Surprise, I’m back! Two posts in two days? I know, it’s crazy, but hang in there, hopefully I’ll be more active in these upcoming weeks.
I usually look forward to summer as a time to focus only on writing, but that hardly ever happens. With my senior year and the college search looming over me, writing has fallen to the wayside and every time I try to write, I am plagued by an incurable case of writer’s block. So I did some research to see what other writers did when all hope was seemingly lost and I discovered the idea of a writing retreat. Now I had heard of writing retreats before, but most of them involved spending a week with other writers going to workshops and writing together, which wouldn’t work for a number of reasons. Number one: I’m broke, number two: I don’t have a week’s worth of time, and number three: I’m not 18 yet (sigh). So after being disappointed by delusions of grandeur (I will someday rent out a cottage in the Irish countryside for a month, surrounded by only sheep, but sadly today is not that day), I figured that I could have a writing retreat in my own home that didn’t involve me locking myself in my bedroom and wrapping myself in my Ohio State snuggie only to stare at a blank Microsoft Word document for six hours. So if you can tolerate a couple of un-witty section titles, join me, and we can plan our writing retreat together.
Discovering Your Motivation/The Genre of Your Retreat
First things first, you need to decide what you to accomplish. Set one concrete goal for yourself (i.e. edit four chapters, write 10,000 words) and one abstract goal (i.e. fall in love with your work in process). I really wanted my retreat to be a place where I could recharge and fall back in love with writing, so I decided to create an itinerary that would combine my goals with some of my favorite things: writing, relaxation, and Shakespeare. Now you could have very different ideas of fun and what you want to accomplish, so base your retreat around what you like best! Perhaps you get your best ideas while exercising, so work in activities that get you on your feet to break up your writing periods. I find that having a major theme to encompass your day or weekend will help guide you in your planning because it’s almost like an outline for the rest of the retreat.
To Invite, or Not to Invite
The next step is to decide whether this is a solo adventure or you need the support of a group of friends. When deciding this you have to consider if your author friends are going to help you improve your writing. My best friend and I would love to go on a writing retreat together, but let me tell you, you leave us alone for five minutes and we’d start debating over the best Irish punk-folk band (it’s The Pogues and I will fight anyone on this) and never get around to actually writing. If you’re going to invite a partner in crime, I suggest having a reading period at the end of each day, so that everyone has some accountability. You have to write so you don’t show up to the reading session empty handed. Also, only invite people that would bring good vibes to your writing space. Anyone who acts too author-ly (we all know that one person) should be left off the guest list.
The Setting of Your Retreat
The one requirement for your retreat is that you must be able to relax and be able to write in the space where you’re holding a retreat. While it would probably be better and more of a get away to hold your retreat somewhere outside of your home, it does provide a totally free option (as long as you live alone or somehow manage to get rid of your family for a couple of days). If you do hold your retreat in the comfort of your own home, change some things around to make it feel different. Build a blanket fort. Sit outside and write. Put some scented candles around the place. If you are looking for a free option outside of your house, go to a park nearby, a library, a Starbucks, or go bookstore hopping. Of course, the activities you plan will be limited by your location, so consider what you want to do with your time and whether or not your chosen location will allow for that. Your favorite bookstore might not mind you hanging out to write, but if you start busting out some yoga poses, you might be kindly asked to leave. If you are not a broke teenager like me, consider a Bed and Breakfast or maybe even an AirBnB. With the latter, you can usually rent out entire houses for a very reasonable rate. Maybe you can live out my dream of writing among the sheep in the Connemara countryside.
Choosing Your Trials
Now for the fun part, choosing your activities! Create a schedule for the day (don’t forget meals and breaks!) based upon your goals. So my schedule might look a little something like this:
8:30 – Breakfast
9:00 – Character Workshop – Gather any materials you might need the night before, so you don’t waste time scouring the depths of the Internet for character worksheets. For this activity, you get to choose what helps you get inside your character’s heads the most. Maybe you like character interviews (check out my Character Interview Worksheet), but personally, I love writing journal entries from the character’s point of view. Not only does it help me practice develop their voice, but I find this is the most effective way to discover who your character really is.
10:00 – Relaxation Break – For my first break, I wanted to emulate the feel of a spa (I wasn’t kidding about breaking out those scented candles), so I have a small collection of face masks just waiting to be used.
10:30 – Writing Block- Turn off your internet access and just let yourself free write!
12:00 – Lunch
12:30 – Henry IV: Part 1- For some reason, anytime I pop the Lord of the Rings or The Hollow Crown into my DVD player I get the urge to write. So this is a form of inspiration in a way. I love watching Shakespeare’s characters and they always encourage me to better my own, and besides, who doesn’t love a good hero story? Plus, Hal such a relatable protagonist. He’s constantly compared to his cousin who’s better than him at everything and then Hal acts incompetently to lower everyone’s expectations of him. We’ve all been guilty of folding the laundry incorrectly so our mothers won’t ask us to do it again. Or is that just me?
2:30 – Writing Block
4:30 – Relaxation Break. Take a dip in a hot tub if one’s available. Or draw a hot bath.
4:45- Worldbuilding Exercises – I admit, this time around I did not worldbuild as thoroughly as I should have and because of that, I feel like my writing has suffered. Plus, worldbuilding makes me excited, so I love to do it. If you’re worldbuilding too, you don’t only have to fill out questionnaires that never seem to end. Draw maps! Sketch designs of traditional garments! Make up regional recipes and then attempt to cook them! The fun never ends!
6:30 – Dinner
7:30 – Reflection. Did your retreat accomplish everything you wanted it to? Did you accomplish your goals? Do you feel confident in your craft? Are you happier and more relaxed?
8:00 – Writing Block
10:00 – End of the Day. Eat a giant bowl of ice cream while watching Henry IV: Part 1 a second time.
So like I said, this is what my schedule would look like, but yours could be completely different. Maybe you want to focus more on editing on your work in progress, or being active helps get you inspired. This is just a rough template that can be modified to fit your own personal needs and goals.
Tell everyone that you’re going to be unreachable for a day or a week. For me, knowing that I told people I’d be gone makes me want to reach out less. Turn off the Wifi. The Internet is a black hole that needs to be ignored. Download your writing music onto your computer or phone so you don’t have to use Spotify or Youtube playlists. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb. It’s the closest thing to turning your phone off without actually turning your phone off. Eat healthily. You may be tempted to binge eat cookies all day, but you’ll be more productive if you eat healthily. Save the sweets for the end of retreat celebration.
So, I hope this helps anyone that is thinking about planning their own writing retreat! Let me know if you’ve ever done something similar or are planning to try this out one day!