Nothing matches a writing retreat as an immersive experience to focus on your writing and on you, the writer. My participation in several retreats this month has been the inspiration for our series here on workshops (Part 1), conferences (Part 2), and writing retreats.
Retreats are more intensive than workshops or conferences. Some retreats focus primarily on the writing while others concentrate on the writer. The best retreats affect both—skill set and mindset.
Although retreats are often small groups, don’t assume they all are. Some large events label themselves “retreats,” and a retreat can be a one-on-one experience between an author and a teacher/guide/facilitator. Retreats are generally multiple days and can be held in a private home, a retreat facility, or a conference center.
Writing retreats are sometimes themed or genre-specific.
For instance, the annual seven-day women’s retreat I attend at St. George Island, Florida, is called “Fiction Among Friends.” The workshops during the retreat are tailored toward the skills needed by fiction authors, and participants usually come with a novel-in-progress or one they intend to start. Participating in the workshops is optional, so if your writing is flowing, you can keep at it. Ten to fourteen women usually attend and we stay in a lovely beach house on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.
A few weeks later, a second group of similar size gathers in the same house, with a similar format for the event, to work on their memoirs and personal stories. Also in the same house, I host/teach a shorter retreat (this week!) with a smaller group of five women. We are gathering for three full days to work on creative non-fiction and personal stories.
So you can see there are many variants to the group retreat format.
The Vision Quest Retreat, hosted by artist, author, and speaker Licia Berry, is an example of a one-on-one event. Retreats of this type are aimed at examining the writer’s vision for their career or for a specific project, the deeper meaning in their work, or the author’s “inner landscape” as a writer and a person. My vision quest took place in a mountain home, but the location changes based on the needs and inclinations of the author. I had an important ancestral connection to the Western North Carolina mountains, so that made it the perfect spot for me.
When I experienced my Vision Quest in June 2016, I came away with a willingness to meet myself raw, open, and honest as a person and a writer. More importantly, I came away with an eagerness to do that. Afterwards (and still, since), I have had a rush of clarity and excitement about my work as an advocate for authors and as a writer myself. Little actual writing was done at the retreat, but that wasn’t the point. All the work there was on me.
For nearly ten years, I have attended at least one writing retreat annually (plus some conferences and workshops too).
My writing and the connections I make among other writers strengthens every time I participate in a retreat. Deep engagement with like-minded authors, safety in discussion, encouragement, self-confidence, and clarity in my writing projects are aspects of retreats that keep me going back year after year. Deep engagement with our inner selves is also vital for our creativity, so self-care during the retreat time is also important (and is something I tend not to do so well in my day-to-day routine).
If you are considering attending a writer’s retreat, here are some of the questions you may want to ask before making the commitment.
- Is the retreat one-on-one with a facilitator/teacher or is it a group event? If group, how large?
- How many days/nights is the retreat?
- Who is the teacher/trainer/facilitator/guide? What are their qualifications and experience to lead the event?
- Is the retreat open to all genre writers or is it themed?
- How are the days structured? Are there workshops, classes, or one-on-one sessions?
- What topics will be covered or what is the primary focus of the retreat?
- How much free time is there for writing? Is there private and/or quiet space for my writing times?
- Do I need to be a published author to attend? Must I have a work-in-progress? Will writing prompts or exercises be provided to get me started if I don’t have a WIP?
- Is a writing sample required when I register?
- Are any scheduled outings part of the retreat?
- In what type of facility will the retreat be held: a rental or private home, a retreat center, a hotel or conference center? Is the location urban or rural?
- If lodging is included in tuition, will sleeping quarters and bathrooms be shared or private?
- Do both men and women attend? (This is an appropriate question when close lodging is considered.)
- What time of year and where is the retreat held? What is the weather typically like then?
- Is a savings on tuition available for early sign-up, as a repeat retreater, or for bringing a friend?
- Are meals eaten on your own or as a group? Are meals provided in the tuition and/or do retreaters participate in food preparation? Should I bring my own snacks or beverages?
- Can special needs such as food allergies or physical limitations be accommodated?
- Must I fly or can I drive to the retreat destination?
- What is the accepted attire?
- Should I bring my laptop? A folding table? A lap desk?
- And the final and most important question: What do I want to take away from the retreat and is that expectation in alignment with what is being offered?
Below are some sources for identifying the right writing retreat for you. Some of the same sources for writing workshops and conferences provide details on retreats too. Although the St. George fiction and nonfiction retreats for women mentioned above are complete for 2017, I’ve provided the links for those recent events so you can see what they’re about.
- Vision Quest Retreat: http://www.liciaberry.com/vision-quest-retreats/
- Nonfiction Women’s Retreat: http://s2.temporary-access.com/~aroundth/content-creation-camp/
- St. George Women’s Writing Retreats: http://www.persisgranger.com/St._George_Home1.htm
- The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Directory of Conferences and Centers, which includes retreats: https://www.awpwriter.org/wcc/directory_conferences_centers
- Shaw Guides 2017 listings: http://writing.shawguides.com/Events
If you have attended a retreat that you particularly liked, please do share!
Gina Edwards is a retreat leader, a certified creativity coach, and a book editor. She is also a writer, so she’s intimately familiar with the challenges and elation that come with being one.
She supports all writers—published and aspiring—who want to write as an act of courageous and necessary self-expression.
Walking the writer’s path hand-in-hand with her clients and students, she helps them establish a writing practice and define a creative life on their own terms.