The Art of Retreating

Travel_paris_france_942640_hI'm in France, embarking on a week-long writing adventure, co-leading a workshop/retreat.  (Not to make you jealous or anything.)  There's probably nothing more invigorating for your writing than to get away with the specific intent to write.  And, if you struggle to find time to write in your daily schedule, a retreat can offer that time.  I have a client who gets all his work done on his novel by taking writing retreats every month or so.   Here are some ways to accomplish this:

1. Find an
organized retreat
, where a group of people comes together to create time to
write. Sometimes other activities are planned and in most cases, these
activities are optional, should the writing be going well. You can find listings
at Shaw Guides, or if you're looking
for the best of both worlds–instruction and time to write–check out my
retreats at Let's Go Write.   (We're heading overseas again in 2014, possibly to Italy, so stay tuned.)

2. Band
together with a group of friends and create your own retreat
, as I have done on
several occasions. Going in a group can reduce expenses considerably, and the
camaraderie after writing sessions are over is priceless. Some writers like to
read their work at night, either what they've been writing that day, or
finished work, and some prefer to keep to themselves and ponder the next day's
session. You can rent a house, stay in a bed and breakfast, or find a resort.
Just make sure everybody is clear on the ground rules from the outset.

3. Design a
personal writing retreat
. When you're coming down the home stretch on a
project, going off by yourself to work on it can help you finish. Hours of
solitude devoted only to your writing fuels a lot of inspiration. Find an
inexpensive room in a nearby city and take yourself away to work. I have a
friend who often takes personal writing retreats at a college town, because
accommodations are plentiful. Resort towns in the off-season are also good. Or
check out this site for more

4. Go to a
writer's colony
. This is a bit different in that there will be an application
process involved. Writers apply for residencies of anywhere from a week to
several months, and in many cases, meals and everything you need are provided.
Competition is fierce, especially for the most prestigious colonies, such as
MacDowell. But there's also quite a list of lesser-known colonies that might
interest you. Either google or check them out here.

5.  If
all else fails, design your own retreat while you stay at home.
everyone you know that you'll be focusing exclusively on your writing and then
follow through–turn off the phone, shut down the email boxes, refuse to answer
the door. Because in reality, retreating is a mind-set more than anything else.
It is committing to keeping outside influences at bay while focusing deeply on
your own work, that which is most important to you. And that can be
accomplished anywhere.

Retreat Guidelines

Once you get
there (whether there is across the ocean or behind the doors of your office),
here are some guidelines to get the most out of the retreat:

1.  Go
with a specific project in mind.
  It is generally best to stick to
working on one thing, but if you have a crazy right brain like me, you might
want to bring several.  Retreats are great for making lots of progress on
a novel, for instance, or for conceptualizing and get a great start on a short story or essay.

Have a goal in mind.
  We start our Let's Go Write retreats with a session in
which every participant names their goals.  As with all goals, it is good
to be specific.  Not, "make progress on my novel," but
"write 8000 words on my novel."

3.  If
the muse hits, go with it
.  If you're in the flow, don't stop. 
Doesn't matter if you are at a retreat with planned activities, go with the
flow and get those words on the page.  That's the point, after all.

Don't overlook the power of bonding.
  One of the best things about organized
retreats is that you'll meet other writers.  Connecting is vital for
writers, and something we often overlook in our furious efforts to become good
writers.  You can go to a retreat, have plenty of time to work, and still
meet other people.  Our Let's Go Write retreats are famous for our convivial Happy Hours.

5. Don't judge by
word count alone. 
If you don't
hit your intended word count, don't brand yourself a failure.   You've probably gained more than
you think, because having space and time away from the concerns of day to day
life allows the mind to open up and expand.  It is easier to
conceptualize, and to look at the big picture. 

Do you take writing retreats?  Do you prefer going in groups or alone?  Leave a comment–I'd love to hear your experiences!

Photo by beggs.

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8 Responses to The Art of Retreating

  1. J.D. 08/29/2013 at 07:04 #

    Great, Charlotte! I’m happy for you. I have visited Paris but I did it in a whirlwind. I may have mentioned before, I have an artist acquaintance who lives in Vence. Have a great time. And I’m curious: When you evaluate manuscripts (I think it is for $3 per page if you annotate) must it be the entire manuscript? I just wanted to bring you back to Earth a little bit. lol. I know the last thing you want to think about is work. Have fun!

  2. Zan Marie 08/29/2013 at 10:30 #

    LOL! I just turned down a lunch invitation to work on my rewrites. 😉
    Happy retreating! BTW, I <3 Paris.

  3. Beth Westmark 08/29/2013 at 18:00 #

    Man, I’d love to be there with you. I know it will be great. I’ll look forward to reading all about it.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 08/30/2013 at 12:48 #

    I have wifi for the first time in days but I've barely missed it. Having a grand time!

    Sent from my iPad

  5. Charlotte Dixon 08/30/2013 at 12:49 #

    Good for you! Paris was fantastic and now I'm in the south of France. Blog posts to come!

    Sent from my iPad

  6. Charlotte Dixon 08/30/2013 at 12:49 #

    J,D, I will read as much or as little as you want! Pop me an email-and pray that I have reliable Internet to answer promptly. It's been challenging the last few days, 

    Sent from my iPad

  7. Stacyverb 09/01/2013 at 07:36 #

    Hi, Charlotte. I discovered your blog recently via Typepad and have been enjoying it very much. I’m getting ready to apply for a residency at the Vermont Studio Center for the first time. It’s a nerve-wracking process, but I have to try at least!

  8. Charlotte Dixon 09/01/2013 at 07:39 #

    Hi Stacy, I'm so glad you're reading the blog. Thank you! And good for you for applying for the residency. I will keep fingers crossed for you! Au revoir!

    Sent from my iPhone

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