I’m writing from the woods in Pennsylvania, where my critique partners Sara and Eva and I travel for our annual summer writing retreat!
Retreats are great for so many reasons. Getting away from your normal surroundings—and I don’t mean a local coffee shop, I mean far away—can really help you refocus on your writing, because your usual distractions are just not an option. The act of setting aside a period of time in which you aim to achieve certain writing goals also aids in devoting more energy and attention to those goals, and to your writing practice more generally. Also, it’s really fun to be away with other people who are obsessed with the same thing you’re obsessed with!
Going on retreat takes some negotiating and careful planning that will account for schedules, travel, and accommodations. Usually, retreat means taking vacation days from work, and family responsibilities have to be put on pause, as well. We typically start the planning process many months in advance.
It’s also important to figure out what you want to work on—are you trying to finish a project? Do you want to revise something? Or do you want to use the inspiration of entirely different surroundings to help you start something new? A lot can get done on retreat, but in my experience, planning for the time away makes for the best kind of writing time. It’s a lot better to head out with something in mind than to try and figure things out after you’ve arrived.
We all have chores on retreat, since we want to share in the costs and tasks that arise. I’m trip chef each year (which is not to say Eva and Sara don’t make yummy food, too—they do!). My goal is always to fill our fridge with really healthy and delicious food that will give us sustained energy throughout the retreat. I make a lot of different salads with fresh fruits and veggies, and try to keep breakfast proteins available as well as making a protein main course for dinner. Having a full fridge and healthy snacks on the pantry shelves means we don’t have to go find restaurants or spend too much time cooking things from scratch, which helps us put more time and effort into the writing itself.
It’s nice to enjoy a little time in the space that you’re in, too. There are some lovely farm markets in the area that we usually visit at least once while we’re out here. Eva and Sara really love nature, so they’ll do things like swim in the local lake, go kayaking, and take hikes in the woods. I’m not a nature girl at all, but it works out because I just take the time that they’re adventuring to sit inside the house, write, and hang out with Sara’s adorable dogs.
We also like to sit around the fire, airing out our hopes and dreams for our writing careers. Part of retreat is talking about what you’re working on in your writing and where you’d like to eventually be with it. There’s a reason it brings us closer together as a critique group each year: we can check in with each other and ourselves, and get to know our goals better and help encourage each other to achieve them. Although I don’t go out every evening to the fire pit (again, I really, really don’t do nature!), I always make sure to sit with my amazing critique partners at least once and share in the wishing and writerly discussions with them.
This year, I was unfortunately really sick from the night before we left through the better part of the retreat (that’s what I get for wanting to work with kids! They’re cute, but they’re walking germ bombs, I tell you!). My sleep was disturbed, and as a result, I didn’t have nearly as much energy and focus as I’ve had in the past for my writing. My output on my sickest days was around 1000 words daily, which is quite low compared to my past retreat productivity. But today, I felt better for the first time since we arrived, and I managed a healthy 2700 words. I’d like to have done more, but I’m making peace with the fact that this year, luck wasn’t on my side. The silver lining is: despite being sick, I wrote. I made an effort towards the goals I’d set, and while I didn’t achieve them here, I’ve got more fire under me now that’s going to travel with me when I get home. And, best of all, I spent time with my two favorite people (and two favorite pups!) and our writing, which is always something I cherish.
I hope that in addition to giving you a peek into my own experience on writing retreat, I’ve given you some good insights on how you might want your own retreat to transpire, should you take one. I can’t recommend it enough! And if you have gone on writing retreat and would like to share your own adventures, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section of this post!
Until my next update, I wish you happy writing, wherever the summer may take you!