Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
August 13, 2014

5 Tips for a Do-it Yourself Writers Retreat

Over the last couple of months I’ve noticed something disturbing on Facebook—lots of my writer friends have been attending writing retreats. Why disturbing? Because I haven’t been able to go to any (cue violins).

I read once that a writing retreat is to creativity, what a good nights sleep is to physical well-being.

With the way my last few months have rumbled down the speedway of life, I haven’t been getting much writing done, or sleeping for that matter. Going away for a retreat was out of the question. But I had a week of kiddo-at-camp coming up.

A little creativity, a lot of flexibility and, voila, I had a personal writing retreat. Here’s how:

1) Redefine your expectations for a retreat

Mine started as this …

You can see more about this amazing log cabin in Newfoundland, Canada at http://www.countryliving.com/homes/house-tours/canadian-waterfront-home?src=spr_FBPAGE&spr_id=1453_75440042

You can see more about this amazing log cabin in Newfoundland, Canada at http://www.countryliving.com/homes/house-tours/canadian-waterfront-home?src=spr_FBPAGE&spr_id=1453_75440042

Redefined to this …


Time and finances dictate what’s doable. If you can get away to that first picture (or whatever retreat location floats your creative boat), please take me with you.  😉

Time and finances dictated a different scenario for me. And that was okay. I chose to write on my front porch with the blooming Jasmine plant and dragonfly chimes. When the weather didn’t cooperate, I moved to the sunroom with the water fountain, blooming orchids, and the paintings I’d brought back from Bermuda.

If you can write with distractions, try a coffee shop or a park. Maybe the pool if you want that “vacationy” feel (and assuming it’s summer, probably not as inspirational in the dead of winter). If you need quiet, try the library.

My WIP revolves around horses, so one of the days I took my notebook and went to the stable.

2) Commit to yourself

I had limited time for my “retreat.” Camp was from 8-4 so whatever I was going to do, had to fit within that time. First thing I did was canceled all appointments for that week, except for a pedicure (that was part of the retreat plan but more on that later).

Whatever time you have, make sure it’s yours. This isn’t the time to have your teeth cleaned or get the oil changed in your car (unless your manuscript calls for an oil change in a scene and then you can chalk it off to a creative-inspiration writing spot). Your time!

3) Set your goals

Write down what you want to accomplish within the time you have. Be realistic and specific. Don’t set yourself up for overload. You shouldn’t need a vacation to recover from your retreat.

I’m not known for being realistic in my goals. Specific very much so, but I always think I can get more done with the time I have. This part tested how flexible I was willing to be.

For each day of my retreat week, I wrote down the hours I had. Then made my list and prioritized. I ended with the following: write 6k in my WIP, read one craft magazine, catch up on blog posts, sign up for a kid lit one-day conference, finish the novel I’ve been reading.

And there was one more thing on the priority list: relax. Crazy concept, right? See how I managed to justify to myself the time for a pedi? Relaxing and doing “nothing” are valid goals. After all, sometimes the best thoughts come when we’re not trying to force them. So I read the novel and relaxed. Oh, and came up with a fix for a plot problem that had been torturing me for a couple of weeks.

4) Be prepared

Make sure you have what you need handy before you set off for your writing destination, even if it’s only another part of the house. Don’t spend your precious writing time running up and down stairs, although if exercising is a goal, I suppose that could count.

  • Laptop charged, especially if you’ll be outside without access to an outlet
  • Charger if you’ll have access to an outlet
  • Any instructional or inspirational material you reach for on a regular basis
  • Music or noise canceling headphones
  • Pens, highlighters, sticky notes, notepad, etc.
  • Gummy bears or whatever munchies get you through the creative hiccups

5) Unplug

I see some of you twitching!

Remember what we said at the beginning—this is your time to dedicate to your writing. Unless one of your goals is social media, you can survive for a few hours without internet. Trust me!

Close your browser and turn off email notifications. Put the phone away or at least turn it to stun so you don’t have the constant pinging of texts and emails. Between the kiddo rock climbing and family concerns, I had to keep my phone near by. I turned off text and email notifications though. And I didn’t answer any calls that weren’t family related.

Since I hadn’t put social media as one of the priorities, I only gave myself an hour each day. An hour AFTER I finished writing.

Guess what? After the first hour on Monday fighting the must-check-email twitch, I was fine. Not one twitch the rest of the week.

Confession time: I did open a browser a couple of times but only to look something up for the WIP. I totally resisted checking in with Facebook and Twitter. Honest!

After my retreat week, I had almost 8k of shiny new words—my goal was 6k. Score! I’d read one craft magazine the entire way through. Oh yeah! I signed up for that one-day retreat and even sent in my picture book manuscript for a critique. Rocking the retreat. I read a handful of blog posts that had been open in my browser for dare-I-confess a couple of months although not nearly all that I’d hoped. And I made it to the ¾ mark in the novel I was reading. Still progress.

The top priority got done plus some. Best of all, I did indeed feel renewed energy for writing. I reconnected with my WIP and the blog posts gave me some overdue “craft” inspiration.

"A writing retreat is to creativity, what a good night's sleep is to physical well-being." Very true. Now if I could just figure out how to master the good night's sleep.

Your turn … any retreat DIYers? What tips do you have for making a Stay-retreat successful?

About Orly

OKL-NewAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet.  When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.



61 comments on “5 Tips for a Do-it Yourself Writers Retreat”

  1. Oh Orly, this is a brilliant idea! It would be good for anytime you're feeling in a rut, or stuck. I know getting out in nature always unravels knots for me. Thanks for this - I'm saving it!

    1. It can easily be a one day plan - as you said, whenever you're feeling in a rut. And it doesn't even have to be a sit in front of the computer day. A field trip that connects you to your story or character in some way can be just as inspirational.

  2. "Relaxing and doing “nothing” are valid goals." Yes, yes and amen! I need to remember this. Love the idea of a DIY retreat, Orly. Yours sounded like a fabulous example!

  3. This is my secret writing weapon as well! When I've taken the time for a DIY writing retreat, those have been some of my most satisfying weeks I've ever spent in front of a computer. Congrats on beating your goal!

    1. I'm just wondering what took me so bloody long to realize this?! Definitely doing it more often. lol

    1. Thanks, Mishka. Time and money ... major bummers for many of us. It can be done though! 😉

  4. Orly, this is a wonderful post--so inspirational, with such great advice, especially the setting goals part. I'm a big believer in at-home retreats, since focusing on your writing is really all about mindset. The one thing I would add is that it's much easier to limit your connectivity if you leave your cell phone in the car, or in some part of the house where it's harder to get to, like the basement! Oh, and I would also add that during your at-home writing retreat, chores like laundry and cooking have to be completely off limits. Eat out of cans if you have to--the kids definitely don't care.

    1. Thanks, Holly.
      I'll add setting expectations with family to that as well. I told my husband and son what my plan was for the week and that we'd be "roughing" it. Kiddo made mac & cheese for dinner one night, we had a picnic another night, out for dinner once, ordered in once.

  5. It's so easy to get jammed down with life concerns and our own procrastination! Thanks for sharing some great tips. I'm planning a retreat at my parents' house about 2 hrs away. It's a big empty house just calling for a group of writers to fill it with inspiration!!

  6. I love this and I have a beautiful spot right at my home to "retreat and write." Problem is allowing myself to do it. But, as you pointed out, we NEED to do this for ourselves and our writing (and sanity?!) Now, to schedule a vacation day or two for this...

    1. The "allowing" ourselves part is the hardest. A little nugget my husband tossed at me one day: "If you don't take your writing seriously and protect that time, why should anyone else take your writing seriously." That was all I needed. 🙂

  7. Oh, I like this. The house I'm moving too has a great patio suited for the retreat and after the big move I'm going to need a retreat!

  8. Oh my God, now I want a retreat too! *eyes back garden*

    I'm so proud of you for doing that for yourself, Orly, and bravo on the 8K of new words. 🙂

  9. Very timely post! My world is full of distractions both good and bad. I need headphones full of tunes, an uncluttered space looking out on nature (or something green) and a nice cup of tea. I'm going to try to create a retreat in my writing room for at least a couple of hours every day.

    1. Barb, I have a small water fountain on the corner of my desk. It's wonderful for taming the distractions. Well, most of the time. Sometimes I end up staring at it and forgetting to write. Or running to the loo. But usually it works brilliantly! 🙂

  10. What a great idea, Orly! So inspirational. Time and money (plus my kids) are factors for me, and reading this post perked me up since I've been having major retreat envy lately:) Thanks for showing us the way to an awesome DIY retreat!

    1. I'm glad the post helped perked you out of the retreat envy pit. Now to follow up on that ... 😉

  11. Laura and I have "done" a couple of one day retreats at my house. I loved them.
    My goal is to get all of WITS together for a week-long writers retreat somewhere wonderful, like Sedona or Kauai. We can travel further east for you, Orly. When do you want to schedule it?

  12. I loved your post. Finances stop us from writer's retreats too... one day. Anyway, once a week, a friend and I take off to our local library to write. The change of view, great coffee and our small pep-talks keep us tapping away at our keyboards. Great retreat. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Tina.
      The unplugging part is wonderful when you can do it. Even if it's short bursts without checking emails or social media and screening calls.

  13. This is a timely post, Orly! Two weeks ago I published my latest novel (one of the most fun I've written, but still intense). I needed a break, and wanted to 'go somewhere', but we are saving for a big trip next year and that meant a 'no-go' this year. So I did what you suggest, only you added a few things I hadn't thought of - I've now added those things (I gave myself three weeks for my 'retreat', so one more to go.)
    Thanks for the great share!

    1. Ohhh!! Glad my post helped with a few new ideas. 🙂
      I'm due for another one ... Soon, very soon!

  14. I adore this post! My CP is in another state, and we're thinking about how we can take this idea and incorporate a long-distance aspect to it. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Mea. You guys could incorporate Skype or FaceTime chats first thing in the morning as a "what's on the agenda" and then again mid-day or end of day to discuss progress or brainstorm next scenes. Have fun! 🙂

  15. Great post, Orly. Slow getting to it because I've been attempting to limit my SM time. 🙂 Very hard to do. But your title alone inspired me to plan my own writing retreat. DH will be a way for a couple of days later this month. So after my daughter picks up my granddaughter from my house on a Thursday, I'm locking down. Canceling a Pilates class, will go walk because I can do that first thing on Friday morning and hit the computer faster. Then two full days of writing. Little trickier to do if DH were going to be home, but still very doable. Thanks for the inspiration.

  16. I've done nothing but blog for over 2yrs. My dream of writing 'something else' have gone out the window. However... I like your comment that the retreat doesn't have to be long or involve writing. I went to hear an author speak yesterday and am now tingling with renewed energy to write... something.

  17. I arrived here via the link from the "Write Up A Storm-Six Last Minute Prep Tips". I am very fortunate in that, I don't have family at all, I live as though I'm a hermit, and I have to deliberately switch my laptop over to one of my web browsers. Essentially, everyday, I'm at my own retreat at my desk.

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts





Copyright © 2024 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved