I can get carried away daydreaming about a romantic writing life in the woods, just me, a woodstove, stacks of notebooks and piles of pencils. I’ll sip coffee in between bursts of creativity, pen flying across the page.
But this imaginary pastoral idyll is just that: a fantasy. Unlike Thoreau, I can’t take off for months to reflect on a pond. I’ve got a family. I’ve got a mortgage. I’ve got a yoga class at 6 pm and groceries to grab at Sobeys on the way home.
Honestly? I doubt I’d enjoy that much solitude.
But I would appreciate a little bit. A few days, solo, away from the hurly-burly of daily life, the to-dos, the nagging inbox, the endless quest for new ideas for dinner.
Damn you, dinner!
Writing requires focus, and contemporary life is one big distraction machine. That’s why writing retreats are so valuable. And they aren’t just for professional authors.
If you write for work (or pleasure or both), a writing retreat of even a half-day’s duration can provide some valuable time and space for getting a good chunk of writing done.
While a couple of nights (or longer!) is ideal, if you can only spare a day or less, I say go for it! Any retreat is worthwhile. Try to find a room or setting away from your daily workspace to create a sense of distance and novelty.
No matter how long you’re able to escape, here are some things to do to make your writing retreat as productive, smooth and satisfying as possible:
Gather your source materials
How do you capture your ideas? Whether you journal, jot in a notebook, are an obsessive sticky note-takers, or are digitally inclined to record your inspirations, you want to ensure you’ve got all this great source material with you on your retreat.
Before you go, look through your notebooks or folders to find what you need.
Getting away from the internet eliminates a world of distractions. I once borrowed a relative’s cottage that didn’t have internet, and it was wonderful, erasing the temptation to see what was happening on Twitter or doom-scrolling depressing headlines.
Even if you are in WiFi range, turn it off on your computer. Put your phone on airplane mode. Stay off social media. (OK, maybe just log on for a minute to share one or two envy-inducing posts about your fabulous retreat. But no more!)
And keep your external communications to a minimum. If you need to check in on the homefront, do it. Otherwise, relish the digital disconnect.
Pack your tools
Think of all the tech you need to work at your best. Bring your chargers and power cords. If music is part of your process, bring a speaker. Don’t forget your printer, in case you want to peruse a hard copy of your work.
And don’t forget your low-fi tools, such as pens, paper, and reference books. I don’t leave home without my dog-eared Oxford Canadian Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus.
Nourish your body
Plan healthy meals to fuel and energize you. The last thing you want is to binge a bunch of junk food that will make you feel tired and gross. But by all means, bring a few little treats to reward yourself. This should be pleasurable!
Cities are stimulating and full of temptations. If you’re the kind of person who can work while a street party rages outside, sirens blare or the neighbour in Apartment B cranks the classic rock at all hours, then, by all means, go for an urban retreat. But I need peace to think. We are spoiled for rural and remote escape options here in Atlantic Canada.
Set a Goal
It’s easy to arrive at your writing retreat destination and slip into holiday mode, forgetting what you’re there for.
Before you depart, set a writing goal for yourself. Be realistic: the first draft of your memoir or a year’s worth of blog posts aren’t going to materialize over a long weekend. But a few days is enough time to produce at least a solid first draft of:
- A half-dozen blog posts
- A couple of months’ worth of social media captions
- Several email newsletters
- A welcome sequence for your new email marketing campaign
- A few modules in the new online course you’re building
- A pitch deck
- Sales copy for your new product or service
- The keynote address you’re giving at an upcoming conference
- That side project you keep putting aside for lack of bandwidth. This is its moment!
Rest and Recharge
It’s unrealistic to think you can write all day long. Build in little breaks to read, snack, stretch, or brew a pot of tea. There’s no shame in a nap (just set your alarm to avoid an epic crash, waking up in unfamiliar surroundings in the dark, wondering, what happened?)
And don’t stay up too late. I know it can be tempting to keep writing into the wee hours once you get rolling, but a good night’s sleep will yield incredible returns of creative energy for the next day.
Start With a Walk
Don’t go straight from bed to coffee to desk. Get a little fresh air and movement to loosen up physically and mentally before you sit down at your keyboard or notebook.
Invite a Friend
There’s no law that a writing retreat has to be solo. If you have a colleague or collaborator who might also benefit from a little creative getaway, invite them.
Just be sure to choose your company carefully: the ideal writing retreat sidekick is also there to work. Get aligned on your ground rules, and consider being each other’s editor or advisor.
Last year, I did a two-night getaway at a gorgeous Airbnb in Alma with Christie, my friend and fellow copywriter. We dedicated some time to business development brainstorming on the second day, and the chance to talk shop and get her insights were so valuable. I’d never have gotten that sitting at my desk at home.
So, tell me, what writing project do you need to take to a cabin? What is your idea of an ideal retreat? Where have you taken off to?