Today’s guest post for AcWriMo is by Charlie at Urban Writers’ Retreat. She explains the benefits of setting up a writing retreat for getting some academic writing done and explains what you need to consider to set one up.
When you hear the words ‘writing retreat’, people imagine being holed up for weeks at a time in the deepest countryside. That’s all well and good, but most of us don’t have the time or money to do that, never mind the inclination. Well, how about a one-day writing retreat?
You might think that sounds like a day at the office, but it’s not. Going to a new place for a set time where you’re expected to work on one specific piece of work is an entirely different and more productive animal than a regular working day with all its interruptions, distractions, endless to-do lists and procrastination. There’s something about working in quiet companionship with other writers that just… works, and AcWriMo is the perfect time to get a few colleagues or your writing group together to try it.
So. What should you consider if you want to hold your own writing retreat?
If your fellow writers are busy you might choose to do just an evening or morning of writing. 2 hours is really the minimum amount of time to allow to make it worthwhile, but do factor in time for people to settle in at the start. A day is ideal and 10am – 4pm will work nicely without overwhelming writers.
It’s possible to write in cafes and other public places, but if you’re doing more than a couple of hours I’d suggest using somebody’s house or another quiet place where you can stay for a long time without feeling awkward or being disturbed. Ban family members from interrupting if you’re at home. Your venue needs to have enough seats and desk/table spaces that people won’t feel too squashed, chairs and power points and be warm enough. Ideally you’ll want somewhere that is pleasant to spend a few hours in, and you’ll definitely want a kettle – a large dining room would work well. If you’d rather hire a venue or are using part of an academic facility, make sure it has everything you need and that the group agrees to any costs.
Writers can bring their own packed lunches, you can order in sandwiches or if you’re at home you could have something that can be reheated in an oven. People will appreciate fruit, cake or biscuits to snack on.
One of the nicest things about a retreat is working around other writers, but you’re here to work. Create a timetable with quiet work times and breaks so that people can catch up and chat. You can either have regular group breaks or leave people to do their own thing and just break together at lunch. Either way, send out an email beforehand so that people know what to expect. You can also cover food and let them know how much money to bring if you’re providing it (ask if anyone has allergies). Remind people about turning phones off, bringing headphones for music and all of the leads, memory sticks, notebooks and research material they need. Encourage people to complete any research beforehand so that they can use this time just for writing.
Having run writing retreats for 4 years, I can tell you from experience that setting a goal for your writing retreat makes a huge difference to what you achieve. It doesn’t have to be big and involved, although personally I favour having an overall goal for the day and splitting it into sessions. You can do this within 5 minutes on a scrap of paper. Either get people to do this in advance or have a goal-setting session at the start of the day.
If at all possible, turn it off. For the whole day. It will feel weird because we’re so used to being able to hop online anytime, but you’ll survive. In fact, your writers will thank you when they see their word counts at the end of the day.
Going to a writing retreat, particularly for the first time, can be intimidating. People worry that they will get stuck and be left sitting staring at a blank page for 8 hours. You can download a few creative exercises from the internet to have handy in case anyone needs to shift mental gears or just think about something else for a few minutes. You can discuss any problems people are having in breaks. It can also feel a bit awkward at first sitting in a room with a bunch of virtual strangers, so take the time to introduce everyone to everybody at the start. The most powerful thing you can do to take control though, is the goal-setting.
If you aren’t a member of a writing group or an academic department you might need to look further afield to find writing buddies. Ask anyone you know if they know anyone who might be interested, any contacts you’ve made through your academic work. Ask people on Facebook or twitter. Ask fiction writers too or friends doing job applications. You don’t need a huge amount of people to run a retreat, though I’d suggest that if you’re doing it with just 2 or 3 people it will work better if you already know each other – just be strict about keeping work times quiet. You can even do a retreat solo but it requires much more will-power. You’ll need to engage the services of a timer (your phone/computer will have one), may need to use a different space than your normal workplace, and it will be absolutely crucial to set goals and switch off the internet.
The main thing though, is not to let the thought of having to organise some big event intimidate you. In its simplest form a writing retreat can be you and a colleague agreeing to work together on a particular day. You pick a place and time, agree break times and spend 5 minutes setting a goal before turning off your laptop’s wifi. And there you go, one rocket-fuelled day of writing is yours. Easy.