You’ve gathered a few writing buddies together and you’ve booked a cottage in the country, you’re all set to try your hand at creating a Writers’ Retreat. So, how are you going to get the maximum benefit from it while putting the minimum time into planning it? Because, let’s face it, we’re writers. We want to write. Not spend hours and hours organising ourselves to write.
So do have a meeting or a virtual meeting before you go, to decide the main things in advance.
My friends and I have tried different approaches and each time we have gone away for a week, we have structured it a little differently so perhaps the most helpful thing for me to do would be to tell you some of the things that work well, not necessarily the things we have done.
One of the things to remember is, although you are going to your retreat to write, you will also need to eat, so planning a rough menu beforehand is worth considering. Shopping for that menu can be done in advance if you have room in the car for the shopping. Failing that, perhaps locate the nearest supermarket to you cottage and, after you unload the car, you can go back out for a shopping trip. This is where the planning meeting is useful. You can decide things like:
Will you share the cooking, perhaps on a daily rota? Or will everyone fend for themselves?
Will you share the shopping or will one of you volunteer to bring the supplies to the cottage and everyone chip in with their share of the cost?
Your meals need not be elaborate affairs. As long as there are plenty of basic things like bread and cheese, plenty salad and fruit, wine and coffee, everyone is usually happy to see to themselves for breakfast and lunch, unless your group wish to plan who prepares these meals too. Good to know in advance who is going to be responsible for producing a simple evening meal. Do one or two of your group particularly enjoy cooking? Or should you make a rota for everyone to have a turn.
Simplicity is the key.
No-one wants to spend the best part of the day in the kitchen — unless cooking is their passion, of course. In which case, enjoy! It’s a creative retreat, after all, and cooking is another delightful creative outlet.
Something else you might want to discuss beforehand is whether you want to use the retreat as a quiet place, conducive to writing, where you can each get on quietly with your WIP uninterrupted, or would you like to also have some structured writing time. If so, it would be good to plan who will lead that session and how. There are many useful books with suggestions for writing exercises, or you may have some old favourites of your own.
Starting the day with a little light physical exercise, like a short walk or such, followed by a timed writing exercise or two can be useful to wake up the body and the writing muscles. Similarly, it’s important to incorporate short breaks in the day to stretch out the muscles, get some fresh air and refresh yourselves.
After eating the evening meal, it can be pleasant to spend time relaxing together for a while, perhaps watching a film, playing music, or just sitting chatting over a glass of wine.
This might also be a time you would enjoy reading out some of your day’s writing to one another and getting some feedback.
At the planning stage, it is good to discuss together what each member of the party hopes to achieve. Whether some of you want to set yourselves a daily word count, or a weekly one, whether the aim is to edit a certain number of pages, poems or chapters, the best way to achieve the maximum benefit from your retreat is to set clear goals and encourage one another to work towards them.
Respect one another’s space.
Respect the silence.
Respect each other’s writing.
At the end of your week or weekend together, celebrate!
Discuss what worked and what didn’t, what helped and what hindered, and plan your next retreat.
What about turning your annual vacation into a personal writer’s retreat?
If your friend or your spouse likes fishing, skiing, white water rafting and you don’t, why not book a log cabin where he or she can do their thing and you can write, sharing a meal together in the evening, a glass of wine by the fire or in the evening sun, sharing the stories of the day.
My husband and I do this from time to time, where he pursues his interests during the day while I enjoy some quiet writing time and we share the evenings together. It works.
I would love to hear your suggestions.
What have you tried?
Have you enjoyed the luxury of a Writers’ Retreat?
Many of my novels have been partly written on one of the writing retreats my writers’ group have enjoyed over the years. You can find them all on Amazon Kindle or here if you prefer a paperback edition.