Writing Retreats come in many shapes and sizes. Some are led by famous authors and require flying to exotic locales. Some are geared toward idea generation and developing community with likeminded writers. Some last only a day and allow you to come and go as you please. Many writing retreats are expensive. Many others boast a competitive application process. In the midst of all the choices, there is an additional option and it’s one I am increasingly fond of:
You could create your own retreat.
Last month, I did just that. I culled together everything I have written so far of my novel – all 100 pages in their rough, unorganized glory – and I printed them out. Then I booked an Airbnb about forty miles away in Topanga Canyon. I gathered my research, packed my bags, my books, my laptop, and set out for a three nights and two full days.
It was such a wonderful experience, I thought I might share a little about how I planned it and offer a few tips in case you get inspired to take your own.
1. Determine your main objectives for going on retreat.
Before I planned anything else, I took some time to journal, pray, and reflect on WHY I wanted to take a solo retreat. I decided to set a strict “No podcasts” rule because I realized I have been listening to podcasts more than I’ve been listening to my own thoughts. I wanted to reacquaint myself with total silence, to push through the discomfort of not having any distractions, and give myself permission to slow down. To pray, to take walks, to leave my makeup and my calendar at home.
2. Consider the type of environment you find most inspiring.
A cabin in the woods? A condo on the beach? A busy city block with lots of cool cafes and art museums? The reality is that even on retreat, you probably won’t be typing away for eight full hours a day. You’ll want to make space to re-fill your creative tank, let your brain rest, and get your legs moving. And since you’re going solo, you might as well set it in a place that brings you happiness!
I chose Topanga Canyon because it holds the best of both worlds – the ocean and the mountains. I found a tiny house on Airbnb with an outdoor patio where I could sit and write while overlooking the entire canyon. Plus, it had a full kitchen so I could cook my own meals to save money.
3. Put together a budget.
How many days can you spare to get away? How far would you like to travel? How much are you willing to spend per night on lodging? Do you have room in your budget for eating out, ordering food to be delivered, or cooking your own meals?
My original choice for this retreat was actually Malibu, but when I searched for a place to stay and plugged in the maximum amount of money I was willing to spend each night, there really wan’t much within my price range.
So, I ignored the feed of fancy home pictures Airbnb had curated for me, and instead I went over to the virtual map of the Malibu area and zoomed in. Next, I dragged the map around and started exploring the surrounding cities and neighborhoods to see if any other housing options popped up. On the map, each available home is represented by a dollar amount that the host is charging per night. Lo and behold, Topanga Canyon had lots of options within my price range. I found it was just a quick drive from Malibu, with the added benefit of feeling more rustic and secluded.
4. Loosely structure your time.
I wasn’t super strict about this, but I did develop a light game plan for each day I was there. This is going to look different for everyone, but to give you some ideas for how you could spend your time on retreat, this is what I did:
Day One, I prioritized generating new content, so I wrote for a good 4+ hours, dividing my writing time into two, 2-hour blocks with a break in between for making lunch and chilling out with some pleasure reading (namely, Elizabeth Gilbert’s fun new novel, City of Girls).
After my second writing block, I rewarded myself with a gorgeous hike around Red Rock Canyon (yes, we have red rocks right here in SoCal!). In the evening, I made dinner, did some more research for my novel, and finished off the evening by listening to worship music and praying through any fears or blocks I was having. (You know, the usual suspects that pop up when you are alone and trying your best to create something from nothing.)
Day Two, I woke up feeling uninspired and not wanting to write. I took that as a sign to dig into those 100 pages I had already written and start to figure out what to keep and what needs to hit the cutting room floor. I spent a good two hours doing this, then had lunch on the Malibu pier. While staring out at the ocean, I got inspired and hand wrote a whole scene in my journal. It’s amazing what can happen when we listen to ourselves and gently go with the flow :).
After lunch, I got back to work by reading Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody and using it as a guide to begin drafting a Beat Sheet for my novel. Next, because I’m one of those crazy people who actually relaxes by working out, I did an exercise video on YouTube, made some dinner, and followed much the same schedule as the evening before.
All in all, I had a wonderful time. I left feeling relaxed, re-energized, and proud of not only the work I had done on retreat, but the work I will be doing for the second half of this year as I slowly inch towards the finish line.
Got any other tips? Feel free to add them in the comments below.