IN JANUARY OF 2016, I made a commitment to myself—as part of my writing life and to meet my writing goals, I would go on a weekend-long writing retreat at least twice each year.
As I searched for a retreat that would suit my needs, I began to realize that most writing retreats aren’t really for the simple purpose of writing. Yes, they take you away from your normal, distracting environment and whisk you to a lovely cabin surrounded by woods or overlooking the pounding ocean or some other beautiful, exotic location, where the fresh breeze clears your head and (presumably) unlocks your creativity. They provide workshops and writing mentors to help you unblock your internal resistance, learn about craft, and connect with other writers.
However, they are also very expensive, running anywhere from $500 for a weekend to $1,800-$4,500 for a five- or seven-day retreat, including lodging and meals (but not including the cost of travel). And for this, you likely end up sleeping in a bunkbed and sharing your room with other writers who snore or talk in their sleep. Your meals are cooked for you, but you have no control over when you eat. There are scheduled classes and workshops and author events to attend. And, when the workshop is done, you realize you have completed very little actual writing.
Sure, you had fun with writing exercises and prompts and you’ve gotten a few great ideas, but that memoir or novel you are working on? Zilch. So you come home feeling that, though the retreat was refreshing and inspiring and you made some new writing friends, you now need to get away for a day or two so you can put some of what you learned into practice.
I wanted something a little different. I did want to get away from my usual environment, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, and I didn’t want to have to fly or drive long distances. I wanted to isolate myself to focus exclusively on writing. I live in Napa and, since anything in Napa Valley is insanely expensive, I searched AirBnb for an inexpensive place on the coast. I knew I wanted something self-contained—a studio or granny unit—and secluded.
I discovered a well-appointed and private studio on six acres of lovingly tended gardens, with a private hot tub surrounded by redwoods, water fountains, a green house, and meditative walking paths — all for around $300 for the weekend. I brought my own food (around $25 for two days), put my phone in “do not disturb” mode, and got to work.
I discovered that when I set aside the time and the space for writing, I could produce a lot of words. And the meditative environment helped me stay focused.
I have returned to the same place, which I think of as my special retreat space, three times in all—most recently this last weekend to put the finishing touches on the first full draft of my memoir and to make it ready for my editor’s scalpel. (Stay tuned to hear more about this memoir, which I hope to release in early 2018.)
Each time I gave myself the simple gift of a weekend retreat, I returned home rested, refreshed, and with palpable sense of accomplishment.
So, here is my recommendation: if what you really want and need is to have time to write and to make progress on your current writing projects, do it yourself. Take yourself on a personal writing retreat.
You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars. You don’t need to travel to Greece or Hawaii or Spain. You don’t need groups of writers or writing workshops or mentors. All you need is a weekend, a secluded (and ideally beautiful) environment where you will not be disturbed, your writing tools, and a commitment to write.
Begin now. Where and when will you go?