What’s the value of a writer’s retreat?

book and computerWhether you’re a business-owning 40-something like me, a fresh university graduate, a middle-aged career-changer, or a retired widow, a writing retreat could be just what you need to start that book, finish your online course content, or finally get the blogging under control that you’ve been meaning to do all year.

It isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but it certainly is mine….and it’s also exceptionally useful, helpful and necessary when you lead a busy life and just need to get some stuff done.

Most people I speak with are completely mystified as to why I would want to run away and ‘just write’ for the weekend. They can’t fathom why I’d have to leave home to do that when I have a perfectly good space and computer at home (except for those entrepreneurial females I know who have young children…THEY get it!). They also don’t really understand when I say that I actually just want to write ALL day, like 8 hours per day, almost non-stop, except for good coffee and chocolate breaks.

The truth is, there is not a chance in hell I can be that focused at home or get that much done in my own space. And I bet you can’t either. What I know is that in this year, when I’ve managed to get away 5 times to work ON my business, I have made more progress than in any of the previous 4 years.  I absolutely adore my home and family, but I do have to get away from my ‘norm’ to rocket myself forward.  I simply value my time more preciously, immerse myself more completely in the task at hand and concentrate more fully on what I need to achieve.

But don’t get me wrong, it’s not always beers and skittles. There are plenty of headaches in the lead up to these trips, and occasionally I wonder why I bother given the stress and military-style organisation required before I go, BUT, it is always entirely worth it in the end.

So how do you manage a writer’s retreat, especially if time and money are scarce? And how do you maximise the value of it?

1. Be aware of the difference between a writing ‘conference’, where you’ll learn skills and techniques through classes and workshops, and a writing ‘retreat’.  Whilst a writing conference can be wonderful if you’re either a) new to the professional writing game and need to up the ante on your skills, or b) at a point in your career when you want to pitch your book idea to agents, or c) you fancy meeting and socialising with other writers/publishers, the truth is you will get very little actual writing done. As in, probably nada. There is no doubt enormous value and joy in hanging out in an environment where words matter, but writing conferences can be very pricey and more of a networking or education gig than actually a writing one.

2. There are as many different writing retreats as there are writers. You need to be really clear about your purpose for attending a writing retreat, then get a clear understanding of the goals of each different retreat. Some offer full food and board in luxury surrounds, with on-hand mentoring/editing available. These are for people who really desire to get their work done without distraction, in a short period of time.  It is also usually for those who value the personalised service and inspiration that comes with a higher price tag. Other retreats offer very spartan accommodation, maybe just a bed and a desk in a simple dormitory, with communal kitchen facilities and no mentoring included. You will certainly be rubbing shoulders with other writers but you will not usually have the same level of support available and you will need to share amenities. The lower price tag means you could stay for an extended period of time, however.

3. Any amount of time on retreat is a good amount of time. You don’t need to lock yourself away for a month, or even a week, if you simply can’t be away from reality for that long. If you can only manage a weekend, that’s cool. So much can be achieved in two or three days when you have little to no other distractions. A quiet space to retreat to for 48 hours is plenty of time to work on difficult writing issues you may have been facing. You can nut them out on retreat, and then have a solid plan in place to continue working on once you get back home.

4. Retreat with a friend. The value is immense. Not only will it usually make your stay more affordable if you share with a buddy, but you will also be able to use each other as motivation and accountability.  Whether it helps fuel your competitive streak, or simply provides comfort in the difficult times, having a pal on hand to read your work aloud to at night is very valuable. Just be sure the friend you bring is really keen to stay ‘on-task’ and is not too chatty! You need someone you can be honest with and who you can tell politely to ‘shut up’!

5. Allow yourself some breaks without feeling guilty. The tendency is to be hard on ourselves when we have invested time and money into something like a writer’s retreat. We always want to ensure we are getting maximum value from our investment. But don’t get too cross with yourself if you sleep in or want a siesta. You will need to refuel and re-energise – it’s vital to the creative process. Clearing the head by doing some exercise should also be a guilt-free break.

6. Be really clear – and realistic – about what you want to achieve in the time you have. Don’t go into a two-day retreat hoping to write the next great Australian novel from cover to cover. Check in with yourself and decide what the next most important writing project is for you, then break that up into sizeable chunks with clear deliverables. Be kind to yourself and don’t expect too much, especially if it is your first time. By the same token, don’t go away for a week and only task yourself with writing 4 blog posts…..

7. Go on a writer’s retreat a couple of times each year. Visiting your muse and taking time out to reconnect with your voice is vital for business communicators as well as fiction writers. It doesn’t happen without some effort.


I run writer’s retreats for business owners who need support, time and space to help their words flow. Whether it’s a confidence issue, a technique concern or an accountability obstacle, I provide writing guidance as well as commercial nouse to help bring your words to life and grow your business through your message.

Contact me to find out when the next retreat is running.

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