Tips To (Writing) Retreat and Make the Most of It

Aspens. Photo courtesy Kristi Felts. ®2010 All rights reserved.When I was trying to decide if I should attend a writing retreat, I really didn’t know what to expect. (At the time, I also didn’t know if I’d even be accepted.) In reaching out to several writers who had gone to workshops and conferences similar to Aspen Summer Words, they offered the following advice:

  • These events are busy, with attendees having workshops and one-on-one meetings (be it with the instructors and/or visiting editors and agents).
  • Your experience, whatever that may be, will unfold organically.
  • It can be intense, especially sharing your work in the workshops. One even described it as “soul baring.”
  • The instructors and writer-slash-speakers are there to network, too, and, like you, may also be struggling with their own writing issues.

Their advice was extremely helpful. And, as I’ve said before, the experience is so worthwhile. Not worthwhile. Invaluable.

Prior to arriving at Aspen Summer Words, there were a few things I did that helped me get the most out of my experience. Consider these tips in preparing for your own writers’ retreat.

  • Tell people in advance. Once I knew that I was going to Aspen Summer Words, I decided that I wanted to be there 110%. I didn’t want to worry about client work or my blog. With nearly two months notice, I told clients the dates I would be out and that it was for a writing retreat. Since clients hire me for my writing, they understood that this was important to me and were incredibly understanding, even enthusiastic, about it. This paid off during the retreat, too, because I my phone didn’t ring with emergencies. We’d wrapped up loose ends, or found the right place to pause, on all my projects.
  • Read ahead. If you’re sent manuscripts for your workshop ahead of time, do everything you can to get them read before your arrival. Doing this gave me more time during the conference to focus on my writing and attend the literary festival. I did re-read and make additional notes on pages during the workshop, but I that took far less time than doing all the reading and commenting on-site.
  • Set goals and priorities. Even though I wasn’t sure how my days would unfold, I still set goals for myself. One was to write every day. I wanted to take advantage of being immersed in words and I found it easy to prioritize capturing scenes on the page when so many people were uttering, “I’ve got to go write.” (It also helped that I did not access the Internet, which significantly limited distractions.) I also made it a priority to attend the literary festival because the subject, the genre of southern writing, appealed to me. Listening to writers I admire read their work in their native accents also inspired me to be more comfortable when reading my work to others. It helped me sink into my own skin. Other writers prioritized meeting with agents and editors, which worked for them. The key is to know what you want to achieve with your time.
  • Plan ahead to take advantage of new momentum. At the close of most writing classes, I’ve often found myself exhausted and in need of a break, usually having struggled to balance a demanding syllabus with a heavy work schedule. Post-retreat, I was tired, but also motivated and inspired. Before leaving Aspen, I set writing goals and penned them into my schedule. While I did take a few days to absorb my experience, I made myself get back to regular writing before too much time passed. The momentum I gained during the retreat is still with me. Keeping in touch with people from my workshop has also helped me keep going.

You can learn even more about Aspen Summer Words through one of my fellow writer’s article Aspen Summer Words Fest: Southern Lit, Secret Hopes and a Surprise Stand-In. Even if you’re not specifically interested in this program, it will give you a great taste of the day-to-day of a workshop-literary festival and the people involved.

Your turn. If you’re thinking about attending a writing retreat for the first time and have questions, post them in the comments below. Or, if you’ve attended a workshop-retreat-literary festival and have tips to add, please share them below. The floor is yours.

4 thoughts on “Tips To (Writing) Retreat and Make the Most of It

  1. Thanks for sharing this! I have been looking for a good writing retreat as I’ve recently transitioned from writing children’s picture books to memoir (quite a jump, I know). I will definitely check out the Aspen Words Fest for next summer!

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