Writing Retreats, in Five Easy Questions

Posted by on January 23, 2012 in business of writing, darkbeast chronicles, rebel lost | 2 comments

1.  So, how do you do this writing retreat thing, and what do you do while you’re there?

I get together with four writing friends for retreats, a couple of times a year.  (This time, alas, one of our group could not make it because, ironically, she had too much writing to get done!)  We alternate hosting the retreat at each other’s houses.  Each retreat is somewhat different from every other; however, the basic idea is the same.  Each writer stakes out a “territory” (a corner of a couch, a bed, whatever).  Each writer, um, writes (or edits or reads or whatever) in that territory when other things aren’t going on, fueling the creative process with liberal amounts of food and drink (see below).

“Other things” generally means meals.  Sometimes, “other things” means discussions (about food, writing, industry gossip, writing, books recently read, writing, family, writing — you get the idea.)  While in our territory, most of us wear earphones-with-iPods, to give us background music and/or to cut down on distractions.

2.  But, um, you write full time.  Why would you need a writing retreat?

There’s a different “energy” about writing retreats.  I know that I’ve structured the time to be away from my family, so I have to make that time work most efficiently.

Also, writing full time means that I’m alone a lot of the time.  Writing retreats give me a chance to put in all my “water cooler” time with my work colleagues.

3.  Hosting four people?  Who has room to host four people in their home?

Some of us (raising my hand high) don’t have the room.  When it’s my turn to host, I “host” at the home of another retreat member.  When I’m the host, I’m responsible for all of the meals (I cook things, freeze them, then re-heat in the physical host’s kitchen), the clean up (one of our hosts uses all paper plates and disposable flatware when she hosts, to limit time spent away from writing), and generally getting the ball rolling (email reminders a couple of weeks before, checking on allergies and food preferences, that sort of thing.)

4.  So, do the guests have it really easy?  Just lazing about, writing, and eating the host’s food?

The guests contribute too.  Each person brings a savory snack (as simple as a bag of chips, as complicated as a Bon Appetit recipe…) and a sweet snack (store-bought or home-made…)  Most people bring beverages of choice (tea, coffee, wine…)  Published authors often bring signed copies of their most recent books.  Everyone brings ideas, concerns, and encouragement.

5.  Exactly how much do you get done in a three-day weekend retreat?

First, let’s clarify the three days.  People generally arrive in the middle of Friday afternoon, and they leave in the middle of Sunday afternoon.  So, it’s really more of a “two day” retreat.  Or, at least, a 48-hour one.

As for how much gets done?  That varies from writer to writer and from retreat to retreat.  Some (especially full-time writers) use the time to draft, plan, and generally decompress from their usual schedules.  Others set truly ambitious writing goals, which they may or may not achieve.

This past weekend, I wrote and edited three entire new chapters (for Darkbeast Rebellion, which has relatively short chapters, so, about 9000 words.)  I also went back and edited the preceding twelve chapters, weaving in two major concepts and picking out one badly-conceived concept, for a net gain of about 3000 more words (and one new chapter, as I broke one existing chapter into two.)  So, I came home with about 12,000 new words, a *much* stronger grasp on the themes and images of the overall novel, and the impression that one major editing pass had been completed.

(One of the other attendees completed 2.5 chapters of a new novel, written in a new-to-her style with new-to-her techniques.  Another attendee completed preparing one novel for submission to agents and determined that a second novel was *not* a good fit for a market she had considered.  Our host, who ended up with some unexpected family obligations during the retreat, wrote a few thousand words and joined in on the above-mentioned conversations.)

So?  What questions do you have about writing retreats?

Mindy, pleased by the weekend’s accomplishments and fired up to dig in for this week!


  1. 12,000 words!?! I’m even more impressed now. And I confess to having a *slight* case of word envy. Regardless, I’m thrilled that you got so much work done!

    • Hey, you got your own heavy lifting done! (And I’ve – almost – given up having word envy. There is *always* someone out there who writes faster! And in the end, it’s the words we keep that makes a difference 🙂 )