What Does It Take To Have a Writing Retreat?

Thursday, May 07, 2015
Two weekends ago, I was lucky enough to go on a writing retreat at Conception Abbey, Missouri, which is about 90 minutes north of Kansas City. For those of you who have never heard of Conception Abbey, it's a Benedictine Monastery with an extremely nice and inexpensive retreat center, and this is where SCBWI-MO holds our Advanced Writers Retreat. But while I was at this extremely peaceful place, I wondered if this is what writers need to be on a retreat. Do we need to get away from it all to write, and if so, what does the retreat venue have to have?

I've been on several retreats--from a lovely lakehouse to a hotel in the middle of a busy city. To be honest, the one thing a retreat gives you that you don't get in your day-to-day life is the expectation that you are SUPPOSED to be constantly working on your work-in-progress. You are not supposed to stop to take the kids to school, feed and walk the dog, clean the bathroom, go to the grocery store, or prepare dinner for your family. There's no guilt--you are retreating to write. But what else does a retreat really need?

Here's what Conception Abbey provided me:

1. Fewer distractions: Some of you will not believe this, but there was no TV in my room and no Internet either. My phone could be used as a hot spot when I needed the Internet, or I could go to the library to use theirs. But the biggest factor was no TV. I don't watch that much at home, but in a hotel, I tend to turn it on. No TV, no chance to turn it on. The rooms were also so inexpensive that each of us got our own, which is so nice because if we need quiet or fewer distractions to write, we had it! Plus, I had arranged someone else to take care of my four-year-old and dog, so right there, I had a bunch of time! 

2. Other writers: But writers need other writers to bounce ideas off of and maybe even receive some useful feedback. I had this at the Conception Abbey retreat, too!  I rode across Missouri with three other lovely writers and then had a critique group I met with each night, as well as eating meals with writers who are all trying to do the same thing--use retreat time to write. Plus, and this is not really a need but it was nice, everyone at this retreat was writing for children or teens!

3. Food: You have to keep yourself energized on a retreat--you need to eat. At the Abbey, someone else prepared our meals three times a day,  and we just showed up and ate them. This was amazing! It was like being back in college, but with MUCH BETTER FOOD! Plus our regional adviser bought chocolate, and there was plenty of coffee to go around. You don't need someone to make meals for you, although it is so nice, but you do need to think about food BEFORE you show up to the retreat, or a lot of your writing time will be spent on: What am I going to eat and how am I going to get this food? When my critique group goes on retreat together, we just each take a meal--plan it, buy for it and cook it that day. So you are only doing one meal, instead of six for the whole weekend, etc. My advice: think about this BEFORE you arrive! 

I hope at some point this spring, summer, or fall, you have a chance to go on a retreat, even if it's just for 24 hours. And for goodness sakes, if someone says to you, I have a house in the country that you can use for retreat or I need a dog sitter for the weekend when I'm gone--handing you a retreat opportunity with little effort or expense, snatch it up! 

Margo L. Dill is a children's author of three books and a writing instructor. Her next class is Writing Children's and Teen Short Fiction which starts on May 13 and instructs on how to write short stories for this audience for publication and contests before you have a novel or picture book published. To find out more about the class see the link above; to find out more about Margo, please visit Margo's website.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Lynn Obermoeller and I know what a marvelous place for writing The Abbey is... Now, finally, there's another convert.

I'm glad you had a wonderful time. You can always do a DIY writing retreat (just you and writing friend go), since it's such an affordable place.

Did you check out the graveyard? It's an older one, with some interesting gravestones.

I have a feeling you'll go back to Conception... again and again.

Anne Louise O'Connell said...

Hi Margo,
Great post... and the perfect formula for a successful writing retreat. I run a retreat every year in Phuket Thailand just before NaNoWriMo and the inspiration abounds surrounded by fellow writers and idyllic surroundings. It's great fun!

Unknown said...

Oh Yes. I've attended several organized retreats, and that 'food' thing was wonderful.
However, the best was when a friend of a friend offered her a cabin for the weekend, and she asked three others ( me too) to join her. We assigned one meal to each of us, and planned for leftovers to see us through, and the hostess actually left us a bag of snack foods for breaks.
we each chose a spot on the deck or elsewhere to write, and had a gab session/critique in the evening by the fireplace. Best EVER!!!

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top