I am writing this from one of my favorite places in the world - a small cabin in the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania where some writer friends and I have holed up for a weekend retreat. It's a time for laughter, brainstorming, relaxing and intense writing.
We've been doing this for years now and highly recommend it. If you have ever considered doing a retreat, here are some guidelines and considerations to consider to make it as productive and enjoyable as possible.
The right blend of people is crucial. It's best to plan a retreat with folks you know well enough that you won't care if they see you at your early-morning loveliest, because when on retreat, comfort rules. Our advice: pick only folks you can laugh with. And consider numbers carefully. There are five members in our group, and I find that to be an ideal number - not overwhelming, but not claustrophobic, either.
There are a lot of “whats” to consider when retreating.
- What will you (the group) do? Write, of course, but even the most dedicated author will need time for the brain to rest. What will you do in your down time? Will you relax as a group, or on your own? Part of this will be answered by your location and what is available there, but this question still should be addressed.
- What will you (the individual) do? Plan what you want to accomplish before setting out, and always remember that, when writer friends get together somehow the time seems to slip past far more quickly than it does in real life. Some facets of the process are better suited to a group setting than others, so take that into consideration.
- What will you eat? This question always plays a major role in our retreat planning. You may prefer/be able to go out or order in your meals. This frees up prep time but can take longer to actually do, so keep that in mind. If you have a kitchen, you may choose to cook. Will you have group meals or individual ones? Our system: each person is responsible for her own breakfast. Lunches and dinners are divided up, with each person being responsible for one meal – the planning, shopping, cooking, table setting, and clean-up. When your meal is complete, your duty is done. Well, except for those snacks that we always seem to need :-)
Consider both the timing and the duration. For a first time, we suggest sticking to a weekend, just in case there are unanticipated issues. Once you know your fellow retreaters you can add time as people are able. It's definitely worth giving up a vacation day or two from the day job to have that extra retreat time.
We are very lucky to have free access to this lovely little cabin in the woods, but we have used other facilities as well. A suite hotel is a great option that can offer both a decent amount of space and some cooking facilities. Three or four people splitting the cost makes it more affordable. We have also done retreats in our homes. This offers the lowest cost and usually the most space, but can leave one person feeling like a hostess rather than a participant.
Why would you do this? Why go to the trouble and possible expense of planning, traveling, taking time away from jobs and/or families to hide away with just your friends and stories?
I'll tell you why I am such a believer in this process: Retreats are magic. The benefits go far beyond the chance to produce a lot of pages in a concentrated time. Having the chance to immerse yourself in your story can bring it alive in a way that can't be achieved when you must squeeze writing into the pockets of everyday life. It gives you a chance to deepen friendships through shared experience. And getting away to spend time with your story sends a clear message to yourself and anyone else who needs to hear it that you are a writer. You take this seriously. This is a part of who you are, a part you value enough to give it time and attention. When you retreat, you show that writing matters. For me, that's the most important reason of all.
I'd love to hear other tips from those who have done retreats. And if you haven't done one but have questions, shout them out in the comments!