What is a Writing Retreat, and Why Should I Bother?

Writing Retreat

Writing retreats. If you’re like me, you get emails about retreats. You entered that contest to join a writing retreat in an old European castle, because how awesome would that be? You even get snail mail inviting you to exotic locations with promises of writing time peppered with great social opportunities.

The most difficult place to write is probably at home.

Some of us have pets or children requiring attention. (I’m not making any judgment on which is more demanding!) If we don’t have those distractions, there are other things. The kitchen needs to be cleaned. Laundry needs to be folded. The car needs waxing. The books need to be put back into Dewey Decimal System order—whatever it is, we can always find compelling reasons not to write.

Some writers solve that by taking their work outside the home, either to a dedicated office space, a local coffee shop, or somewhere else. Those are all fabulous solutions, but they don’t solve one very fundamental problem: the pressures of home still linger at the backs of our thoughts. Our setting for writing bliss is temporary, and why can’t I stop thinking about all the things I have to do back there?

This is when I start thinking about the pure joy of a writing retreat. I’ve been to many, and each one has been wonderful. Each style has its differences, and we’ll get into that below. But first…

What is a Writing Retreat?

To put it simply, a writing retreat is a place you go to for a specified length of time with the express goal of writing. These differ from local write-ins in that typically, they’re far enough from home that you can’t excuse yourself to run back and check the mail. One curiously motivating factor about attending a retreat—to me, anyway—is that I’ve had to pay to get there, or pay to attend, and after all that, I’m going to write, damn it. I’m going to get my money’s worth.

There’s something to it when we treat writing like a job! That discussion might be better served on a different day, though.

Types of Writing Retreats

There are as many different writing retreats as the day is long, but any one of them can generally be shuttled into one of three categories: scheduled, unscheduled, and hybrid. Let’s take a look at each.

Scheduled Writing Retreats

Of course, the travel and circumstances are always scheduled for any retreat, but here we’re talking about the scheduled content of the retreat. In a scheduled retreat, you get—wait for it—a schedule of events you’re either required or invited to attend. These can take the form of workshops or presentations, slide shows, informational videos, readings. All the attendees are there together. Afterward, there may be focused writing time based on what was just presented. Sometimes, the actual writing time itself is scheduled. There’s nothing like sitting in a room with ten or forty of your closest writing friends seeing who can get their assignment done.

These types of retreats are often held at hotels or conference centers. They’re very much like mini conferences, in fact, with the days split between informational sessions and writing time. The workshops can be led by authors, by industry professionals—you name it. Prices for these types of writing retreats vary depending on who’s presenting and what’s included. For example, the last scheduled writing retreat I attended was a week-long one at a hotel. The price of the retreated was all-inclusive: meals, lodging, supplies, handouts.

Gwynne, you say, I like the sound of that, but I can’t get away from home for a solid week! Then it’s simple: pick a shorter retreat. See? Easy. Or you can organize one that suits your needs.

Unscheduled Writing Retreats

Are you a free-form, free-for-all, write-when-you-feel-like-it type of writer? Do you like to live on the edge, or at least have a good grasp on forcing yourself to sit down and put words on the page without anyone telling you exactly when you may or may not write? Then you’ll probably prefer a retreat where your days are not scheduled. At this type of retreat attendees still go with the express aim of writing their little butts off, but the where, when, and how is left up to the attendees. Typically, there tends to be even more socializing at these retreats. And why not? No one’s telling you that there will be a presentation on Passive Voice at 2pm, so be there.

Typically, there are not actual workshops at these retreats, unless the attendees agree upon those in advance. The point is to get together with friends and for everybody to write.

I went on an unscheduled writing retreat earlier this year and got quite a bit of writing done. It’s nice to have hours at a stretch without interruption. Again, since I paid to attend this one (in lodging, meals, and transportation), I was determined to get some bang for my buck. It’s amazing how much easier it is for me to focus on writing (and being able to keep writing) when I know that’s my afternoon’s express purpose.

If that sounds good to you, what are you waiting for? You can always put together a retreat with one or more writing buddies. Then go forth and write.

Hybrid Writing Retreats

I’m pretty sure you can see what’s coming up here. Just as indie authors publish both traditionally and on their own, hybrid retreats feature a combination of both scheduled and unscheduled time. Each day, there may or may not be something on the docket. Sometimes, that’s decided on when everyone arrives at the retreat; sometimes it’s decided on in advance. If you know you need a little bit of a push but mostly want time to write, this is probably a great option for you.

How Do I Retreat?

Writing retreats are everywhere. As I mentioned earlier, I hear about new ones all the time. Some literary agencies host their own; others are run by writing organizations or by individuals. Many RWA local chapters host their own retreats—you can find one near you with a simple web search.

What you should expect from a retreat varies based on the type of retreat you’re attending. In all cases, you should be able to come away with more words.

  • Where: In so many locations, all over the world. You can find a retreat close to home, or travel to the other side of the globe. You can find retreats in hotels, motels, private homes. On trains, boats…just about anywhere.
  • When: There’s no “retreat season.” You can find a retreat going on at any time of the year, although summertime is popular.
  • Why: Because you want to write. Because you need time away from home to focus. What’s a writer’s most precious resource? Time. Attending a writing retreat gives you this, if you treat it seriously.
  • How: Show up and write! The event organizers will let you know what to bring, as well as what to expect.
  • Purpose: Everyone has their own personal purpose for attending a writing retreat. Mine is typically to write, but while that might seem obvious, it’s not always the case. Sometimes there are more social agendas for some attendees. It’s a wise idea to know the agenda before you pay your fees.
  • Benefits: In any retreat, the value you take from it is equal to the effort you put in. In addition to getting more words on the page, writing retreats can be so inspiring! You might come away with a renewed sense of purpose. Or you might have met someone who showed you how to meditate, or do some yoga, or gave you the secret to writing perfect first drafts. You never know! But above all, you’ll have dedicated writing time. That’s worth more than its weight in gold.

Later this month, we’ll hear about some of our All The Kissing community’s favorite writing retreat moments. For now, I hope this little overview has helped to put writing retreats into some sort of perspective for you. Now go forth and write! As always, if you have any comments, feel free to share them!

Feature image by Aaron Burden on Unsplash 

G. L. Jackson
G.L. Jackson lives in the Seattle area with her family and pets. Although born in New York City and raised in New England, she prefers the west coast.

She's been writing since childhood. While some things never change, she hopes the quality of those stories has increased at least a little over time. These days her focus is primarily on contemporary rock & roll romance featuring strong, sassy heroines who know what they want and aren't afraid to reach for it. She does her best to bust at least a few tropes per book. Banter is her guilty pleasure.
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