Retreat! But How?

Katherine Longshore 5 Tuesday, September 20, 2011
How do you organize a writing retreat?

Yesterday, the lovely Elizabeth Briggs  posed this question.  And even though I didn’t do the real planning (Donna did – our Colorado cruise director) I thought I’d address the question.

1. Find people to retreat with. These could be good writing friends, beta readers, acquaintances, or even people that you found by posing the question on a discussion board, like Verla Kay’s blueboards. I, personally, advise inviting people you already know.  And/or friends of the people you know.

2. Find writers who have the same goals. This could be spending all of your time writing, half of your time writing, or very little of your time writing. Work out your writing to play ratio, and make sure everyone's on board with that.

3. Send a quick e-mail to find out how many people are interested, and what they're interested in. Try to discover how much everyone is willing to spend. For example, when I suggested that our next retreat be in Hawaii, I was shot down. Of course, I think my family would've rebelled, too.

4. Once you have a headcount and budget, look at venue options. Last year, we all went to Talia’s house. She had enough room for all of us, and the only person who had to fly was Donna. But this year, we figured we would go to her. As it turned out, the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park was perfect. I think we all would highly recommend it. We stayed in a three-bedroom cottage, sharing rooms, cooking and cleaning duties. There was a large table, at which we could all sit to work, eat, and critique. We had a fireplace for roasting s'mores, and a balcony from which we could stare at the stars and mountains.  For me, at least a little natural beauty is a must.

5. Choose a date. If you have several people interested, you might choose to do a poll, possibly using a device like Survey Monkey. My local SCBWI chapter recently did one for a large retreat they are planning for next year. However, if there are only 5 of you, like us, just have everyone check their calendars to see what works.  Keep in close e-mail contact as the retreat draws closer.  This was easy for us, since we are in almost daily contact, anyway.  (In fact, the one thing we missed while on retreat was the ability to procrastinate by e-mailing each other).

6. Transportation. For our retreat, we each organized our own flights to Colorado, where Donna picked us up, and drove us to our cabin. Because Talia and I flew from the same airport, we coordinated to share a flight. If people are driving, you may help figure out if they can carpool. There's nothing like two to three hours of book talk while traveling.

7. Food. Based on budget, venue and personality, determine how you are going to eat. You could find a place that's all-inclusive, or choose somewhere near very good restaurants, or figure out a cooking rotation and provision list before. We did a combo, cooking our own dinner one night (Donna provided pizza crusts and fixings), eating out one night, and scrounging from a variety of delicious possibilities that Donna brought with her for lunch and dinner. Including hummus. And cupcakes.

8. Have fun! Make sure that you balance your writing time with playtime and chat time and critique time. Enjoy each other's company. Laugh.

There's nothing like being able to spend an entire weekend immersed in writing and craft and good company. You can have a writing retreat in a family cabin in the woods, or in a five-star hotel. You can subsist on nuts and berries, or have gourmet meals catered in. All of that is incidental. It's the writing and writers around you that matter.


Great summary, Katy. I'd highly recommend the YMCA of the Rockies as a location. Also, Chautauqua in Boulder has great little cottages just right for a small group.

This is great. Thanks for sharing the logistics behind your retreat! I'll have to check out the YMCA websites, I didn't even consider that!

I hope the post is helpful to you! Donna really did all the work for us, which made it delightful from landing to takeoff. Good luck retreating, and let us know how it goes if you want!

Ha! I love the parenthetical statement at the end of #5.

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