When you think “writing retreat,” do you dream of a secluded cabin in the woods, miles from anywhere? A beachfront condo on a tropical island? Or perhaps a mountain refuge, high above the world and its distractions?
Unfortunately, options like those are not always available to writers, especially those struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their dream of authorship. But the places I described above may also, in fact, not be the most conducive choices. If you’ve decided to set aside some time for a writing retreat (read Part I in this series for more on why this is a good idea), your choice of place is critical. Here are some criteria I’ve found to be helpful in choosing a place for your retreat. Try to find somewhere that:
1. Is removed from your usual routines…
This is perhaps the most important criteria when choosing a place for a retreat—ideally, it should be far enough removed from your home/workplace that you won’t be tempted to go pick up your laundry, reorganize your office space, or any of the other easy distractions that surround you at home. If you simply don’t have the option of being away from your home, try to at least designate a space in your home that is free from distractions, turn off phones etc for the times you’re working, and let your friends and family know that for this period of time you are not available in the ways you might normally be.
2. … But is not too far from civilization.
Unless you plan on taking with you and preparing all your own food etc., secluded locations are actually often not the best choice for writing retreats. You’ll end up spending a lot of time dealing with things like grocery shopping, cooking, washing dishes, and so on. I like to plan my retreats in places where I can easily get to a selection of good restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores. While I don’t always want to eat out, I want getting meals to be easy and not a source of distraction.
3. Provides a variety of locations for work…
Some people like to work in one place every day. Personally, I find that I need variety—sometimes I need to head to the coffee shop for a change of scene. I’ve found that doing writing retreats in areas where there are several hotels or resorts nearby can be a great option—you don’t have to be staying in these places to go in, use their facilities (food, drinks, wifi), and enjoy working in a beautiful environment. These kinds of places often have big beautiful lobby areas that are perfect for writing. I was once lucky enough to be asked to do a writing retreat on Maui with a client, and while we stayed in a small rental apartment, we worked most days out of the Four Seasons resort!
4. …and play!
You won’t be working all the time, so make sure that the place you choose has options for restorative activities that you can do to clear your mind and refresh yourself for the next day. This might mean choosing somewhere with beautiful hiking trails or access to a swimming pool. Or maybe you like to watch movies to unwind—make sure you’ve got a theater nearby, or access to movies on your TV or computer. Plan for your “off” time as well as your “on” time. When I go on writing retreats I like to take my bike, when possible, my running shoes, a few bottles of good wine, and some great movies or TV shows.
5. Is technically equipped.
That’s another problem with cabins in the woods—they often don’t come with the high-speed internet connections that most of us need these days for research (and recreation). Make sure you choose a place that will meet your technical needs—think about whether you will need a printer, wifi, phone signal, etc. There’s nothing more frustrating and detrimental to creativity than spending half the day trying to find a place to get online so you can look up some essential piece of information or communicate with your writing coach.
6. Fits your budget.
If you have the resources to rent your ideal, fully equipped writer’s paradise on a tropical island, that’s great! If you’re on a budget, though, there are many creative ways you can go about finding a place. I’ve used Vacation Rental sites like airbnb or my local favorite Russian River Rentals to find relatively inexpensive apartments or houses.
Or how about doing a house-swap with a friend who lives somewhere you think would be suitable? House-sitting and/or pet-sitting are also great ways to get access to a lovely space—put the word out on social media and among your friends that you’re available to house- or pet-sit for free when they go on vacation. Pet owners in particular will often jump at this. Or ask around among your friends if anyone has a vacation home they might lend you during the off-season. I have friends who let me use their ski-places during the summer months, for example.
Another option may be to team up with a few fellow writers/creatives and do a group retreat where you can split the cost of renting a place. Just make sure it has enough space for each of you to have the privacy you need, so that interpersonal issues or different working styles won’t disrupt your progress. (I’ll be writing more about Collaborative Retreats in the next installment in this series.)
Good luck finding the perfect place! And check out Part II in this series for tips about how to make the best use of your time once you get there.