Refresh with a Writing Retreat
“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind—they begin to seem like characters instead of real people.” —Stephen King, On Writing
I remember reading this quote and panicking.
I rarely write every day, even though I love the novel I’m currently working on. Sometimes writing is the last thing I want to do after a day of work, the gym, the subway schlep, and making dinner. (Endless cycle of guilt about not writing then ensues.)
A few weeks ago, Tracy, a member of my writing group, asked if we wanted to go on a writing retreat at her parent’s house in the beautiful woods of upstate New York. I was all for it. I’d hit a wall with my book. Every time I sat down to write, everything felt fake and forced. Maybe a retreat (although I wasn’t quite sure what that would entail) would help.
We stayed at Tracy’s for four days. We devoted the majority of the time (that we weren’t eating delicious food her parents cooked us) to writing. It wasn’t all smooth sailing—our train on the way there caught on fire, and Tracy got stung in the face by a bee.
But by the end of the long weekend, we all agreed that it was an amazing experience. I wrote over 10,000 words and completely broke through the intimidating block that had been building between me and my book. Everything I was writing felt so authentic and true and terrifying, which I believe are the best feelings when writing.
A retreat doesn’t need to be at an expensive or fancy location, which is sadly what I’d always pictured. All you need is a willing host and/or a free weekend.
Here are a few tips if you’re thinking about a writing retreat:
- Get away from distractions. You don’t even necessarily have to leave town—you just need a space where no one and no responsibilities are going to bug you. The space could be as simple as a coffee shop or your grandma’s house.
- Try to work with a friend/group. During our writing blocks, my group wrote in the same room. Sometimes we listened to classical or jazz music. It made writing a lot less lonely. If you don’t have a writing group, try Meetup or the Poet’s & Writers Directory and reach out.
- Take breaks. We wrote for 60–90 minute blocks and then took a stretch break. One morning, we started the day with yoga; another we started with a walk to horse stables nearby.
- Include activities that don’t involve writing. We took an hour to illustrate and color the future covers of our books. Besides the excitement of coloring with markers again (hey 3rd grade), it helped me gain clarity about what I want to convey in my writing. I also came up with a tentative title—something I’d never thought seriously about before.
- Start writing blocks with 10-15 minute warm-ups. We used prompts from a game for writers called The Writer’s Toolbox. (Once we even used Tracy’s old family pictures from albums lying around the room as a prompt.) Then we each passed our computer to the person next to us and she read it out loud. We each interpreted the same starting sentence so differently. It was also really refreshing to have a small break from my own project.
Have you ever thought about going on a writing retreat? What would your ideal retreat look like?
What a great idea. i think this is exactly what I need, actually. hmm…..
It was such a good experience! As you can tell. Do you have any idea about where you’re thinking of doing it?
I loved the line “Everything I was writing felt so authentic and true, and terrifying, which I believe are the best feelings when writing.” This was an awesome retreat and an even more awesome recount!
Thanks Tracy!! Funny bc I almost took that line out! Glad I kept it :)
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[…] The characters felt fake, the dialogue forced, the plot confusing. On the very first day of a writing retreat with my writing group, I was complaining about my writer’s block to two friends. One said, […]