I have been talking with some friends about starting a writer’s retreat. The consensus has been excitement, but also curiosity about how that might work. Most of them (including myself) have never been to a writer’s retreat. So how do you set one up? Below are seven steps to creating your ideal retreat.
1.) Who will attend? - This depends on what you want and need in a retreat. Some people want a large group to draw more energy. I like the idea of gathering a small group of friends, three to ten people, for the day or weekend. It’s more personal.
2.) Make a Budget – Once you know who or approximately how many will attend, you can plan expenses. Lodging, food and speaker’s fees are the most important considerations. (Personally, I don’t care to hire a speaker for a retreat. I go to conferences for that.) You will need to decide how to split the costs evenly between attendees. Also, someone invariably has to cancel at the last minute so decide ahead of time (and make sure the attendees are aware) if you will have a return on your money policy.
3.) Planning Location – I prefer a calm setting, perhaps at my family’s cabin at the lake, but any environment that will allow you to escape your routine environment is beneficial. Be aware of what your location will provide: outlets for various technology, work space, seating, and food - and what you need or will be allowed to bring yourself.
4.) Creating the schedule - If you keep the group small, you can tailor your schedule to specific needs. You may want a single day retreat or if you all have the time, an entire weekend or (in writer’s Heaven) a whole week. If you are planning a large gathering, you may want to have speakers, break-out sessions, critique times etc. Either way, be sure you leave time for writer’s to brainstorm, plot and critique together as well as solitary time. The first talk, class or workshop should provide an overview of the schedule and what you hope to accomplish, even if it has been discussed beforehand. From that point, alternate between group and individual time. This gives the writer a chance to digest and begin implementing tips offered.
5.) Tools needed – In our technologically driven society, it’s rare for someone to leave home without a cell phone. That usually includes photo, video or internet capability. However, a true retreat means cutting yourself off from everyday distractions to indulge in your writing. So determine beforehand what will be provided, what attendees need to bring with them and even what you want to ban from the retreat. Some writers prefer to hand write their notes, drafts or perform edits; just as many prefer to do all of their work on their laptop. Internet connection is useful for research, but like the cell phone, it can become a bigger distraction than an aide. A printer may be desired as well. I prefer to leave the printer out of the retreat because you eat into your group time waiting for books to be printed out. Consider asking your attendees to print their work before coming unless you plan to allow large amounts of individual time. You also need wires, charger, extra batteries and everything necessary to ensure the technology is always working. A TV and DVD player may also be desired. Books and ebooks might be available for inspiration and examples, but don’t get sucked into reading and forget to write. An alarm clock or timer can help you stay on schedule. Comfortable clothes are a must!
6.) Leave time for fun – Nothing keeps the creative juices flowing like time with friends that share your passion. I have heard of some retreats that offer time at a spa, massages, shopping, dinners out etc. Obviously, the amount of time and options you have available will be determined by the length and size of the retreat. A few friends getting together for the day might just enjoy a leisurely lunch together.
7.) When it’s over - Maybe you’ll find a group of writers you click with so well that you have to see them every year or several times a year. Follow up. Ensure that the new professional relationships are nurtured through emails, blogs or a website. A week or so after the retreat, seek feedback. Ask each participant what made the retreat great and for any suggestions to make future retreats even better.
Retreats are meant to be a relaxing time of creativity and accomplishment. By planning ahead, you’ll save time and ensure success for everyone involved.