How to create an affordable DIY writing retreat

Attending a writing retreat can be a dream. I’ll rephrase, attending a writing retreat can be a pricey dream.

Start adding costs: travel to the location, accommodations, fees for the hopefully brilliant instructors. But nothing sings heaven to a writer like a week away from outsides commitments, a week of only writing. (Or at least time that is yours to use as you please which hopefully involves some writing.)

I’ve had the good fortune to attend a writing retreat in the mountains near my home. It was amazing. I became addicted. I’ll talk about why in a minute. But I loved it so much, I decided to create something similar for myself. What started as my own weekend of writing in a hotel somewhere turned into a mini retreat with other writers in my neck of the woods and you can do the same thing.

What a Writing Retreat Offers

I’ve got two active kids in school part-time. I get a couple of hours a day to do stuff–stuff includes errands, appointments, extra-curricular activities, household stuff like laundry and cleaning and menu making, and way, way at the bottom of that list, (yes, I still see you there) is my writing.

Look closer at writing and you’ve got freelance writing, blog writing and (yes, I still see you there) my novel-in-progress. It’s not easy to justify taking the hours away from family and obligations, especially if you’ve been around the Internet writing communities for a while and have run the odds on 1) finishing a manuscript you’re happy with 2) getting an agent 3) finishing the edits 4) selling to a publisher 5) getting published 6) getting people to read your book 7) getting people to like your book enough to come around for the next one. (repeat)

But once you accept all of that, you become desperate for time to at least try your hand at these back to back marathons. Attending a writing retreat is the obvious solution for so many of us. Here’s the dream they offer:

  • Time to work on my pet project
  • A community of other writers
  • A location that freed me from (some) home worries
  • Lessons on craft and technique
  • Accountability

But you don’t have to pay a thousand dollars to get all of this. Here’s how I created a small one in my area.

How to organize a writing retreat

Gather interest. I put feelers out to my writing friends through Facebook. I’m a member of a regional writers group, have connected with other writers at workshops and book events. But it doesn’t even have to be writers, it can be knitters and pencil sketchers or adult coloring book addicts. Anyone who will be happy to come on a weekend trip with you and not talk to you for hours at a time can make great retreat partners. But they have to leave you alone! That’s key.

p.s. Don’t be afraid to go alone, either. My retreat started as something I wanted to do, just for me. I was lucky to have friends come to the ones I’ve organized so far. But you’d best believe I’m still going if no one else does.

Keep it short. A week-long writing retreat can be fantastic. It can also be overwhelming and quite simply unattainable for some. A weekend is a bit more doable. The short timeframe can help you focus on smaller goals and keep you from thinking you have to tackle the entire world (and then beating yourself up when you fall short).

Find a place. Depending on your budget and interests, all you really need is a standard hotel with food options either on-site or nearby. A room of one’s own, so to speak. Your writing friends may be scattered all over your region. If you have serious interest, find a place that is accessible for most.

Book it. You can go several options. You can allow everyone to book on their own through the hotel direct or with a third-party service like booking or hotels .com . (Some friends may have frequent traveler discounts they want to use.) You can also hold the rooms under your name. Your attendees can contact the hotel with your booking name so they can keep track of how many rooms have been booked with your group.

Plan your work. I wish this was a habit for every writing session. But I think it’s particularly important for a writing retreat. Make a wish list of accomplishments that realistically fit within a weekend. Then cut it in half. Whether it’s editing a chapter that’s been giving you nightmares or culling a third of your book, it always takes longer than you think. What tends to happen, for me at least, is that even if I accomplish less than I planned, I walk away motivated enough to continue on my goal list long after I get back to the real world.

While you’re on your writing retreat

Hooray! You made it! You’re checked into a room with a bed and a desk, maybe with a window and a nice view. Now what?

You can organize this any way you like! That’s the brilliance of a DIY writing retreat. Here’s how mine works and how it all fits in with everything you can get from a big-bucks writing retreat.

  1. Time: Go solo all day, then meet up for dinner Friday and Saturday. From check-in on Friday and all day Saturday, and Sunday until checkout, this is the meat of your writing time. This is what you paid for. So get busy, refer to your goal list, do your thing.
  2. Community: If writers are coming with you, text to make sure everyone is getting along okay with checkin and everyone is excited and ready to work. If you’re on your own, well, we’re writers, used to being alone, who needs community. 😉 Just kidding. But honestly, you can find community at other events, the biggest need is being met–time!
  3. Location: You got a hotel to be away from other life commitments. Try to keep home out of your head. If you must, you can keep a list of questions to send to your partner during a writing break. Better yet, get so deep into your character’s world that you forget you even have a significant other back home. If your hotel is in a nice place, get out for some fresh air.
  4. Lessons: You don’t have to sit in a room filled with other writers to learn. Here are some alternatives to consider.
    1. Keep your mind open to your process. What is working for you and why? What is surprising you about how the weekend is going? Learn about your writing style, habits, concerns and what they mean to you.
    2. Bring a craft book or print a blog post. Make relevant to the section you’ll be tackling on the weekend. Give yourself something to practice, like a writing exercise that you can incorporate into your work-in-progress.
    3. Tap your community. What do writers do when they eat dinner with other writers? Talk about writing. You probably don’t get to do too much dissection of subplots during dinner with your partner and kids. You’ll learn things you never imagined from the other writers just sitting around the dinner table.
  5. Accountability. Writing retreats often include critique sessions. You are forced to be accountable (somewhat) by reading the other writers’ work, by meeting the submission deadlines. When you do it yourself, it’s all up to you. So big-kid pants up! No one’s going to stop you from binging Stranger Things, but you’ll know. And that means something. If you really want some encouragement, consider setting up check-in texts with fellow writers.

So here you have it, tips for starting your own DIY writing retreat. I’d love to hear more ideas in the comments!