In October my writing group takes an annual retreat to the mountains to hike a little, eat and drink a lot, write and plan a lot, and laugh enough to lengthen our lives considerably.
When people learn about our group, they ask how they can do the same thing—both start a writing group and plan a writing retreat.
We’re really lucky because we know each other well which means we don’t have any awkward issues about piling into a big cabin together for a couple of nights. We rent or borrow a cabin with a room or a couch for everybody, plan the date, put together menus, grocery shop, and hit the road. Everybody splits the cost of the cabin and groceries evenly.
10 Activities to Guarantee You Have a Great Writing Retreat
Writing Time: It is a gift to have a weekend free of household honey-dos, away from our families to put pen to paper. We really take advantage of this time to get ahead on blog posts, edit pieces, do writing exercises, or whatever we’ve got on our plates. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you have the luxury of time with few to zero distractions.
Writing Exercises: Writing prompts and exercises can be the same as those we do during our regular Saturday morning meetings or new ones. It’s a way to flex our writing muscles, enjoy each other’s writing style, and help each other improve. Decide ahead of time who will be in charge of creating and leading exercises or collecting writing prompts.
Readings: Everybody who has something prepared takes a turn reading a piece or a partial piece they’ve written. These can be anything—their own work or somebody else’s and they can be in draft form or complete. I love this because we get to hear what group members have written that aren’t necessarily pieces we’ve critiqued before or were published on our blogs, in our books, or other public places.
Planning Meetings: Our group has been together for over two years and we’ve collectively accomplished quite a bit. We take time at our retreat to review our personal and group literary accomplishments, ambitions and goals for the next year. This has been helpful for those people working to build a platform because we believe that we can accomplish more together than we can as individuals. It also gives us reason beyond our own writing to continue as a group.
Dinner Conversation: It seems this would go without saying and, of course, conversation does happen on its own, but we also ‘build in’ conversation. One person writes (before the event) some compelling questions on index cards—things we wouldn’t necessarily know about each other like, “When was the last time you cried by yourself and in front of other people?” “What do you find most important in a friendship?” At each dinner we read two questions and everybody answers, which creates a lot of extra conversation. They questions can be as serious or as goofy as you can come up with.
Favors or Gifts: There are six local people in our group and one emeritus member who moved away. Each group member brings one gift (of the same thing) for each person in the group. The gifts can be as simple or as elaborate as each person wants them to be (but they’re inexpensive). They can be about writing (personalized pencils), inside jokes we have (like candy cigarettes), or anything else. One of my favorites was a pretty mini-bottle of Prosecco with a gorgeous bow on it. It’s like going to any other conference where you get a Swag bag, but we’re all contributing which makes it easy, and doing it makes our retreat a little more special and a little more fun. Last year we did this differently and here I wrote about the gifts I brought to help you with more ideas. We liked all bringing gifts better.
History or Celebrations: Building the community or relationships within a group is important. If your group is new and you don’t have a history with people, this retreat will help start a history and help some of you bond. Take pictures whenever you’re together—whether writing or attending activities like author readings and book signings. We have a ton of pictures on our Facebook page and I printed some and attached them to scrapbook pages as décor. It was a fun visual reminder of the things we did together in the last year. Really, the ways you keep a history or celebrate your group are endless. Be creative!
Personal or Group Activities: Allow people to take time on their own. If they need a nap, they need a nap, and they’ll be better company later. We have taken walks and hikes together and separately and headed down the road to the hot springs. We expect that we’ll plan field trips to local sites depending on where we go in future years.
Games: You aren’t going to write and eat and sleep the entire time. Play some games! Laughter is the best medicine and you’ll get a great dose of that. You’ll also learn a lot about members of your group like their sense of humor, how competitive or sensitive they are, and whether or not they cry or stop breathing when they laugh.
Share the Load. Cook together or keep the cook company. Share the cleanup. Figure out how to make the heat or air conditioning work. Keep an open mind. There are so many ways to run a retreat. Yours can be highly focused on writing and working or be more social. Decide ahead of time what your intent behind the retreat is and build around that. Above all, appreciate the time you have to write and the time you have with the people you’re writing with.
Forming a good group and having great activities does take some dedication (as with anything worthwhile) to make it happen, but it’s not difficult. If you’ve been wanting to start a writing group or plan a retreat, I challenge you to Just Do It! You will learn so much from other writers and make great friends in the process.
*Photos Courtesy of Gehvyn Stream.
Here are some additional links to posts where you can learn how other people plan their writing retreats and what they do.