• Kelsey Down

How to DIY a Writing Retreat—And Why You Should

This post was originally published on Epilogue, a Medium publication. You can find the original post here.

A cabin and a hammock in the woods.
Photo by Cara Fuller on Unsplash

Picture a cabin in the woods, accessible by a single road winding thirty miles down the mountain, through a canyon, and into the nearest town. Picture a hammock anchored to towering pine trees; a solid writing desk next to the bay window; and a cozy bed in the loft.

Now forget about all that.

First. You should know that only half a mile separated Thoreau’s famous pond from the railroad station. He attended dinner parties and received guests. He walked into town every couple of days.

Maybe complete solitude and total isolation are not so crucial to the process of reflecting and writing after all.

That dream you have — the one where you retreat to an isolated cabin or beach cottage and spend every day writing without interruption — it’s not sustainable. At least, not for the vast majority of writers in the world.

Who can really afford to neglect the day job for weeks on end? What about parents who can’t arrange childcare for an extended period? Sometimes you have to be more realistic about getting away.

My husband surprised me with my first solo writing retreat. I was the mother of an eight-month-old, working a full-time office job, struggling to write a novel in my spare moments. He saw my frustrations and booked me a night in a hotel two miles from our house.

It was everything I didn’t know I needed.

Now, more than two years later, although I work from home these days as a self-employed editor, I still have to be deliberate about carving out time to write. And I’m embarking on a new project—another novel. So I’m taking another solo writing retreat this weekend.

As I’ve planned for this weekend, I’ve followed some simple principles that might be useful to you if you want to DIY your own writing retreat.

Get your loved ones on board.

My husband has always known that I care about my craft. And I find that he’s even more conscious and supportive of my needs as a writer when I take the time to articulate those needs. When I mentioned that I wanted to get away for a night sometime soon, I prefaced it by saying that I’m trying to treat my writing as a career in itself rather than simply a hobby. He readily agreed to help make it happen.

People tend to take you seriously when you take yourself seriously!

Balance aesthetics with convenience.

Remember that cabin in the woods that I mentioned? Or the beach cottage, if that’s your jam? Sure, those kinds of idyllic spots seem, well, ideal—but the farther you roam from town, the more your travel time cuts into writing time. The farther you venture from conveniences like restaurants or coffee shops, the more supplies you have to prepare in advance and the more time you have to devote to cooking when you’re all alone in that pretty cottage.

Maybe that’s part of the experience you want in a writing retreat. As for me, I’d prefer to minimize the energy I have to spend on anything other than writing.

Allow for breaks and change up your surroundings.

Try to shed that sense of urgency, the idea that you have to use every single minute of the retreat to put words on the page. Even though I suggest staying somewhere convenient to cut down on time waste, I don’t believe it’s a time waste to let yourself breathe.

Go on a walk, stop by the coffee shop next door, take a hot bath. Let your mind switch gears for a while, then get back to work.

Make a plan and set goals, but stay flexible.

Set SMART goals for what you want to accomplish during the retreat, and try to strategize how you’ll achieve them. You don’t have to stick to a rigid schedule, with tasks for every hour of the retreat; just map out how you want to spend your time. And if you struggle to complete those goals, don’t panic. Do what you can, or change direction as needed.

A retreat won’t solve your every writing woe. But if you can devote just a day or two to that neglected project, you may find your spirits lifted and your confidence boosted.

Whether you housesit for a friend, plan a weekend holed up in your own home, or book a night in a hotel down the street, you can enjoy a productive and rejuvenating writing retreat.