Key things to consider before attending a writer’s retreat

Whether you’re a business-owning 40 something (ahem) like me, a fresh university graduate, a middle-aged career-changer, or a retired widow, a writing retreat could be just what you need to start that book, finish your online course content, or finally get those blogging ideas out of your head and onto the page. It isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but it certainly is mine….and it’s also exceptionally useful, productive and necessary when you lead a busy life and need dedicated time to get things done.

There are people I know who are mystified as to why I would want to run away and ‘just write’ for the weekend. They can’t fathom why I’d have to ‘go away’ to do that when I have a perfectly great work space at home. They also don’t really understand when I say that I actually just want to write ALL day, like 8 hours per day, almost non-stop, only breaking for coffee and chocolate.

The truth is, there is not a chance in hell I can be that focused at home or get that much done in my own space. And I bet you can’t either. What I know is that over the last 18 months when I’ve managed to get away 6 times to purely work ON my business, I have made more progress than in any of the previous 4 years.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore my home and family, but I do need to get away from my ‘norm’ to rocket myself forward.  It’s the process of complete immersion in the task at hand, the limited distractions and the value I place on that time and dollar investment that spur me on massively.

The thing is though, that it’s not always easy to make these trips happen. I get that. There are often headaches in the lead up and I sometimes wonder why I bother given the stress and military-style organisation required before I go. BUT, it is always completely worth it in the end.

Some key things to consider before attending a writer’s retreat:

1. Choose the right style of retreat for your needs. Is it workshops, teaching, technique and skills you need? Or is rubbing shoulders with agents, publishers and other writers more what you’re after? Is it group sessions and mastermind type scenarios? Or is it lots of solitary time, with perhaps some one one one coaching, that you desire. You need to be really clear about your purpose for attending the retreat, then get a solid understanding of the goals of each different retreat. Some offer full food and board in luxury surrounds, with on-hand mentoring/editing available. These are for people who really desire to get their work done without distraction, in a short period of time.  They are also usually for those who value the personalised service and inspiration that comes with a higher price tag. Other retreats offer very spartan accommodation, maybe just a bed and a desk in a simple dormitory (kind of nun-style, to help with focus I guess?) with communal kitchen facilities and no mentoring included. You will certainly be rubbing shoulders with other writers but you will not usually have the same level of support available and you will need to share amenities.

2. Make sure you like the coach/mentor/host of the retreat and can imagine yourself spending a weekend with them! This is super important. If you don’t have some kind of relationship with the host it can be difficult to know if you’re buying into the right thing. It can also be a huge mistake to spend an extended period of time with someone who you dislike, mistrust or perhaps who simply has polar-opposite views of the world from yours! Your writing will suffer and you will have a miserable time. Try to get to know them, like them, trust them, before you make a decision to hang out with them in close quarters.

3. Any amount of focused time spent on a writing retreat is time well spent. You don’t need to lock yourself away for a month, or even a week, if you simply can’t be away from reality for that long. If you can only manage a weekend, that’s perfectly fine. So much can be achieved in two or three days when you have little or no other distractions. A quiet space to retreat to for 48 hours is plenty of time to work on difficult writing issues you may be facing. You can nut them out on retreat, and then have a solid plan in place to continue working on once you get back home.

4. Retreat with a friend or accountability buddy.  Not only can it make your stay more affordable if you share a room with a friend, but you will also be able to use each other as motivation and accountability.  Whether it helps fuel your competitive streak, or simply provides comfort in the difficult times, having a pal on hand to read your work aloud to at night is very valuable. Just be sure the friend you bring is really keen to stay ‘on-task’ and is not too chatty! You need someone you can be honest with and who you can tell politely to ‘shut up’!

5. Allow yourself to take breaks without feeling guilty. The tendency is to be hard on ourselves when we have invested time and money into something like a writer’s retreat. We always want to ensure we are getting maximum value from our investment. But don’t get too cross with yourself if you sleep in or want a siesta. You will need to refuel and re-energise – it’s vital to the creative process. Clearing the head by doing some exercise should also be a guilt-free break.

6. Be really clear – and realistic – about what you want to achieve in the time you have. Don’t go into a two-day retreat hoping to write the next great Australian novel from cover to cover. Check in with yourself and decide what the next most important writing project is for you, then break that up into sizeable chunks with clear deliverables. Be kind to yourself and don’t expect too much, especially if it is your first time. By the same token, don’t go away for a week and only task yourself with writing 4 blog posts…..

7. Go on a writer’s retreat a couple of times each year. Visiting your muse and taking time out to reconnect with your voice is vital for business communicators as well as fiction writers. It keeps you focused and on track. Success in writing, marketing or business doesn’t happen without some effort.

8. Ask for as much help as possible whilst with your mentor on retreat. Don’t wait until you get home and the moment has gone, ask whatever questions you have as soon as you have them whilst you are with your writing mentor. Use them and abuse them (until they say NO!). They are there for a reason and you have invested in them to help you. So don’t be shy, don’t be afraid, don’t think your question is dumb, just ask away! You don’t want to regret the things you didn’t do or ask.

9. Relive any guilt by getting the family on-side early! Organise babysitting for kids (furry or otherwise), prepare meals for kitchen-illiterate partners, plan school pickups and playdates, write out schedules for mothers-in-law. Do whatever it takes, so that you can go to your retreat without feeling hassled or guilty. And don’t forget to tell them how much this means to you, how excited you are and how great this is going to be for your business (and therefore them!) If they know you’re positive and excited and not feeling as though you have to make excuses for the investment of time or money, then they’ll be more likely to get on board in a positive manner too.

I host luxury writer’s retreats for business owners who need support, time and space to help their words flow – without distractions. Whether it’s a confidence issue, a technique concern or an accountability obstacle, I provide writing guidance as well as commercial nouse to help bring your words to life and grow your business through your your story.

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