Languedoc, France

Five Tips for Your Next Writing Retreat

by Sharleen Jonsson

Dreaming of running away to write a novel, memoir or a few short stories? Me, too, just about every day! I’ve escaped a couple of times and here’s my take on how to plan a great writing retreat:

  1. Don’t go empty-handed. I used to think that if only I could retreat from all the responsibilities of my ordinary life, literary lightbulbs would pop on all around my head. So, I managed to arrange a semi-retreat where, for one week, I had every morning free to brainstorm. Amid all the pressure I put on myself to create, I wasn’t able to come up with a single bright idea. The next time I retreated, I packed a draft of over one hundred pages. When I didn’t feel especially creative, I edited. Much better.
  1. Think carefully about how much solitude you want. I once read about an author who set herself up – for an entire month — in a cabin on a small island accessible only by private boat. Perfect, I thought: I could get so much done in a place like that! However, on a recent self-catering retreat in a rambling manor where a half-dozen of us often gathered in the communal kitchen or dining room, I found the minimal socialization a pleasant break. In a lot of ways, it recharged me. Note the adjective “minimal”; I recommend a place where it’s easy to avoid social interaction when you want to. Make sure you have a private room spacious enough to stay in for long periods of writing time – you don’t need cabin fever on your dream retreat.
  1. Choose a location with few distractions. Most people would consider this a no-brainer. Not me – I’ve often thought it would be great to retreat someplace where, after a longish day of being creative, I could stroll out my door and wander sidewalks lined with inviting cafes, shopping and other diversions. I’m reconsidering this, though, after hearing from my good friend, Wanda, who went to a renowned arts center in a scenic mountain town for a few days of intensive work on her novel. “But it turns out they have yoga, and I hadn’t brought anything to wear so I had to go shopping. And then I ran into old friends and we went for lunch and…” She had a great time, but she didn’t get much work done. There goes my idea for a writing retreat in Manhattan.
  1. End your retreat with a real treat. I recently spent three weeks in the rambling manor mentioned above. It’s in the south of France, in a town so small there’s not one café. Seriously. I didn’t mind the lack of shops and eateries because, after all, I was there to work. And I was looking forward the carrot at the end of my writing stick— five days in Barcelona, where there’d be plenty to see and do. (And there was.)
  1. If you discover a great retreat, share it. See that photo up top? One of those buildings in the distance is La Muse Artists and Writers Retreat. I heartily recommend it. But don’t book the Erato – that’s my room, and I’m going back!


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