What is a solo writing retreat?
A solo writing retreat is a set period of time when you make writing your exclusive focus. It requires that you take a vacation from your regular life—your day job, your family, your social media accounts—so that you can dedicate yourself exclusively to that book you’ve always wanted to write or that project you need to finish.
There is no set length of time for a solo writing retreat. From a weekend to a week, it’s whatever time you can make available. I spent three days house-sitting for friends last year and turned it into a solo writing retreat. Another time, I borrowed a friend’s campervan and set myself up on a beachfront campsite less than 10kms from home. Most recently I retreated to the granny flat behind my house and spent elven super productive days tucked out of sight.
Doing your DIY solo writers retreat at home is definitely possible, but a location away from home will make you feel like you really are on retreat. You don’t want to be distracted by the wardrobe that needs decluttering or the washing that begs to be folded. You want to remove ALL DISTRACTIONS. It doesn’t have to be a fancy resort, and it doesn’t have to be far—an Airbnb down the road will do just fine. But make sure it feels comfortable and welcoming.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”Henry David Thoreau
Why should I go on a self-guided writing retreat?
- It gives you no excuse to procrastinate. It forces you to write.
- Uninterrupted writing time over a number of days will allow you to become fully immersed in the story, which will help you to better understand its structure, arc, themes, central question etc.
- It creates muscle memory. On retreat you will write more than you usually do and this will make you a faster and more confident writer. The more you write, the easier it gets. Trust me!
- It provides a container for your writing. You’ve cleared your schedule, you’ve inconvenienced your partner who is taking care of the dog and the kids and you’ve paid for your accommodation. You may as well make the most of it!
- It will make you a more committed writer. Going on a writing retreat is a way to signal to yourself and to the world how serious you are about writing.
How to prepare for a solo writing retreat
- Plan your writing, set an overall goal. This could be a daily word count, a chapter or a section you want to finish. At my last solo writing retreat I wanted to get to the end of my draft. It was a struggle, but I surprised myself by achieving more than I had planned. Though, be prepared to do less than you plan to do.
- Break it down into daily goals: A daily word count, a scene a day, a chapter a day…whatever works for you. It will make your overall goal less daunting. It’s easy to fritter away a chunk of unstructured time. Create a structure for yourself. You might even like to create a daily structure. I like to start the day with a sunrise walk. When the weather is bad, I start my writing day the minute I open my eyes. There is a different energy in my writing at that time of the day, a freshness after rest that provides a new lens. Then I take time for reading, napping, more writing, then an afternoon walk. …whatever works for you. Use it to make the most of your time.
- Leave room for downtime, self-care and flow. Bring a yoga mat and do a few stretches between writing sessions. I like to reward myself with a full hour of yoga when I am on a solo writing retreat and a long walk.
- Make a meal-plan: my regular retreats are fully catered. It helps to take away the distractions. Cooking, doing the dishes, ordering take-away are all distractions that will take you out of the flow. At my last 11-day solo writing retreat in my granny flat, I filled the freezer with meals I’d pre-cooked and the fridge with fruit and vegetables for salad and healthy snacks and just the right amount of luxury treats (dark chocolate and vegan Magnum icecreams are my indulgences).
- Choose your accommodation well. Is it on a noisy street? Does it have enough natural light? Is there a little outdoor space for taking fresh air breaks? You want it to be comfortable as well as functional.
- Bring a specific project. A retreat is a great opportunity to start that book. Get the bones down and write that shitty first draft of your opening chapters. Or use your self-guided retreat to polish a certain number of chapters, finish that short story you were meaning to send off for publication. Having structure and well defined goals helps with the focus, trust me!
Do’s and dont’s
- Do a digital detox, turn all your notifications off. It’s one of the best things you can do to increase your productivity and flow. Who cares what’s going on in the world when you are creating your own world on the page. Seriously, try to keep your contact with the outside world to a minimum. Let everybody know in advance that you will be on retreat.
- Don’t sit all day, go for walks. It’s important to balance your productive writing time with contemplative breaks. It’s not just your body that will be thankful. The best ideas come when we are not sitting at the desk. I find that especially on a solo writing retreat, it’s during the breaks when ideas, scenes and chapters suddenly click into place. Many famous writers were prolific walkers. Charles Dickens needed his extended daily walk so much, he had his friends worried. For Wordsworth the act of walking was ‘indivisible’ from the act of creating poetry. So make sure you pack some comfortable walking shoes.
- Set yourself up to be comfortable: bring clothes for lounging around. I do some of my best writing in my pajamas in bed. If you’re like me, don’t forget to bring a lap desk. Make it easy for yourself to write: bring your favorite journal and your favorite pen.
- Add some self-care: bring bath salts, scented candles, incense, your favorite mug for your favorite hot beverage, your favorite shawl, fresh flowers…whatever helps you to get the retreat vibe on.