How To Create Your Own Writing Retreat

How To Create Your Own Writing Retreat

How To Create Your Own Writing Retreat

C.C. Webster
C.C. Webster
2 years ago

I have been trying to find places to write since I was in diapers. In the picture below, I'm trying to get up the stairs and back to my bedroom to get to the crayons and construction paper. Apparently, I've been trying to get to pencil and paper since the very beginning.

How To Create Your Own Writing Retreat

Once I finally had full access to pen, paper, and even computer labs, a new mission came to be.

Finding an inspiring spot to write.

I made my way to every library within a 20-mile radius. I tried the crook of every tree on every block in my neighborhood. I even left the country quite a bit on the hunt...

Once I became a professional writer, I thought that creating my own writing space, and writing every day, would satisfy the need to find an inspiring place to write.

I was WRONG.

New York City libraries are beautiful but not open late, and I'm a late-night writer. Cafes are too busy and distracting and again, not open late. When I moved out of the city, up the Hudson, and had more space, and even had a shared office with my husband, Mark, I thought OK, now, I should be content with my writer's space.

I was WRONG.

I loved my office space, but it was shared with a really amazing human who also honors piles, clutter, and invading shared space. Not very inspiring. It got so bad that I actually sauntered into a few nice wedding hotels in the area to find clean, quiet spots to write.

I realized after a bit that I could create my own retreats. Who would stop me? I could go anywhere, on my own or with other writer friends, and have a retreat. I started making a point to do a retreat for myself at least 4-5 times a year. Some farther away, Pigeon Forge, TN, or Los Angeles, CA - some much closer, Ogunquit, ME, Martha's Vineyard, MA, and Bucks County, PA.

How To Create Your Own Writing Retreat

After 15 years of creating solo and group retreats, I’ve discovered a few helpful things that keep my retreats fruitful and fun...

1. Plan Ahead

Sometimes it’s wonderful to just drop it all last minute and run off to a solo retreat. And sometimes your script is in the right spot for that to really be a valuable time to go, but sometimes, you are in a bit of quicksand and should wait until you are lined up for productivity.

When I’m planning for a retreat, I use that for motivation to get my project to a certain place, so I set up the pins to knock them all down.

For example, if I know I have a script due in 8 weeks, and that I’ll need half that time to develop and map the project, I’ll plan a retreat at the 4 or 5-week mark of the process and set a deadline for PRE-retreat to have my map/outline as plump and juicy as possible, so I know during that 3-4 day retreat, I can dive head first into pages, and be prepped for success.

Also, I will usually give myself a New Year’s gift and book a retreat for 6-7 months down the line on January 1, so I have something to look forward to. I like to think of it as a wonderful opportunity to devote dedicated time to something I love the most – writing. What a gift!

How To Create Your Own Writing Retreat

2. You Don’t Need to Go Far From Home

When I first started planning retreats, I wanted to go far and wide and check out places I’d never been with lots of buzz.

Big mistake.

You can imagine what happened when I traveled to an “exciting” place to write. I did not want to write; I wanted to go explore! I couldn’t fathom spending hours with my laptop while a National Park, a fabulous museum, or a to-die-for restaurant was around the corner.

You want to find a place that could offer beautiful, natural surroundings that offer calm, peace, and help with concentration, but might not be SO buzzworthy that you can’t stay away from the diversions. And that place can be only 25-75 miles from home, or even less. It’s a smart choice to be just far enough away from home so that you feel like you are in a new place and feel like you have escaped your reality a bit.

Wherever you choose to go, make sure that the living area works for a writer. Consider the “writability” of the location.

Does it have a writing area? Desk, table, side table you can use?

Does it have a good chair for writing, a chair you can be in for some time?

Does it have more than one room, so you can escape your writing space if you need to?

Does it have a refrigerator or coffee maker, so you can keep drinks and snacks nearby?

If it’s a cabin or house rental, can you bring a folding table/desk/chair to create your own writing area?

If you can’t tell by photos, contact the hotel or owner and find out what you need to know so that you won’t be trying to write in bed. (Unless that’s your favorite place to write!)

3. Bring your Creature Comforts

I’m the kind of person that always has some kind of pillow behind me in almost every single chair that I write it. It all started with a back injury from a trip to Venice 15 years ago, and since then, I always prefer some extra support. And firm support!

That means that when I go on a retreat, yep, I actually pack a special back pillow so I know I can use that in any chair I end up using.

I also travel with legal pads (my “notebook” of choice), black and red pens, a Nubble Light candle, matches, a small photo easel that I use for my phone or tablet, earplugs, a water bottle, small portable speaker, my kindle, a small tablecloth in a fabric I love for my makeshift desk, laptop, cords of all kinds, and a small framed photo of what’s inspiring me at the moment (It’s often my sweetheart).

I love setting up my writing space in my chosen location, and lighting my candle, putting on some soft (no lyric) tunes, and getting to work.

What do you prefer to have with you when you write? What makes that experience special for you?

How To Create Your Own Writing Retreat

4. Plan Meals and Breaks

Make it fun, and schedule meals and short breaks. Not only is that fun, but it’s also conducive to productivity.

Before Day 1 of the retreat, commit to a certain number of hours to write on Day 1, and plan meal breaks for that day, and stick to them. Use the meal breaks as a time to absolutely escape from your writing space/room/area, and focus on delicious food or the vista in another room or balcony or even a restaurant.

I highly suggest trying out the Pomodoro Technique for a retreat. It’s super simple:

  • Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  • Write with no stopping for that 25 minutes.
  • Enjoy a 5 minutes break.
  • Do it all again!
  • After 4 “Pomodoros” (25-minute sessions) take a longer 25-30 minute break. Perfect for meal breaks.

It’s amazing how shrinking down longer projects like writing a screenplay into smaller, unintimidating steps allows you to feel less pressure and take it one “Pomodoro” at a time.

How To Create Your Own Writing Retreat

5. Unplug

Be bold and go somewhere that has NO internet! I know, I know, sounds awful, right? But, it’s an exhilarating thing to do for yourself for a few days and allow your brain to stay in your story.

If you can’t fully unplug for some reason, no problem!

I use a productivity app called Freedom that allows me to block certain websites and apps when I’m writing and during my “writing block of time.” It helps me stay focused and also enjoy getting a few minutes to check my inbox after my writing block. A little reward.

I often go it alone on retreats, but sometimes I get very lucky, and another writer or artist friend will want to join. This is a wonderful thing if they are interested in the same work schedule as you for the weekend. Don’t get too connected to the social aspect because the goal of a retreat is to be productive with your own creative work.

Invest in your writing, make a goal, and make a plan to schedule a retreat for yourself. If you can’t find inspiration every day in your writing space, you are not alone! Sometimes, it’s just taking a break and working in a new location to come back and appreciate your own workspace.

Let's hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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About the Author

C.C. Webster

C.C. Webster

Screenwriter, Script Consultant, Director

As a writer, I'm interested in telling stories about regional America. I adore unreliable protagonists and really distinctive and juicy characters, whether that be in a bold comedy, or a crime drama. I'm inspired by the dreamers and underdogs in the world. My years working toward my MFA at Columb...

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