Thursday, March 21, 2013

On Retreat

A writing retreat is like a working vacation: the ideal version is to take a trip or sneak off to some quiet spot where one can work without distractions. Most writers love them; as a rookie pro I was a bit bewildered by the whole concept. Go somewhere to write? Why do you have to leave home? Then I was invited on my first retreat with another author and spent two days at the beach doing nothing but writing and talking about writing and swapping chapters and reading and doing more writing. We only left our hotels rooms to sit by the pool and sun ourselves while we proofed pages and discussed story issues. I have to admit, it was a little like spending 48 hours in writer heaven.

The idea of going on a writing retreat to some vacation-type spot is wonderful, too but the cost of transportation, lodging, meals and so forth can make it an expensive proposition. Fortunately there are other, less costly ways for writers to take a retreat, like a free writer's residency. This is when some writing or arts organization provides you with lodging and sometimes other amenities so you can write. Generally you have to apply for a residency, and if you get it also cover the cost of travel and personal expenses, but the free accommodations and no-distractions environment may be worth it (and if you're interested in finding a residency, check out the online database of opportunities at Poets & Writers magazine here.

An even cheaper type of writing retreat is the virtual version. Get together with a writing buddy and set a goal for a day, and update each other on your progress via an Internet connection (Skype, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) If you have a favorite chat room you can have a word war (challenge each other to write as much as possible in a short amount of time and post your counts as you work in the chat room.) If you'd rather go solo, visit an online typewriter site to do some distraction-free work (Big Huge Labs has one here) or try out one of the document creation/editing/storage sites like Google Docs or Zoho which offer free personal accounts.

I take mini-retreats all the time and never leave my house -- my back porch happens to be a quiet, comfortable spot for me to edit pages, and when I'm working out there the family knows to give me some space. Once a year my guy goes on vacation with the kids and leaves me home alone, too; that becomes my week to having a working vacation and write whenever and wherever I like. If you can work out something like that with your family I definitely recommend it.

In April and July this year the wonderful folks over at National Novel Writing Month are holding two Camp NaNoWriMo online writing retreats, during which you can choose to write 50K or set your own writing goal from 10K to 999.9K, share a virtual "cabin" with other writers based on your preset preferences as to genre, age, word-count goal, and desired activity level, and work on the project of your choice (novel, script, short story, epic poem -- you decide.) These retreats are free to participants; if you have a log in from NaNoWriMo you can use that to sign up and join in.

Remember that a writing retreat isn't just a thing you do, it's also a state of mind. You choose to spend x-amount of time to focused entirely on the work. If you can't do that at home, find a place congenial to you where you can. That can be a bookstore cafe, the quiet room at your local library or a picnic table at the park. Pack a lunch, grab your laptop and head out (and if you're going to an outdoor location, check the weather forecast first.) If you have a friend with a spare bedroom, you might ask if you borrow it for a day. Test drive different places and see where you're most productive, too.

13 comments:

  1. I plan to take advantage of Camp NaNoWriMo this year. I don't have the opportunity to take time off from my day job so it will be nice to put aside some time at home just for me. I plan to finish the novel I began during November's NaNoWriMo. Thank you for posting other suggestions as well. My twin sister and I have been tossing around an idea of packing up my 4 man tent and head somewhere (local) to camp out and just spend a couple of days doing nothing but writing and eating hotdogs. No children, no husbands, no pets, just us and our WIP. :)

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    1. Much luck with your camping experiences ahead -- I think it's marvelous that you'll be taking virtual and real-life versions (and remember to pack the insect repellent for the second!)

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  2. I, too, was mystified when I was invited to my first writer's retreat. I thought it was way too precious for me. (Because when I write, I am not a delicate snowflake.)

    I went anyway, and I'm so glad I did! I met ten new writers, got a lot of work done, and felt great about the weekend.

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    1. No snowflake here either, Margaret. I was surprised at myself, though -- I've always had to juggle family and housework with the writing, so taking an entire weekend to do nothing but write seemed very strange. Loved every minute of it, too. :)

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  3. My friends and I are doing Camp Nano. We're so excited! They've really encouraged me, and we all have so much fun brainstorming plots and cheering each other on. This Camp is going to be a great way to give us all a shared focus. Plus, we're planning a virtual smores roast. Wheeeeeee!

    I have a question for you. I know that in the past, you've been kind enough to post Way of the Cheetah for free during Nano. I would love to share that book with my friends during Camp Nano. It's helped me tremendously. Would you consider letting me send them a copy or perhaps post it again for Camp Nano?

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    1. It's great that you have a circle of friends to join you for Camp NaNoWriMo -- it can be great fun to write as part of a group.

      No problem on posting Way of the Cheetah for you to share; I just uploaded it to Google Docs, and here's the link:

      https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzylBQC3SyqoRnVBZFFOZ0EwUnM/edit?usp=sharing

      I'll keep it posted until the end of April so anyone who would like a copy can download it.

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  4. My favorite place to go write is Panera (a restaurant/coffe shop). There are three within 10 miles of my house with varying levels of busy-ness. I can go and surreptitiously people-watch at the one which is normally very busy, or have a whole section to myself at the quieter one. I really need to get back into the habit of going. Writing my Panera Reports was a fun addition to my blog.

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    1. People watching is one of the best aspects of writing in a public spot. Last night my guy and I stopped at a lovely little restaurant filled with people who work at horse ranches, and I ended up sketching one of the trainers I saw. :)

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  5. I have a deck in the back. I have nice furniture out there and lovely cushions. I love to sit out there. Unfortunately...IT'S FRIGGING SNOWING HERE AGAIN!! And a year ago yesterday here? It was 81! grrrrrrr Michigan.

    But it makes for a wonderful place to write when the weather is warm and nice. That's just not often enough so it's my den with chair under the handle in the winter for me.

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    1. We're about to be slammed with the second bommerang of winter here, Theo. I've made up a cozy spot in the front room where I can write while wrapped up in a quilt. That and a pot of tea will have to suffice until the temperature warms up enough for me to retreat to the porch. :)

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  6. I love this idea. Might have to sign up with Camp Nano!

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    1. It sounds like a lot of fun, Beth. If things aren't too crazy this summer I might join in the July session to test drive it myself.

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  7. I'm participating in Camp NaNo. We have a lot of chat write ins and get together in a private group on facebook every day to see how we're doing in prep and stuff. I just started my word count for the month. I love OLL's events.

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