Monday, April 25, 2011

How to have a Successful Writing Retreat/Residency...

Haunted Castle I could see from my window.  No ghost appeared though.

Blog Request:  How to Have a Successful Writing Retreat--

I am back from an almost week long writing retreat in Victorian town on the sea.  While there I wrote some of the best poems I've written in months, more than months.  And I revised.  All these *almost* poems that have been hanging out in my life, they are done done done.

I've been meaning to blog about writing retreats/residencies and how to be have a good one  (as well as how to be a good roomie) for my "blog requests" that have come in, and well, since I'm just back from one, I think it would be a good time to go over a few things...

1)  Before you go, kill the word "retreat" in your vocabulary & replace it with "residency"--

We are very comfortable with the words "writing retreat," but I learned when I said this to people who were not writers they thought I was going up for a week with 2 good friends to drink wine, get pedicures, relax, hang out, do jigsaws.  I'm not exactly what they thought I'd be doing, but apparently, when much of the world hears "retreat" they do not think "work."

I will be honest with you, I worked about 10-14 hours a day on my writing while I was there.  I love what I do, I love to write, so it doesn't feel like "work" - but dear friends, there were no pedicures.  Or jigsaws.

Using the word "residency" with people helped them remember, I wasn't just "retreating" from my life, my responsibilities to go up and relax.

2)  Retreats do not need to be in castles & you don't need to be far away --

I went on an incredible writing residency in December.  It was luxurious apartments with views of the water.  We were each given our own study.  We were referred to "scholars" on all the correspondence.  It was divine and I understood why so many writers I knew went to this place.

But it was a long day getting there.  For me, 2 ferry rides and a long drive.  I left at 9 am to catch the ferry from my house and arrived there at 4:15 pm  - A lot of my travel time was sitting and waiting for a ferry or waiting on a ferry.  Still, 7 hours there and 5 hours back.

This residency I came back from was a 45 minute drive from my house.  45 minutes and I was in a new world.

The setting was just as beautiful, but the accommodations were definitely less.  No heated tile floor or slate shower.  We were basically in 1945 military housing.  But it was still perfect.

For me, it's worth it to have it closer.  I don't have all the time in the world.  I have X number of days I can use for devoted writing time.  I don't want to spend a half of day in travel.

3.  Bring what you need --

One of the husbands said about another writer I was with, "With all these things that you've packed, it feels as if you've been deployed to Iraq for a year..."

I overpacked too.  Mostly with books.  But also long & short sleeve shirts.  And food.

The bonus though-- I didn't have to leave once to drive to town to get something.  I shut the door and didn't have to leave.  I was completely out of the real world.  And I loved it.

4.  Bring your Retreat Mind Back --

So I'm back.  I realized again how much I love being cut off from things -- the internet, facebook, the news, etc.

For one week, I was obsessed with my new manuscript.  I was having dreams about my manuscript and research at night, in the shower I couldn't stop thinking about poems, on walks things fell into place in my mind.  I would finish a poem and feel euphoric.

I am working on keeping this feeling, momentum, less-internet, more everything else, feeling in my life.  Honestly, already I feel it slipping away.

But I am trying to be more mindful about my choices.  I can choose to "disconnect" from the things that take my energy.  I can choose what I watch, what I listen to, who I talk with.  I can choose what I do with my time.

And this is what residencies do back, they give you time to write and also to remember priorities.

It was a great week for me.  I am proud of what I did, how I used my time and that I even wrote some new poems I'm excited about.  And to know, I found a place so close to my house that can be there for me when I need it.


  1. Great post and I so envy you the residency. You are inspiring me to make sure I take some time -- even just one week -- this summer to write somewhere besides my house. Thank you!

  2. Thanks, Susan! I'm visualizing a retreat for you this summer!


Always love to hear from you...and the anonymous option is open for those feeling shy.

Related Posts with Thumbnails