwestfield.com or follow her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MorvenWestfieldAuthor/.

Morven currently lives in Central Massachusetts with her husband. Like many writers, she keeps a messy office and drinks way too much coffee.

20 thoughts on “DIY Writing Retreats by Morven Westfield”

  1. Sounds like so much fun! But I worry that I would distract myself by wanting to socialize too much. I have a hard enough time writing in public places with strangers nearby. What I would love is a private retreat: just me and my computer and my cat for two straight weeks of writing. Or four weeks. Or more… Ahhhh. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. The challenge for me is more about getting time off of work (and to a lesser extent, other obligations). For this most recent NaNoWriMo, I took some vacation time and had my own “home writing retreat” — holed up at home, turned off my email, and just wrote to my heart’s content. It was wonderful! Alas, my vacation time is not infinite, and even if it were, my work projects do actually require my attention.

  2. My old writing group (Grand Rapids Region Writing Group) used to hold one or two retreats a year. We’d rent a house in the off-season, go up on Friday, come home Sunday. Food was potluck, but we’d get takeout or pizza so we wouldn’t stop to cook.
    I agree that there’s nothing better to look up and ask a weird question and not get a strange look.
    Not everyone wrote. It’s a great time to read, edit, or just hang out.

    1. Your group’s retreats sound similar to the ones I’ve participated in. I forgot to mention editing and reading. In the retreats I’ve been to, that’s always been an option. Thanks for bringing that up.

    1. LOL! I know the feeling! Still, if you steer the conversations to writing, characters, and so on, you don’t feel half as guilty! If I find myself getting too distracted, I put in earplugs or listen to white noise.

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