The Writer’s Retreat.
We’ve all likely participated in retreats that have spiraled into the 7th circle of hell. Turns out there is a recipe you can follow to avoid such a disaster.
I’ve attended a lot of getaways for writers in the years since I embraced writing as a career. They haven’t all turned into nightmares. Some have been fun, but not necessarily productive. Or productive, but not fun. Some are just a hot mess and you lose two days of your life that you can never get back. But, every now and then, I walk into a situation that seems to be a total outlier.
What does a near-perfect writing retreat look like?
All the writers are professionals, yet not elitists. The environment is perfectly conducive to both productivity and fun. These practically-perfect-in-every-way events can be accidents. Or perhaps just rare outliers. But I’ve come up with a theory. There are certain elements that, when present, allow for the Utopia of writing retreats.
I had the honor of attending one such retreat very recently. I had nothing to do with the planning of it, just the fortunate position of being a guest. I observed and kept track of what elements seemed to really make it enjoyable for all involved.
Here’s the recipe for brilliance.
- The Writers. Vet your people. Be sure they are serious about their craft and also have the ability to act like adults. You really can’t take that for granted. Writers from a variety of genres can add just the bit of spice to keep conversations fluid and fun. Make sure there aren’t arrogant folks in your midst. So first ingredient: decent writerly people.
- Venue. A perfect gathering space for a retreat of writers is one that has plenty of private spaces so the participants can tuck themselves away in a corner and do their thing and also some good public spaces so they can come together and share stories, bond over their shared experiences or failures, and just have some fun.
- Clear expectations. This sort of ties into the idea of pre-planning and scheduling. Normally, I shy away from these concepts. Scheduling things (for me) can feel like chains locking around my creativity. (Maybe this is why I don’t host many events!) However, for this type of event, it is critical that the host of the event makes it very clear what the expectations are. When all the participants understand what is expected of them, it is easier for the event to flow smoothly. So meals at certain times, individual work sessions at specific times, social times, a list of folks who are willing to critique and share pages. Even areas set aside for chatty folks so if you want to brainstorm with someone, you know where to go so you don’t interrupt those solitary writers. Our host did a beautiful job of providing structure for the weekend, without trying to micromanage everyone.
- Plenty of booze (and goals). Booze optional. But seriously. In this most magical of retreats I had the good fortune to attend, the writers were able to set goals before each work session and lots of us tied our fun to achieving our goals. If you know there is going to be a social hour after dinner, strive to reach your goals before you open that first bottle of wine.
- Food (and a master chef!). Our host was beyond good to us by providing food for the weekend. We brought our own snacks, but each meal was served at pre-established times so that we could work until meal time. If you don’t happen to have a super fantastic chef in your midst who is willing to volunteer his time all weekend, you can still take care of meal times by planning in advance who will be responsible for what meals and sticking with a meal schedule. Full bellies make for happy writers. I won’t reveal the identity of our super-hero chef, as he would be inundated with requests for his very special local ice cream, but the weekend wouldn’t have been the same without him.
You, too, can plan and host an amazing writer’s retreat that leaves all the participants feeling blissfully productive. Just follow these basic rules and you’ll find yourself in writerly Utopia before you know it!
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