How to Plan a Mini Writing Retreat
How to Plan a Mini Writing Retreat
Welcome to our very first post about writing on The Inkhorn! Woohoo! Anyways, let’s get right into today’s topic. I usually look forward to summer as a time to focus only on writing, but that hardly ever happens. With my senior year and the college search looming over me, writing has fallen to the wayside and every time I try to write, I am plagued by an incurable case of writer’s block. So I did some research to see what other writers did when all hope was seemingly lost and I discovered the idea of a writing retreat. Now I had heard of writing retreats before, but most of them involved spending a week with other writers going to workshops and writing together, which wouldn’t work for a number of reasons. Number one: I’m broke, number two: I don’t have a week’s worth of time, and number three: I’m not 18 yet (sigh). So after being disappointed by delusions of grandeur (I will someday rent out a cottage in the Irish countryside for a month, surrounded by only sheep, but sadly today is not that day), I figured that I could have a writing retreat in my own home that didn’t involve me locking myself in my bedroom and wrapping myself in my Ohio State snuggie only to stare at a blank Microsoft Word document for six hours. So if you can tolerate a couple of un-witty section titles, join me, and we can plan our writing retreat together.
Discovering Your Motivation/The Genre of Your Retreat
First things first, you need to decide what you to accomplish. Set one concrete goal for yourself (i.e. edit four chapters, write 10,000 words) and one abstract goal (i.e. fall in love with your work in process). I really wanted my retreat to be a place where I could recharge and fall back in love with writing, so I decided to create an itinerary that would combine my goals with some of my favorite things: writing, relaxation, and Shakespeare. Now you could have very different ideas of fun and what you want to accomplish, so base your retreat around what you like best! Perhaps you get your best ideas while exercising, so work in activities that get you on your feet to break up your writing periods. I find that having a major theme to encompass your day or weekend will help guide you in your planning because it’s almost like an outline for the rest of the retreat. Right now you may be thinking “It’s a writing retreat. Shouldn’t my theme be writing?” And yes, of course, your main objective is writing but I highly suggest incorporating other activities into your day. You may think that setting aside a whole day to write will make you more productive but I find having high expectations (like writing for seven hours straight) usually sets me up for failure. It’s important to schedule breaks so you remain focused. Think about it this way- are you more likely to stay on task for one-hour blocks or four-hour blocks? I have the attention span of an eight-year-old boy, so I like to break up my time with different activities so I can stay focused during the time I set aside to write. Maybe you have the laser focus that I dream of having and you can write for six hours without being distracted. It really comes down to who you are as a writer. If you think that writing with zero distractions all day sounds enjoyable, then go for it! If you can’t do that, then don’t worry and create a theme that fits you.
To Invite, or Not to Invite
The next step is to decide whether this is a solo adventure or you need the support of a group of friends. When deciding this you have to consider if your author friends are going to help you improve your writing or if they’re just going to distract you. I can’t imagine Spencer and me having a writing retreat together. It’s not that I don’t love her, it’s just that we are both easily distracted. Let me tell you, I’m still surprised that this blog was launched. Every time we’d sit down to talk about it, five minutes later we would be debating over which Jane Austen novel is the best. If you’re going to invite a partner in crime, I suggest having a reading period at the end of each day, so that everyone has some accountability. You have to write so you don’t show up to the reading session empty-handed. Also, only invite people who would bring good vibes to your writing space. Anyone who acts too author-ly (we all know that one person) should be left off the guest list.
The Setting of Your Retreat
The one requirement for your retreat is that you must be able to relax and be able to write in the space where you’re holding a retreat. While it would probably be better and more of a get away to hold your retreat somewhere outside of your home, it does provide a totally free option (as long as you live alone or somehow manage to get rid of your family for a couple of days). If you do hold your retreat in the comfort of your own home, change some things around to make it feel different. Build a blanket fort. Sit outside and write. Write in a different room than you usually do. If you are looking for a free option outside of your house, go to a nearby park, a library, a Starbucks, or go bookstore hopping. Of course, the activities you plan will be limited by your location, so consider what you want to do with your time and whether or not your chosen location will allow for that. Your favorite bookstore might not mind you hanging out to write, but if you start busting out some yoga poses, you might be kindly asked to leave. If you are not a broke teenager like me, consider a Bed and Breakfast or maybe even an AirBnB. With the latter, you can usually rent out entire houses for a very reasonable rate. Maybe you can live out my dream of writing among the sheep in the Connemara countryside (If you do, send me pictures!).
Choosing Your Trials
Now for the fun part, choosing your activities! Create a schedule for the day (don’t forget meals and breaks!) based upon your goals. So my schedule might look a little something like this:
8:30 – Breakfast
Eat something healthy and filling, so you won’t be rummaging for snacks in the middle of your writing time. My favorite breakfast meal is a smoothie (I use 1 banana, 1 cup of spinach, 1/4 cup of almond milk, 2 tablespoons of PB2, and half a serving of protein powder. It’s green, protein-filled, low cal, and very delicious!) and an egg. Eating something healthy will help you stay focused later, but if you want to go all out and indulge in some double chocolate pancakes, who am I to judge? Honestly, if I wasn’t lazy and half-asleep at 8:30 in the morning I would probably be making myself pancakes too.
9:00 – Activity 1
I’ll be doing character workshops for my first activity, but you can do whatever you like! Gather any materials you might need the night before, so you don’t waste time scouring the depths of the Internet for character worksheets and plot outlines. If you’ll also be doing something character related, choose an activity that helps you get inside your characters’ heads the most. Maybe you like character interviews, but personally, I love writing journal entries from the character’s point of view. Not only does it help me practice develop their voice, but I find this is the most effective way to discover who your character really is.
10:00 – Relaxation Break
Pick something that relaxes you! Maybe you love yoga and meditating, or maybe you just like to break out the scented candles and chill with your favorite book. The only requirement for this break is that you don’t let yourself write.
10:30 – Writing Block
Set a timer for an hour and a half, turn off your internet access and just let yourself free write!
12:00 – Lunch
12:30 – Activity 2
Okay, I’ll admit this really isn’t writing related but I convinced myself into believing that I deserve to watch Henry IV: Part 1 during my retreat. For some reason, anytime I pop the Lord of the Rings or The Hollow Crown into my DVD player I get the urge to write. So this is a form of inspiration in a way. I love watching Shakespeare’s characters and they always encourage me to better my own, and besides, who doesn’t love a good hero story? I get it, maybe not everybody likes to read and watch Shakespeare in their free time. Pick something that you’ll enjoy, even if it isn’t watching a movie. You can do another writing activity or spend this time going for a walk. If you are feeling guilty about watching TV, remember, it’s just research for your writing project. You’re learning about pacing and character development, not wasting time. (This is what I tell myself when I spend four hours watching Psych instead of writing).
2:30 – Writing
Turn on your inspo playlist and get back to writing!
4:30 – Relaxation Break
Take a bath. Go for a walk. Frolic among the wildflowers. Play with your dog. You get the point.
4:45- Worldbuilding Exercises
I admit, with my current novel I did not worldbuild as thoroughly as I should have and because of that, I feel like my writing has suffered. Plus, worldbuilding makes me excited, so I love to do it. If you’re worldbuilding too, you don’t only have to fill out questionnaires that never seem to end. (Does anybody else get stressed out when they see those worldbuilding questionnaires? Especially the ones that ask like forty questions about government systems that I don’t understand.) Draw maps! Sketch designs of traditional garments! Make up regional recipes and then attempt to cook them! The fun never ends! For more ideas check out this post: A Better Way to Worldbuild + A Free Worldbuilding Checklist.
6:30 – Dinner
7:30 – Reflection
Did your retreat accomplish everything you wanted it to? Did you accomplish your goals? Do you feel confident in your craft? Are you happier and more relaxed?
8:00 – Writing Block
10:00 – End of the Day
I’ll be eating a giant bowl of ice cream while watching Henry IV: Part 1 a second time (Probably not. Well, maybe…).
So like I said, this is what my schedule would look like, but yours could be completely different. Maybe you want to set aside more time for writing or you’re still in the planning stages of your WIP. Don’t worry! Adjust this schedule until you get what fits your needs.
- Tell everyone that you’re going to be unreachable for a day or a week. For me, knowing that I told people I’d be gone makes me want to reach out less.
- Turn off the Wifi. The Internet is a black hole that needs to be ignored. Download your writing music onto your computer or phone so you don’t have to use Spotify or Youtube playlists.
- Put your phone on Do Not Disturb. It’s the closest thing to turning your phone off without actually turning your phone off.
- Eat healthily. You may be tempted to binge eat cookies all day, but like I said, you’ll be more productive if you eat healthily. Try to save the sweets for the end of retreat celebration.
So, I hope this helps anyone that is thinking about planning their own writing retreat! Let me know if you’ve ever done something similar or are planning to try this out one day!