Hello my ghouls!! As a follow up to my YouTube video regarding writer’s retreats, I thought I would create a series of posts that go into more detail.
This series will include:
1. What I did to prepare for the retreat;
2. The types of sessions I put in my schedule; and
3. What I learned from my first retreat, including what I plan to do differently next time.
If you are interested in seeing my exact 2-day writing retreat schedule that I followed, sign up for my newsletter here! You will receive a PDF download in your inbox just for signing up!
A little personal story first …
Since I started down this journey to becoming a published author, I have spent all my time just trying to find an hour in my day to sit down and write. I joined the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild to learn more about how other authors go about setting aside their writing time. Through their newsletters, I learned about writer’s retreats. I had heard of artist’s retreats before, as I had actually stayed at one for a week during my undergraduate degree (we were studying formation of soils, but my professor had a passion for painting, so we learned about painting soils and landscapes while there).
So, even though I knew about artist’s retreats, for some reason, it never occurred to me that writer’s could do the same thing! Once I saw that this was possible, I knew I had to try and attend one. There was actually one occurring in November, which was a facilitated retreat (meaning they create the schedule and activities for you). I had really wanted to attend, but I also knew that it would be difficult to do with our kids’ schedules and the ever changing COVID restrictions and numbers. My husband and I both took 4 days off on the same weekend from work, and the plan was to have my parents babysit the kids while we did a weekend away by staying in a cabin in Waskesiu. This weekend away would include my writing sessions planned into a pseudo-writer’s retreat, with time adventuring outside when I wasn’t writing.
In the end, it was a good thing that I didn’t sign up, as my middle child came down with the flu (thankfully not COVID), so we ended up having to stay home. At the last minute, I decided to adapt and do a 2-day writer’s retreat at home, since we were stuck at home anyways! Since it was so last minute, I didn’t think I would be able to manage a virtual one that could invite other people, but perhaps that will be something I do in the future. The retreat went a lot better than I had imagined it could, but I also learnt a lot about how I would change it the next time around.
Let’s get into the steps that I followed in completing this retreat from my home, by myself, with no previous experience in writer’s retreats.
Preparing for you first retreat
I did a lot of research on doing a writer’s retreat, including reviewing what others have done for public, facilitated retreats and asking the Writing Community on Twitter about their experience with retreats. This is some recommendations that I learned from this research regarding how to prepare for your retreat.
1. Have your writing project planned out before the day of your retreat
You don’t want to go into your retreat not knowing what you are going to work on. I find that it takes me a good 10-15 minutes to really get into the flow of writing even when I know what I want to work on. So, you don’t want to waste any time in your writing sessions on trying to figure out what to work on. To set yourself up for success, don’t focus on word counts during the session (unless this is something that works well for you).
When I did my retreat, I was starting from scratch on a brand-new book idea. I knew that I would need time to work on character development and at least have some time set aside for thinking through the initial plot and storyline. So, before my retreat, I set aside some time to research locations. I also came up with a list of male and female names, as well as examples of surnames, so that I could review the list whenever a character came to mind while writing in case I was having difficulty thinking of a name.
2. Prepare your location as much as you can before the retreat
If you are like me and have children, or even if you have roommates or a significant other in the house, you want to find a location that will reduce the number of times you might run into them. You want to ensure that you can have uninterrupted sessions so that you can’t be taken out of the flow during your writing session or pulled away during you retreat, leading to your schedule becoming unfollowed. I set up my small desk in my bedroom, with a door locked between me and the kids. My husband knew what my schedule was and what I had planned, so he also made sure to do his best at keeping the kids busy while I was in my sessions.
Once I knew my location, I made sure to spend some time cleaning up the room and setting up the space. I knew that having laundry piled up on the floor would bug me, so I made sure the laundry was done (or at least, sitting in the hamper in the laundry room instead of overflowing in the hamper in my bedroom). The morning of my retreat, I also made my bed so that it would be less inviting to crawl into and nap when I was supposed to be writing. Remove any other distractions from the space that you can. For example, if you have a television in the space, put the remote in another room so that it isn’t within reach. If having YouTube or Google close to your fingertips is an issue, turn the Wi-Fi off on your laptop. Also think about what helps you get into the flow – for example, I like instrumental music when I write, so I made sure I had a playlist ready to go and a headset to plug into my computer, so that it acted as an extra buffer between me and the kids screaming in another room.
If you are trying to set up a location outside of your home, such as the library or a hotel, research into what is available there so that you can prepare for it. For example, if you are going to a library, make sure you go there once before your retreat to get an idea of your top locations to sit during your retreat. Also scope out where the bathrooms are, whether you are allowed food and drinks while in there, and the hours they are open.
If you are going to a hotel, check out their accommodation pictures online – think about if you want to spend the entire time in your room. If you do, you will need to make sure they have a decent desk in the room and room service. If you want to be able to move around between your sessions, research nearby coffee shops or see if they have a good common office space or lounge that would be comfortable to work in.
3. Think about your non-writing session plans
In all the other retreat schedules that I found, there was always time to spend doing a creative session or two that did not involve writing. This allows your mind to relax and be creative, while not trying to force anything. I will cover the types of creative sessions I included in my schedule in the next part of this series, as well as others that were recommended. These sessions could be photography, drawing, colouring in a colouring book – it is up to you!
Another session you want to make sure to plan for before the retreat is some form of movement. This could be something simple, like light stretching, but preferably it will be something that gets you outside as well. You could go for a light walk around the block or walk to a nearby park, if you have one, and eat lunch picnic style. This will obviously depend on the weather you are exposed to and the location you are staying. If it is cold and snowing, like the weather I am currently experiencing while writing this, you could do some yoga (such as a yoga session on YouTube) or even just put on your favourite playlist and dance!
Lastly, you should include at least one session each day for learning something new. This doesn’t necessarily have to be about writing – maybe you want to do a drawing tutorial and have a creative and learning session together. Another option is to watch an online course on a topic that interests you. Alternatively, you could get books from the library out on a particular topic to read. The idea is to have this learning topic planned so that you can find the online videos, check out the library books, or find the materials you need to learn before the day of your retreat.
4. Make sure you have everything you need for the day of the retreat
The day before my retreat, I made sure that I had everything set up at my desk that I would need. I made sure my laptop was fully charged, but I also had my power cord ready just in case. I put a notebook and a few pens (in case one stopped working) on my desk, along with a few highlighters and stack of post-it notes. You will also want to make sure that you have figured out where your other sessions will be taking place and what materials you will need. For example, if you are doing photography during your creative session, make sure your battery for your camera is fully charged and you have the location figured out or the items you are photographing set up in a convenient location.
On the morning of the retreat, I made sure to fill my water bottle, grab a bunch of snacks that could sit at my desk all morning (or afternoon), and I also kept a journal at hand. The journal I actually used before my retreat officially started, which I will talk more about in part 2 of this series.
5. Turn your phone off!
While you are doing your sessions during your retreat, make sure that you limit as many distractions as possible. I made sure to warn my family and friends that I would be doing my retreat, so my phone would be turned off. I actually just turned it to silent, but next time I will definitely turn it completely off. I am lucky that I have my husband in the house, so if there were any emergencies, he could be reached, and he would just need to walk upstairs and knock on the door to tell me about it. Having the phone on at all, or even in the same room as me, was a mistake, as it gave me opportunity to check social media comments, Twitter, and answer text messages even though I was trying to be “in session”. You will definitely see this topic come up again in Part 3 during my “lessons learned.”
If I ever go to a hotel, I will still turn my phone off. I will let the few people I know that I would want to hear from in a case of an emergency (i.e. my husband and my mom) the hotel I am staying at, the phone number to reach me, and my room number. That way, if there is an emergency, they can still reach me without my cell phone. Cell phones are distractions that many of us keep glued in our hand, so taking a break from them is a definite must in order to have a successful writer’s retreat!
Although I had done all this research prior to my DIY, at-home writer’s retreat, I still managed to find things that didn’t go as well as I had hoped. In the next part, I will go through the schedule that I followed during my retreat, along with some tips that I was given from other writers based on things they had learned from their own retreats. Then in Part 3, I will go through the lessons that I learned from my personal attempt at a retreat, and what I plan to do differently at my next one. I plan to do these retreats at least once per quarter this year, so I will be adding updates in the future as well to how these go and other lessons I learn. I hope to include different kinds of retreats – facilitated retreats hosted by others, hotel DIY retreat, and maybe even a virtual retreat.
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Comment below if you have ever attended a retreat! I’d love to hear what has worked or not worked for you, as I hope to work towards finding my “perfect” retreat schedule. Would you attend a virtual retreat? I might start hosting them, depending on how things go over the year.
Until next time, my ghouls!
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