Planning a Mini-Writing Retreat

More than one year has passed since we were all confined to our homes to decrease the rate of infection for the global COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of all this, I suspected it would be a writer’s paradise. Sitting in my homemade workspace office, which for me was a personalized cloffice about 2 meters from where I sleep every night.

What I didn’t expect was the dread of daily monotony. And six months in, my mood followed the gloom of autumn and my writing suffered, wading into the cold and barren winter months. Enter, the writing retreat—news of friends and colleagues who booked weekend staycations at local hotels just to make progress in their writing. I am joining the masses with a friend this weekend. We are breaking away from family obligations to make significant progress on personal and professional writing goals. Here’s what we are doing.

We chose a location, a couple hours from family. It is in easy driving distance in case of emergency, and far enough away to be out of sight. We have a house to ourselves, so plenty of space to write, but also to rest, relax, and be comfortable.

What to bring to a Writer’s Retreat

First of all, we are not bringing children. This is a writers-only space, and as such we eliminated extra people for our 2-night, 3-day writer’s retreat. A writer’s retreat is for writers only.

I am bringing lots of healthy snacks, like fresh fruit, vegetables, oatmeal, and eggs. It is important to fuel in the morning with nutritional food that will sustain the mind and body throughout the day. I am also bringing my running shoes and a yoga mat. Interval jogging and yoga keep my anxiety in check, and these accessories are very necessary for me to remain engaged and focused while writing. Taking care of the physical self is important to a productive writing retreat.

I am also bringing everything I need to log some serious time at the keyboard. This means, I will have means of handwriting to alternate with typing, which is my iPad and Apple Pencil, used in conjunction with the Goodnotes app. I will also bring my Bluetooth keyboard to give me some distance from my computer screen (and provide for some neck health, so I won’t undo all the progress I’ve made with my chiropractor!). For my current writing project, I also have a few related DVDs and two books for resource material. I will keep my phone with me to use as a timer for writing intervals, but Do Not Disturb will be activated to help me remain focused.

Scheduling

The day before our official retreat getaway, my writing cohort and I met up to outline a schedule and set goals so we can make the most of our time away. My friend and I are both moms, and while we are able to write at home, we are often interrupted by the demands of children and family life. This time away is precious, and we are doing everything we can to protect it.

Here is what our 2-hour pre-retreat planning session looked like:

We met at a coffee shop and talked about why this time was important to us over our preferred coffee drink. Then, we journaled some expectations for the retreat. This included Project Goal, Wordcount Goal, NEED to Accomplish, WANT to Accomplish, and Resources. We shared our responses with each other, and set a timer. We spent 30 minutes diving into our current writing projects. This way, when we get to our destination tomorrow, we will be familiar with where we are and what we need to do.

Our writing schedule starts after lunch on Day One, then ends at lunch on Day Three. We should manage to get in about 15 hours of writing sessions, small breaks included. Our writing sessions will run on a 45 minutes of writing, 15 minutes of break schedule. These will be done 2-4 sessions at a time. This leaves plenty of scheduled time for dining out, dads, beach walks, and forest hikes (weather permitting!).

Writing Retreat Day One

We were a little delayed getting out of town, but eventually hit the road and spent the drive listening to music and gabbing about our lives. When we arrived, we took a little time to settle in and put a few food items in the fridge. Then we drove downtown and walked around a little, enjoying the waterfront view and a leisurely lunch. After our meal, we headed straight for the coffee roaster and set our session timers (for which, we used the app Forest). We managed to get four writing sessions in with a short break for dinner. And, just before bed, a dram of Writer’s Tears Irish whiskey, mostly for the sentiment of the name, but partially because it is so damn good!

Writing Retreat Day Two

We agreed to make sleeping a priority for the morning, keeping a flexible schedule to allow for a no-alarm morning, some time for a walk and, in my case, yoga, followed by a leisurely breakfast with coffee. All that done, we made it to our local coffee roaster patio overlooking the water by half past 10 o’clock. This meant two full writing sessions before we break for lunch, and our plan is to get 3 more sessions in this afternoon.

It’s really great to be able to talk about what we are working on in between sessions. Even though we are doing very, very, different projects, we can understand enough to follow general descriptions and take mutual pride in our collective achievements.

Writing Retreat Day Three (Final Day)

This morning, we were refreshed and ready for and earlier start. We had an imposed time constraint that limited our writing time until noon. We began the day with a hearty breakfast, and then we started our final writing sessions at the café. we ended right on time and concluded the day with lunch and a walk before departing for home.

Take-Aways

During breakfast on our final day, we reviewed highlights and made notes about what we could change for next time. Here are some of our take-aways:

Extend the retreat by one day. We found that it took a day or so to get settled, accustom ourselves to a new environment, and learn about where and when we can schedule sessions, food, exercise, and sleep.

Schedule the “where”. We had focused on scheduling the “when” of writing, but since we were both a little unfamiliar with where we could sit and write, including where and when food or drink was available in those same spaces, and where internet was available, in case it was necessary for correspondence or research.

Establish a definite morning start time. There were only two of us, but it was difficult to get into a similar rhythm of writing when we had individual needs for exercise, sleep, and food. We decided that we would both like to have a definite wake-up time and start our day with a nature walk, which would probably be a beach walk, in our case.

Conclusion

We are definitely scheduling another mini writing retreat toward the end of the summer. The time was extremely productive for both of us. I made immense progress on my book, and she accomplished some important preliminary work for her current research project.

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