What We Learned Hosting Our First Writing Retreat (Plus a Free Sample Schedule!)
I was hugely pregnant with my second child in August 2016, and two and a half hours in the car sounded like the opposite of fun. But the weekend promised at the end of the trip was enough to make me tumble my swollen body into Haley's car and drive the 92 miles from Boise to McCall, Idaho. It was time for our first writing retreat.
At some point during 2016, our small writing group had come to the realization that there was literally no one policing who could and could not host writing retreats. We'd been bemoaning how expensive guided writing retreats are, and how none of us could afford to spend a weekend focusing on our craft and meeting other writers. Then we realized—what's keeping us from hosting our own retreat? All you need for a writing retreat is writers and a period of blocked off time, and we had the writers and our calendars handy.
The weekend was productive and fun (and definitely worth the drive). We wrote our hearts out and talked about writing and drank beer (or La Croix for me) and got creative. We also made a few mistakes that kept us from being as productive as we could have been, which means we planned our second retreat this year (we skipped 2017) a little smarter. In this post, I'll share a few of the things we learned and some tips to host your own writing retreat.
Travel Isn't a Requirement
I opened with the two-and-a-half hour car ride for a reason: we planned our weekend in a small mountain resort town last time and have pivoted to a closer location this year. During our first retreat, several members (including myself) couldn't get off work early enough on Friday to spend the entire weekend writing like we'd hoped. The whole point of our retreat was to work in a dedicated writing and growing weekend without the hassle and cost. This year, we're renting an AirBnB that's less than a 15 minute drive away from home for all of our members. This way, everyone can dedicate the entire weekend to writing, learning, talking, and relaxing, instead of spending hours traveling. Of course, if your group has the resources and time to travel, go for it! For us, we realized early on that moving our retreat into our own backyard (metaphorically) would make us more productive in the end.
Schedules Are Your Friend
When you plan your own writing retreat, there won't be anyone at the door handing out a daily itinerary and planning your day out for you. Instead, you and your group call the shots. This is both a blessing and a curse: you can customize your weekend to exactly your needs and desires, but you can also end up wasting time chatting with your friends. This year, we collaboratively created a schedule with blocked off writing time, feedback sessions, meals, workshops, and free periods to keep us on track. (You can copy our notes if you want! I've included our schedule at the end of this post for you to use.)
Keep it Simple
Remember your goal and stick to it. We wanted to spend a weekend focusing on writing, getting feedback from other writers, and planning upcoming projects. For us, that means eating most meals in our AirBnB instead of going out and avoiding distractions like our phones and the internet. We could have planned more activities or sessions into our weekend, but that would take away from our writing time.
While I'm advocating for keeping it simple, I'll also say this: we learned from our first year that our retreats should add value to the experience for every writer. After all, we could all sit at home and write for a weekend (although that doesn't sound fun at all). That's why we all collaboratively agreed on one learning session during our retreat. Each member has something to teach us, and we chose our members Cienna and Emery to lead a discussion on submitting our work. Emery has loads of experience submitting her work while Cienna has been an editor for years and can give us the perspective of someone receiving our submissions. Consider adding a few learning sessions into your writing retreat to get more out of your time and spark new ideas.
Share the Cost
We're splitting the cost of our AirBnB and each providing a meal to share the expense of our weekend. With all of us pitching in this way, none of us are overburdened with cost and we can all afford the luxury of a writing retreat. That's one of the beauties of a well-functioning writing group: you can have access to "luxuries" like feedback and support that would otherwise be inaccessible.
A Sample Writing Retreat Schedule
Finally, I'm sharing our retreat schedule. If you're interested in hosting your own writing retreat, this schedule could serve as a guide. Even if it's just you and one other writer attending, you can host a writing retreat.
5:30 pm - Arrive and dinner in
6:30-7:30: Goal setting (Quiet writing time, writing notes about goals or jumping right in)
7:30-bedtime: Discuss goals/chill
8:00-9:00 - Breakfast in
9:00-10:00 - Shower and free time
10:00-12:00 - Write (phones/WiFi off)
12:00-1:00 - Lunch in
1:00-2:00 - Submitting and Pitching Your Work presented by Emery and Cienna
2:00-4:00 - Write (phones/WiFi off)
4:00-5:00 - Pair off for one-on-one workshops
5:00-7:00 - Dinner (out)
7:00-9:00 - Write (phones/WiFi off)
9:00-bedtime - Read aloud and feedback/chill time
8:00-9:00 - Yoga lead by Tasha
9:00-10:00 - Breakfast
10:00-12:00 - Writing time
12:00-1:00 - Lunch + wrap-up/reflection time
1:00-4:00 - Optional additional writing time