A Writers’ Retreat

By Nancy Jane Moore

Arbor House

The meditation pond at Arbor House B&B

Every writer I know is always looking for the perfect writing set up. Most set up a dedicated workspace in their homes — preferably one with a door that shuts. Separate buildings set up in the yard are popular among those who can afford them.

Some people go so far as to rent an office to go to so that they — and their families and friends — will treat their writing as a job. Shared workplaces are particularly popular for this purpose at present.

Others will leave town, or at least home, for a hotel when they’re in the throes of finishing something.

Essentially, writers are always looking for a way to avoid distractions when they’re working. I think this is because most writers love distractions. I certainly do. Some of my best ideas come from distractions. But they have to be the right kind of distractions.

My favorite solution to this dilemma is the group retreat.

A writers’ retreat is very different from a workshop, even a residential workshop. It doesn’t include a teacher or involve group critiques of stories. It’s much simpler than that: a group of writers just get together in the same place to write. If anyone wants to get another’s opinion on a story, they can, but no one is obligated to share any work. Likewise, there are no rules about turning out so many words per day.

Nonetheless, the whole process provides a certain amount of peer pressure, because everyone else is working (or seems to be). Since the others are also writers, they don’t interrupt each other’s work. And it can include some high quality conversations.

After WisCon, six of us reserved space at the Arbor House B&B in Madison for a writers’ retreat. It turned out to be the perfect set up. Coffee appeared a little after 7, and wonderful breakfasts were served at 8:30. We all gathered around the breakfast table every morning and talked about writing and our projects. Eventually one of us would mention that we ought to get to work, and we would each go back to our rooms or other little corners to work in.

We got lunch on our own. Some of us took advantage of the University of Wisconsin Arboreteum across the street for nice long walks. But mostly we worked.

The B&B did a happy hour at 5:30, and we would gather together again for that and dive back into conversation. We would go from there to dinner, and then back to our rooms to sleep or read or watch TV or even do more writing.

What did we talk about? All kinds of things, from ideas of interest (fictional or otherwise) to where publishing is going (all writers talk about that all the time these days) to how we research to what we struggle with to writers whose work we can’t stand (no, I’m not going to tell you who we trashed, but we did do some trashing).

Basically, we did our own work surrounded by people who understood what we were doing because they were doing their own work, too.

Did I get everything done I wanted to? No. The time was too short and my idea of what I could accomplish was too long, as usual. But I made progress on my novel revisions. I also came to a larger understanding of what I’m doing with that novel, partly because of the conversations we had.

And for four days I didn’t think about cooking or errands or paying bills or the obligations of my day job. I just thought about my writing.

It was a rude shock when I got back home and realized the only way I was going to get a morning cup of coffee was to make it myself. Not to mention the bills, the grocery shopping, the laundry, the yardwork, the day job …

Back to normal life and the wrong kind of distractions.

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A Writers’ Retreat — 6 Comments

  1. A couple of years ago I spent five days at Endicott West, an artist’s retreat in Tucson. During the day (it was August) it was too hot to do anything but stay inside where it was nominally cooler and write. Fivish, the caretakers (writers themselves) and the other writer who was there, and I, would convene and discuss dinner. There was frequently merriment into the later hours. And I got a good solid chunk of writing done. And I saw a javelina and a scorpion, and was taken on a tour of Tombstone. An excellent mix of writing work, education, and just enough social to leaven it.

  2. Every year I do campcon on the back side of Mt. Hood. Camping with laptops, a writers retreat with camping…

    Meals are communal. The organizer has magnificent stoves and such. We all bring food and chip in for the campsite. Two men always get the firewood and tend the fire. The fire pit is a wonderful gathering place to wind down and play trivial pursuit after dark. We have power and potable water at the site, showers and real toilets 100 yards uphill.

    The only rule is if the laptop is open that person is working and no peeking to see what’s on the screen. As senior member I feel obligated to setting a standard, often twice my usual output. No internet, sort-of-cell signal for emergencies.

    There is something about tall trees and the murmur of the river near by that invites the writer brain to burst free.

    I highly recommend a retreat of some sort on a regular basis.

    • This sounds wonderful. I hadn’t thought about campgrounds, but as long as you had some electricity for recharging the laptops, it sounds perfect. And inexpensive, too.

  3. As one of the fabled six, I had a lovely time at the Arbor House, and wrote and wrote and wrote. The conversation inspired and gave birth to a bunch of ideas. I’m more committed than ever to my writing. Thanks for posting about this, Nancy.