Several years ago when I participated in a weekly writing workshop under the tutelage of a published writer, I had a wonderful opportunity to write each week and receive instant feedback as well as feedback on manuscripts that were distributed previously to the group. It was an exciting time for me and I learned much about the art and craft of writing.
Each three-hour workshop was punctuated with a break midway through and we could talk, look through books on writing to borrow, and also read through various writing-related announcements from local writers, cafes, writing group etc. I remember going through some of the announcements and seeing advertisements for writing retreats – an Ireland getaway! a cruise to Greece! yoga and writing in the Colorado Rockies! I think I would literally drool over them (although it also may have been the cookies or cake always available). Think of what word magic I could perform in the green lushness of Ireland or looking out over the azure beauty of the water surrounding the Greek Islands! Days dedicated to writing! A trip with other writers! How magical it would all be!
However, such trips were out of my price range and more importantly, I thought, out of my league. After all, I wasn’t a real writer was I? At the time I hadn’t published anything or knew many published writers. I had to work a day job. I didn’t go to writers’ parties where everyone knew the latest gossip. I was just me – a fledgling hopeful. Retreats were for real writers.
Hopefully, you see two fallacies in my thinking. One, that you need a lot of money or an exotic destination to have a writing retreat and two, that writing retreats aren’t for every writer, no matter the level of experience.
But, sometimes age does make us wiser.
I recently had the pleasure of attending a small retreat, set up by a friend of mine in the South Jersey Writers’ Group. She rented a cabin in a local state park for a weekend. After some debate (did I deserve to give myself a whole weekend just to write? Could my family survive without me? Was it fair to them?), I decided to go.
When it was over, I was so glad I had made the time to go away. I had a wonderfully productive time, both with writing and in connecting to my fellow writers (there were 5 of us in all). The park itself, in late fall, had that desolate, fading beauty this time of year affords. The lake shimmered under the autumnal sun. I took a break to walk through the foliage of the woods, crunching through the ankle-deep leaf fall like a child. I felt calmer that whole weekend than I had for a long time.
I came back refreshed, inspired, and with a deep dent in my novel word count.
All for $40, food to share and gas money. The point here is that writing retreats can be affordable and easier than you think. State parks offer one solution. My mother and stepfather stayed at a monastery in Maine for a vacation which was reasonably priced. For a little more money, think about sharing the cost of a beach house off season. Heck, even renting a motel or hotel room, or a bed and breakfast for a weekend in a vacation spot (or town) off season affords you the privacy and dedicated time to writing.
And yes, we all deserve time off to renew our vows to the writing life, especially if you have a family, a day job, and other obligations. My husband was a little unsure of my going away by myself. He had no qualms taking care of our 4-year-old but I still had some mommy guilt and he was afraid for me. However, I pushed on. Writing is not some fancy I took a liking to the other day. Writing makes me who I am.
Remember, you are a writer when you pick up a pen to write. When you make the commitment to a writing life, when you are serious about your writing, finding time once or twice a year to write in seclusion, like finding time during our busy week, is a great way to show others how serious you are. Non-writers often have trouble understanding the needs that drive us but that is okay. It is up to you to set the boundaries and expectations others should observe.
One thing I will not lie about: it was difficult leaving my family behind for a weekend. But when I think that I am writing not just to exercise my creativity, but also, hopefully, to make a better life for my family, then a few days away is a small price. On the up side, it gave my husband and son time to bond. There really is a silver lining if you look hard enough.
Writing retreats are a valuable expenditure of time and, with some creativity, usually very little money. You, as a writer, deserve time to dedicate to your writing and to reaffirm your commitment to your writing.