As a writer, there comes a point where you want to “get away from it all”. You need some inspiration beyond the four walls of your home. If you Google ‘Writers’ Retreat’ you will find approximately 3.06 million options. How in the heck can you possibly decide from 3.06 million options?
There are some key questions to ask yourself before choosing, or in fact building, your retreat.
1. Do you want to be part of a group setting, or do you want to write alone? If you want to be part of a group, but don’t belong to a writers’ group or association, the packaged retreats can be a great way to go. You have built-in buddies! If you want to write alone, there are plenty of opportunities and even arts centres that offer opportunities. For those writers who have been published, The Banff Centre offer residencies in fantastic little cabins in the Rocky Mountains! Having toured the facility, I can’t imagine a better, more inspiring place for the solo writer.
2. Do you want to stay local or travel? Budget is often a determining factor for this. While it would be fantastic to jump on a plane to Scotland and be inspired by the highlands, we can’t always afford this. For those who want to stay local, can you keep it to just a day trip, thereby cutting accommodation expenses, or can you afford a night in a hotel/B&B/hostel? Let the dollar figure determine the distance you can afford.
One of my favourite local examples that I’ve heard of is from the writer Karen Swan who has her own ‘retreat’ in her back yard! She has a writing treehouse complete with rope bridge. Perhaps you handy DIYers can make your own solace close to home.
For those who want to go a little further afield, are you writing your novel based in a different setting? If so, go there! Be inspired by your surroundings and absorb the country with all five senses. Just make sure to infuse your writing with what you’ve experienced. Perhaps you can even add in a side trip. On the note of Scotland (because my book is set there and I also LOVE it), consider visiting a small island like the Isle of Arran where you can stay solo in a hotel or as a group in a lodge. Cities can also be fantastic, but I personally find they can be more distracting.
3. Have you set a goal? What do you want to accomplish from this retreat? Is it word count? Is it to inspire you? Is it just to have time to focus? If the latter, again, perhaps a more natural setting would do you well. Get out into nature, take walking breaks during the day and breathe in the fresh air. If you want word count, perhaps the fast-paced nature of a city and the need to get out and explore it would actually fuel you to your goal in a time-driven manner.
As an aside, last year my writers’ association held a local retreat at someone’s large home. We all brought our own sleeping bags and mattresses, brought some shared food and drink and of course our trusty computers. When the Alberta Flood of 2013 kept some folks away from Calgary, we took the opportunity to do Skype calls once a day to keep connected and share our progress. A retreat is what you make of it.
In building your own retreat, which is not too hard to do, consider the above questions. For groups, consider contacting a hotel to get a group rate, perhaps even using some conference space for group-writing or word sprints. Do your research, think hard about your goal and your budget, and make sure to enjoy it!
Remember that a retreat is mainly about writing, but not solely. Take breaks, get some exercise (you sit down to write, so you should move during your breaks), and by all means drink a good glass of bubbly!