Here are the last three questions you should ask yourself before going on a writing retreat:
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?
These may seem silly, but I have some good stories to support the fact that you really should think about this before you start.
4) Accommodations and transportation
Seems basic, right? Here are a few issues I’ve had at different retreats.
The place only had a handful of parking spaces, and about 15 people coming. You get there late and you’re out of luck. No parking spot for you!
I once carpooled with someone who suddenly wanted to leave early. Ugh. That didn’t make me happy.
One time I didn’t carpool with someone because she had a sick baby back home. That worked out because she did end up having to leave, but I didn’t have to. So we communicated and all was well. That made everyone happy.
If you carpool, establish the “rules” for the car. A few weekends ago “Lola” (name changed to protect the “innocent”) drove, and told me up front that if I wanted to do something she didn’t that I was more than welcome to take her car and go do it. Those things are nice to know up-front. I also asked about the rules of eating in the car. Little things like that will keep the irritation level down.
As for accommodations, Lola and I were considering a different retreat, but found out that while the place was big, it was going to be crowded, and there would be a bunch of rules around quiet times and areas and sharing room and stuff. This sounded like more stress than either of us were willing to deal with, so we went our own way. I know for a fact that this other retreat was awesome, but I think we did the right thing for us.
This year we got a condo with two bedrooms, so Lola and I didn’t even have to talk if we didn’t want to. Lola locked herself in her room for the first five hours of each day. For me that was strange—and creepy—but that’s what she wanted, and I had the whole rest of the place to do whatever I felt like doing. Which consisted of writing.
We’ve both been to other retreats, shared rooms, met people and had both good and bad times. But this year our goals were aligned to spit out a lot of words, and this is what we did to make it happen.
Know yourself, find out as much as you can about the location of the retreat, and figure out if you’ll thrive or die in that environment. One time I ended up in a room with about seven girls in their early twenties. So pretty much teenagers. They had a great time…I used my earplugs a lot.
5) Food and Money
Talk about this beforehand and get it out of the way. If you’re organizing something big, you may want to get the money for the accommodations beforehand.
Lola and I have this worked out. I pay for the hotel, she pays me back half and we pay for our own food.
But let’s talk about food for a minute.
So last year Lola and I did a retreat and went out for each meal. This year Lola decided to change the rules without telling me first. When she started to unload a small tote of fruit, bagels and other healthy items, I got suspicious. So I started asking questions, and after a few seconds spit it out.
Apparently she doesn’t do breakfast and rarely does much for lunch. (She’s got 4 boys, who would even have time to eat???) So last year, going out for each meal was way too much for her.
I eat every meal, and get grouchy if I don’t.
She, as I already mentioned, offered the car to me, but I’m not really the go out and sit in a restaurant by myself kind of girl. Luckily I’d brought a few things and between the two of us I had enough for breakfast and snacks. We drove through for lunch on the way to the library, then as a reward for a job well done, we got a big dinner.
While this was no more than a funny inconvenience for me (I’m pretty easy going most of the time), it would have been nice to know beforehand. Especially with a condo. I could have brought plenty for breakfast and lunch.
Now I know. And I know to ask the questions.
6) Real life
You just spent from 1-3 days away from home. Are you prepared to go back to the mess? What about work? Spouse? Kids? Neighbors?
This is something to ignore while you’re gone, but should be addressed before you leave and as you’re driving home.
Steel yourself. It’s pretty rough getting tossed back into the real world. You’ve just enjoyed a HUGE creative outlet, while those around you have been making lists of things they need from you when you get back. They probably won’t appreciate that you’re mentally exhausted. They probably won’t understand that you just want to either watch TV or go write some more.
Remember, they’re not you. They love you and need you, but they’re not you, so they may not get it. Love them anyway, and do your best to be gracious about getting back to your regularly scheduled program.
That’s pretty much it for now. If you ever get the chance to go on a writing retreat, take it. You probably won’t regret it!