Retreat: How to Plan Your Writing Retreat
Have you ever wished for an uninterrupted time of focused writing or editing? Yet you don’t want to sink back into binge writing that drains your life and energy, making you want to abandon your project either? So maybe you would like to organize a brief (half day) or longer (three-day) writing retreat on your own. Here are tips and guidelines for how to create a productive and nurturing writing retreat. You’ll find questions below to guide you into thinking about everything from planning your food and rest to choosing the best time in your writing process for a retreat.
The following outline of questions grew from a retreat planning workshop I helped to lead for the Academic Writing Club where I’m a writing coach for academic writers, professors, graduate students, and researchers. This guide will help you think through the planning for your own retreat, which might last a few hours or a few days.
- What is your writing goal (be as concrete as possible)?
Do you want to write a certain number of words? Draft a certain number of pages? Or finish a chapter or section of a project?
Do you have a goal for the amount of time you want to put into the retreat?
Are there other writing tasks that you hope to accomplish? For example: proofing a final project, putting together an index, or cleaning up all the footnotes, etc.
Given your end goal (what you want to have in hand when you leave the retreat), how will you break that goal down further into chunks of work that will fit into brief sections of time within the retreat framework?
Example: I want to draft a 6,000 word chapter. I can write about 400 words in a 25 minute pom (see below for more on poms or timed writing sessions). That means I’ll need 15 poms or 7.5 hours of writing. I can only write about 6 poms, which takes 3 hours and includes 5 min breaks at the top and bottom of each hour, before needing a longer break. With that in mind, I could set a schedule something like this:
[ ] morning 8:00a – 11:00a (6 poms – 2,400 words)
[ ] lunch break 11:30a – 12:30p
[ ] afternoon writing 1:00p – 4:00p (6 poms – 2,400 words)
[ ] exercise (run or walk) 4:150p – 5:00p
[ ] early evening writing 5:30p – 6:30 (2 poms – 800 words)
[ ] dinner 6:30p – 7:30p
[ ] evening assessment 8:00p to 9:30p (3 poms – read & revise with goal of 6000 words full draft of chapter)
- What advance planning is needed to set yourself up for success?
Coordination with teaching? Most writers I work with are also professors or have teaching duties. How will you work around those or other responsibilities of your work?
Do you need to travel to your writing retreat? Or will you be planning the retreat around a holiday or other time when travel is part of your time? How can you schedule your retreat so that distractions are minimized for the period of the retreat?
What family obligations? If you hope to do your retreat at home, how will it fit with other family members’ schedules and needs, especially those that depend on you? How will you arrange for their care and free yourself to write – either at home or away?
Which seasons and demands of the year will you be working around with your writing retreat?
Avoid social media?
Choose a setting that fosters creativity?
- What can you do during the mini-retreat for support and encouragement toward meeting your goals?
Write in brief sessions, even if you’re planning to writing intensively. See the pomodoro technique for more about how to write in 25 min poms.
Set up a time during your retreat for an intentional conversation with a supportive person. Make the appointment in advance. Tell them why you want to talk. Keep it brief, and ask for the help you need or talk aloud about your goals for writing which will help solidify your commitment to follow through on those goals.
Journal briefly about your experience of the retreat, keeping a log of how things are going and how many words, paragraphs or pages you are writing. This adds a kind of self-accountability to your process.
- How will you reward your success?
Along the way: Is there a set of small rewards – like exercise, music or doodling – that you can do between writing sessions? Choose something that will engage the creative and artful side of your brain and allow for connections to the more organized and logical side of your brain. These connections can’t be made by continuing to focus solely on your writing goals.
At the conclusion: Is there a larger reward for completing your retreat that you can hold out as something to look forward to when you reach your writing goals? Be sure to follow through and take time for acknowledging and celebrating your hard work. You want to end feeling good about your work, and ready to try another retreat later. Keeping your work in brief sessions, having plenty of rest, exercise and good nutrition are all essential to convincing yourself that you can do this again!
This post brought to you by the letter R.