Group Writing Retreats: A How-To Guide

SmokeyRetreat What do you imagine, when you think of a writing retreat? Do you see yourself in a hammock with a notebook and pen, ideas sparking like crazy? Do you imagine yourself in a critique circle, exchanging ideas and learning from each other? Do you see yourself going for long walks, or staying in your PJs all day?

Whether it’s for a week or a weekend, writing retreats can be glorious, productive experiences. For me, it’s a chance to work on a piece without interruption and really hit my groove. I also love the creative buzz that comes from being around other writers, the talks over dinner, and the chance to refill my well by retreating from real life as well. (I took that picture to the right while I was on retreat with the Pub Crawl girls. Meg and I were writing the sequel to These Broken Stars, and it was glooorious!)

I’m heading off later this month on a writing retreat with my fabulous Melbourne-based writing group, and I can’t wait. Here are some things to keep in mind to help make your retreat great:

Who goes? Do you want to go on your own, or in a group? Each approach has advantages—if you’re going in a group, how will you decide who attends? Will one person convene it and invite others, or will a group of you draw up a list? How big do you want the retreat to be? My group already meets regularly for dinner, and if someone has an idea about someone new to invite on retreat, they put it to the others, then issue the invite.

What are your goals? I highly recommend having goals for your retreat. We have group members who want to write or edit a short story, finish a novel, complete critique partner duties, write a couple of chapters, outline a novel—it doesn’t matter what you plan, you’re more likely to do it if you’ve thought ahead. If it helps, tell others about your goals, and you can hold them accountable. Knowing what you want to achieve means you can start thinking ahead of time about how to do it, and make sure you have everything you need.

Do you want structure? Do you want to write the whole time, or would you like to have organised critique times? If so, do you want to exchange work first? Do you want excursions to a local park, winery, the beach or to see a movie, or do you want to stay isolated? It’s important to discuss this first and offer options, so people don’t feel their experience is disrupted. My group mostly sticks at the house, but occasionally we might organise a completely optional excursion. This time we’re thinking we might hit the local hot springs one night for a debrief.

What will you eat? My group divides up the meals and we each cook one. This keeps the budget down, and it also means you get fed at the appropriate times, and don’t have to stop working if you’re on a roll! You might want to arrange to go out to a restaurant, or order in pizza. If you’re going down the cooking route, make sure you check for food intolerances, etc.

Where will you stay? We rent a house that has lots of bedrooms and is right by the beach in case anybody needs a walk. Ask around and be creative – somebody might have a vacation place, or know somebody willing to rent one at low cost.

How will your work habits combine? Some people prefer to work with silence, some like music, some like to stop what they’re doing and ask questions, some love the disruptions, other hate them. Be honest with each other about what you need to be productive, and you won’t have a problem coming up with an approach that suits you all. You might decide mornings will be quiet, or there’ll be a quiet working room and a talking working room. Discuss, and you’ll find something that works for you. You’re all writers, so you all understand the need to work in your best environment.

What can you contribute? Anybody who’s ever been a critique partner knows that you learn a lot by helping others. Look for ways to help other people on the retreat. Get your own work done, but don’t be afraid to stop and help someone brainstorm or solve a plot problem, or to read a chapter. By helping others, I guarantee you’ll be helping yourself as well.

And here’s my final advice about retreats: just do it.

Don’t wait until you’re not too busy. Don’t wait until you’re further along in your writing journey. Your writing is important!

Do you have any advice to add? Have you been on retreat, or would you like to?

11 Responses to Group Writing Retreats: A How-To Guide

  1. Linda McLaren Jul 3 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Okay. Happen to live in Melbourne. If you ever need to fill a space, I’m in! Sounds glorious!

    • Amie
      Amie Jul 3 2013 at 10:27 pm #

      It IS glorious! We’re a YA writing group — if this is you, let me know!

  2. Angelica R. Jackson Jul 3 2013 at 10:07 am #

    Love that idea of a quiet working room and a talking working room–sometimes I talk to myself (okay, a lot of times) and even if I wasn’t seeking input at the stage at least I wouldn’t be bothering anyone.

    • Amie
      Amie Jul 3 2013 at 10:27 pm #

      Can definitely be helpful — everybody has different needs, and for me, those needs can change on particular days.

  3. Amelia Loken Jul 3 2013 at 10:09 am #

    Great insight. Our local SCBWI has one coming up and that will be my first time at a retreat. Thanks for the pointers. 🙂

    • Amie
      Amie Jul 3 2013 at 10:27 pm #

      Have a fantastic time!

  4. Alexa Y. Jul 3 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    I definitely want to experience what a writing retreat is like for myself someday! The points you made are all really sound ones, and I will be bookmarking this post to keep all these things in mind in the future 😉

    • Amie
      Amie Jul 3 2013 at 10:28 pm #

      One day? Why not now? Go for it! This is all the stuff I wish I’d thought through, so hope it helps!

  5. Teddy Jul 4 2013 at 3:16 am #

    Hello! I declined a nanowrimo camping retreat that they were having. I don’t feel comfortable going away with strangers. Unfortunately, none of my friends are writing a book. If I were to do such a retreat, I would most likely play around instead of work.

  6. Margaret Jul 14 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    This was a really useful article so we shared it on our Facebook page. If anyone is looking for a quite and picturesque place to hold a retreat we would love to host you.

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