18 November 2013

Writing Retreats (Round 1)

Writers speak about retreats in hushed tones, where no one else can see and where no one else can hear. Every author longs for a writing retreat, but alas, real life is persistent, and generally gets in the way.  Most of us have to go sans retreat.


What if you are one of the lucky few? What if somehow all of the stars align and you are able to get away for a few days?

What if???

Having been single until just a few months ago, I've had the opportunity to do quite a bit of retreating.

Not running away...wait, it is sort of like running away—from life, from responsibility, from family, from TV, from chores and most of all, from your normal, everyday activities.  This is where the writing usually comes in.

Since I've done this a few times, I thought it might be nice to give some advice (from my limited experience) to anyone who may want to read it.

Before going to a writing retreat, ask yourself the following questions:

1) Why are you going?
2) Who are you going with?
3) What are your goals?
4) What is the expectation on accommodations/transportation for the weekend?
5) What is the expectation on food/money for the weekend?
6) How is the rest of your life going to suffer while you're gone, and are you prepared to weather the consequences on your return?

Let’s tackle the first three today.

1) Why are you going?

This is important. Really important. Are you going to write? Or are you going to socialize? Or are you going to network? Or are you going to learn?

You may not know all of these answers before you get there. When I went to Dave Farland's Death Camp three years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I was going to learn more than my mind could handle, and that I would end up drooling for three days after I got home from sheer overload.

That happened, but we also spent each afternoon writing. And the group of us got to know one another, which has been invaluable. My most aggressive writing group and friends come from the Death Camp crowd.

So sometimes there are pleasant surprises that come along.

Figure out why you are going. Start there, then go to #2.

2) Who are you going with?

Or, I will add, if you’re going alone, what do you know about the people you will be with?

The feel and productivity of a retreat will depend highly upon who is there. If you know that the group going is a bunch of women—I dare say moms who may be more than a little excited about being away from their kids for the weekend—then you should probably expect more talking than not.

If the crowd consists of professional writers, don’t expect them to talk to you much. They’re probably there to write. Don’t get me wrong, they’re usually nice people, but they need writing time too, and this is like quiet, beautiful gold.

If you don’t know anyone, then you might plan to make a few friends. Not obnoxiously—during quiet time—but during breaks. Other authors are the best support system you can have.

3) What are your goals?

This one is key. For me, without a goal, I would tend to mess around more. Even if I’m being quiet, I might decide I need to over-edit a chapter for two hours instead of working on the outline I really need to be plotting.

So before you go, and after you figure out who is going to be there and how serious the writing time might be, decide what you want to walk away with before the end of the weekend.

It sounds silly, but it’ll keep you on track.

The retreat I just got back from turned out to be my most productive yet.  I’ll answer my own questions.

1)Why am I going?
Because I’ve spent the last year dating, getting engaged and getting married. My writing time has been sucked away, and I needed a jump-start to really getting back into it.

2) Who am I going with?
My awesome, slave-driving (she says the same about me) writing buddy “Lola.” (Name changed to protect the “innocent.”) There were just the two of us, so the expectation was that there would be lots and lots of writing going on.

3) What are my goals?
My super-secret I-Didn’t-Tell-Anyone-In-Case-It-Didn’t-Happen goal was to write 30,000 words over three days.

Nailed it. I managed 33,000 words and only stopped because I finished the end of the story I was working on! (And my hands started to twitch.)

Each night, before bed, we would work out a schedule (which we modified a few times) so the expectations would be set for the next day. Writing until 12:30. Then a break (walk, jog—not me, Lola, maybe lunch) and then off to the library for four hours for a change of pace. Once we were finished at the library, we would do dinner, a treat and then back to the condo for at least another hour of writing.

It sounds brutal, but we totally did it, and both spit out more than 30,000 words over the weekend.

Worth the expense and the time away?

Uh, yes.

Next time we’ll answer questions 4-6.

1 comment:

Sus House said...

Sounds like an awesome retreat. So happy you reached your goal... 30,000 words in 3 days is no easy task. Way to go!

Great advice too. I've discovered how important it is to be purposeful with my time; especially if I'm going to have the opportunity to be social... I get easily side-tracked into conversation. Not a bad thing if that was the goal... but very unproductive if I just need to have words written.