Write It Sideways

Planning Your Own Writing Retreat

Today’s article is written by regular contributor Christi Craig.

Every once in a while, I read about a weekend retreat or a month-long writing residency, and I dream.

If only I had a month to squirrel away on just writing. If only I had money to pay for just two days to slip away and write.

Lament long enough to a good friend and fellow writer with a creative and determined spirit, and you discover that dreams are not impossible; they just need to be tweaked a bit to become reality.

My friend Victoria and I are both working on novels, and we both have young children at home. Getting away isn’t easy for either of us. So, when she sent me an email and suggested we plan our own weekend writing retreat—one that was low in cost and rich in hours—I said, Yes!

I can’t speak for Victoria, but I can share my experience in the plans and how I made it work for me and my novel.

Time.

In my life, weekends fill up way in advance, I’m talking six months to a year in advance. So, if I want to secure time away for writing, I have to X-out those days in red on the calendar—his, hers, theirs—as soon as possible. Make sure that everyone knows, come rain, shine, or baby’s got a cold, I will not be on the home premises for those few days.

Partnering with another writer for a weekend like this sealed my commitment to the date, as well. Neither of us were about to let the other peter out on the plans, especially because we were in the same boat when it came to finding time for intensive writing.

Space.

Location and lodgings both played important roles in our plan. Victoria and I live a hundred miles apart, so we needed a place located somewhere in between, one within short driving distance. We didn’t want to waste precious time racking up mileage. With accommodations, we considered renting separate rooms in a Bed and Breakfast, thinking that kind of environment might be more comfortable than a hotel. But, I knew I would need more room to spread out, pace the floors (most likely). And, I didn’t want to worry about odd looks from strangers at the breakfast table, after a night of wandering the halls and mumbling my way through story structure and plot. We opted, then, to search for a house or cottage to rent.

Googling “cottage for rent” brought up two websites right away, PerfectPlaces and FLIPKEY, both of which offer international rentals. We went with FLIPKEY, and, believe it or not, we found a beautiful, three-bedroom Victorian house, complete with kitchen furnishings and a lovely sitting room, in a quaint town oozing with history, art, and creativity. The cost of the entire house was the same price we would have paid for a room at a Bed & Breakfast.

Strategy.

When I am gifted a chunk of time, free from all responsibility, I dilly-dally. I drink too much coffee. I catch up on emails. I check Facebook, drink more coffee, check Facebook again. I take a nap. For this weekend to be a success, I needed a plan.

I hoped to gain some strong footing with the novel-in-progress, but the temptation to bring that short story I’d been fiddling with or that really great book I’d been itching to crack open–for a break here and there, you know–was strong. Just like Facebook, though, small writing projects and interesting reads distract me from bigger endeavors. Since this weekend was about tackling the novel, I left everything else behind. Everything.

Then, I set some reasonable, SMART goals. I knew I wouldn’t bomb through a second draft rewrite in two days, but I figured I could set my story structure in solid order, so that my rewrite wouldn’t be as daunting. Friday night, I typed an outline of my entire first draft. Saturday, I wrote the outline headings on half-sheets of paper and shuffled those papers around the sitting room floor like a giant sliding box puzzle. By Sunday, I had a strong story line and a renewed hope that this novel would see The End.

Revelry.

Thanks to cold and rainy weather that weekend, it was easy to sequester myself inside with my story for two days. But after spending much of Saturday hunched over paper and drowning in my own heavy sighs, I needed respite. Victoria (the great writing friend that she is) could see that. She poured the wine, we stepped away from our work, and we talked all things writing and life.

Don’t underestimate the power of downtime. During those discussions, we not only celebrated all our hard work, but we shared strategies, asked each other questions, reasoned out parts of our novels. We proved that walking away from the work can be just as productive as being immersed in it.

And, immersing ourselves in the work, and only the work—over an entire weekend—wasn’t as impossible as it had seemed.

If you could plan your perfect writing retreat, where would you start and how would you strategize?