July 8-11, I took a solo writing retreat to the beautiful city of St. Augustine, FL.
I decided to go on a solo writing retreat partly because my schedule couldn’t accommodate the retreat with a small group I wanted to go on. Although it wasn’t my first choice, I ended up falling in love with the idea, planning and executing a fabulous trip that was restful and productive. If you would like to take a solo trip to dig in to your book(s), here are a few tips and tricks I tried or learned during my solo retreat:
- Pick a place you love and have been to before. I say this for several reasons: a) you won’t waste as much time being lost if you know how to navigate the city/area well with a little GPS help. b) If you’ve been there before, you won’t get caught up playing tourist instead of working as easily. c) I chose a place I loved, a place I felt like I could breathe in. It’s an unquantifiable feeling that good things were waiting for me there. I’d only been to St. Augustine a couple times, but every time it felt like a place I knew intimately.
- Pick your project(s) and set your goals ahead of time. Make sure your goals are realistic to the time period you have and the way you work. I chose one manuscript I wanted to edit and revise. I am a morning writer, so I chose to outline and write new scenes in the mornings and edit the existing parts of the manuscript in the evening. I gave myself the goal to work through edits to six chapters and outline or write three new scenes. I had Sunday night and Monday through Wednesday to accomplish this, which wasn’t crazy.
- Build in relaxation/rest. The point of retreating is to focus on your work, yes, but for me, I also needed to pull away and rest. Working full-time and working freelance for other writers while seeing to my personal responsibilities and trying to write wore me down. I needed rest. So I built in time after my morning writing and before my evening editing to explore the city. So I wouldn’t spend too much time away from my project or get overwhelmed with activities, I chose one activity or place to explore per day along with dinner out to balance productivity with fun.
- Be flexible. I thought I would work in my hotel room, explore for a bit, return to my hotel room and work, eat dinner, then watch a movie or read a book. I found that I was much more productive editing in restaurants at a table for one than in my room. I wish I’d found a few good coffeeshops to work in or a public library to have in my pocket in case the work wasn’t flowing in my designated working space.
- Try something new. If you usually set a word count goal, try writing for a specific amount of time instead, and vice versa. If you’re stuck on a particular scene or chapter, try another section to see if the words are hiding out there. If you usually work inside, try outside. If you always work on the computer, try to work on paper. If you were at a retreat with other people, they might have timed writing, give you exercises to work on, have you critique someone else’s work, or do something else that’s new to you. Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from doing things a different way.
- My rule of one. I planned this trip based around the rule of 1. I wanted to start reading one new book, go to one new place, eat at one new restaurant, and learn one new thing. I went on one activity or excursion a day, had one morning session and one evening session a day, and gave myself one set amount I could spend each day. I’m a creature of habit, and by deciding ahead of time what 1 new thing I would read, see, do, or eat at any given time, I got to have a ton of new experiences while keeping to a predictable schedule.
- View it all as a bonus. This one can be difficult if you’re retreating to push out the final chapters of a first draft, to finish and send in revisions to an agent or publisher, or go through your book for the last time before it goes to the printer, but see this retreat for the gift it is. Every word I wrote, every passage I made better, every meander down an interesting street were all privileges others don’t get to enjoy, words I might not have otherwise gotten down, and sunshine I never would have had soaking into my skin. Every new thing seen or heard was something to be filed away for future reference in this work or another.
Before my trip, I pictured this excursion as me sitting in a serviceable hotel room banging out a better version of the story I was putting on paper. In the end, this trip was me breathing deep, heart and eyes open to what was around me, being grounded and present in a moment that mattered, and remembering why I love writing. It’s a memory I cling to on the days it’s harder to remember I choose to do this work.
Would you go on a solo writing retreat? Have you gone? What was your experience? Have any questions about creating your own retreat?