Writing Retreats Become ‘Joyful Respites’ for Attendees. Here’s How to Find Your Own.
As winter fades and the new year blooms, we’re presented with the perfect time to refresh our writing lives. One of the most invigorating ways to achieve that is to attend a writing retreat. Whether you’re intending to make a breakthrough on a work-in-progress, connect with your fellow writers, or simply break up the everyday routine, you’ll find each experience has something different to offer.
What Is a Writing Retreat?
Thankfully, the term “writing retreat” is pretty self-explanatory, but not every retreat is created the same. The primary idea is usually that writers—either as a group or solo—gather at a location away from their homes to write together. Regardless of the particulars, the point of a retreat is to have dedicated time to achieve a burst of progress in your writing endeavors and to reignite your creative spark.
The Benefits of Attending Writing Retreats
Writing retreats can be held over a weekend or last anywhere from several weeks to even a month. The time span is set by the organizer and is usually decided between that person and their inner circle of writing friends or the writing group or organization. Some retreats are only for members of a given organization, but many are open to the public as well.
When it comes to location, you can likely find writing retreats that take place in your state or province, or in a place you’ve always wanted to visit, giving you a dual benefit of traveling. You could stay home if it suits your needs, but you could also travel across your continent or even across the world for a special writing retreat.
Retreats can be homey and affordable, or they can be luxurious and expensive. In one list of 2022 events collected by The Write Life, prices ranged from a couple hundred dollars to multiple thousands of dollars per attendee. Retreats can focus solely on writing, or they can include classes on craft and business, a sort of hybrid between a conference and a retreat. You can even find writing retreats that are themed to intertwine with certain hobbies or exercises, such as yoga and running.
In most cases, retreats can include as few as five writing friends renting an Airbnb for a long weekend or as many as several dozen writers. You can also go on a solo retreat if you’d prefer some true alone time, but it’s worth noting many writers already feel alone in their daily lives, so group writing retreats, both in-person and virtual, provide a unique opportunity to feel more connected with kindred spirits.
“Writing can be a solitary act,” says Nan Sampson. “Retreats are joyful respites, providing me with a community of other writers. Together, we learn, share, encourage, and fill the creative well.”
The writers you meet at these retreats, friends old and new, are often what makes these experiences exceptional and create memories you’ll treasure for decades to come.
“It is lovely to be around your people,” Allison K. Garcia agrees. “No one looks twice if you talk about your characters as if they were friends or enemies. No one thinks you’re weird if you’ve spent eight hours on deep-dive research about turtles, most of which will never make it into that book. It is lovely to be around your people.”
It can also be a chance to spend time with longtime friends that you may not have seen in person for years, like authors N. Terry and J. McCarthy. They had always been friends, writing together since elementary school, but after high school graduation, they hadn’t seen each other for a few years until they attended the Author Transformation Alliance (ATA) Spring Writing Retreat in Natural Bridge, Virginia, in 2019.
“The writing retreat meant everything to me,” says J. McCarthy. “My favorite part was being with my best friend and other creatives all at the same time. Writing saved my life, and I am so glad I get to do it alongside my favorite people.”
Retreats can also change the course of your writing and your life.
“This retreat reignited my love for writing. Everyone there encouraged me and pushed me to pursue a career as an author, something I had given up on as an adult,” N. Terry explains. “It was that weekend I started the book I am about to publish. Without going to the retreat, I wouldn’t be here now.”
Aside from the various social, mental, and emotional benefits that can come with a retreat, you may also find that time away allows you to make massive progress on your manuscript. Some writers are fantastically disciplined at getting in their needed words, day in and day out, but many others struggle to stay on track when surrounded by the minutiae of life. These weekends can give you the time and space–mentally and physically–to get a giant burst of writing in and catch up on your word count goals.
Even writers who stay on track with their daily and weekly word counts can benefit from attending writing retreats. “As comfortable and utile as my home office is, sometimes I need to get away from the dishes, the laundry, and all the other ‘domestic goddess’ duties,” says P. A. Duncan. “Writing retreats drop me in a ‘new world’ and help me approach writing from a different perspective.”
Worried about Accessibility or Affordability?
If accessibility is a concern, search for retreats that are held at venues meeting your standards and needs. Check the venue’s reviews on its website and on Google or travel websites to make sure you feel completely comfortable before committing to the event and buying your ticket.
Many state parks in the United States have risen to the challenge of providing more than meets the bare minimum standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. For example, the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel in Virginia provided ample accommodations in 2019 to ensure that all the ATA retreat members could easily navigate the hotel and conference center, and join the group for an excursion via shuttle bus and paved pathways to see the Natural Bridge historic landmark.
Should cost be a major factor for you, don’t worry: You can still attend a writing retreat. Although a Google search often nets top results for high-cost events, you don’t need to spend a hefty chunk of money to attend a writing retreat you’ll love. Ask around in various writing groups and on social media for recommendations for affordable writing retreats—they exist, and they’re often best shared through word of mouth.
You could also sign up for a virtual writing retreat in order to save money on travel and lodging expenses yet still connect with other writers who “get it.” These virtual events are typically hosted with a website offering a private area for retreat members, a private Facebook group for live connection, and writing sessions hosted over video conferencing software like Zoom.
When searching for a writing retreat, be sure to look several months ahead of when you may want to go, get a clear idea of the time you can take away from your everyday life, your budget, whether you’ll choose to travel or stay home, your preferences for group sizes, and your individual needs for accessibility and accommodation.
If you choose to travel, consider the landscapes and scenery that inspire you—or that mirror the setting of your book, if possible. Although some folks love remote state parks and mountaintop resorts, others might prefer the bright lights and buzz of big cities. Should you prefer the latter, remember to balance your love of cities with your writing goals during the weekend. Cities may offer so many activities that you can become distracted from your purpose.
Want to stay home? That’s great too! Here are a few simple things you can do to make your home feel like a retreat for a few days:
- Rearrange a space in your home if possible for maximum comfort and to give it a “fresh” feeling.
- Purchase a few small things like scented candles, a throw blanket, a new notebook, and pretty pens.
- Set clear and firm boundaries with your family so you can truly enjoy your at-home retreat.
No matter how you choose to “retreat,” set your expectations about what you wish to achieve during that time while staying flexible enough to receive creative inspiration and enjoy the moment to its fullest.