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There was a running theme to many of my conversations during my week in Seattle. My lovely writer friends and I would be chatting and catching up, and at some point, they’d ask me, “So, what exactly are you doing in Seattle, anyway?” And now that I’ve done this twice, I thought I’d share my own recipe for having a personal writing retreat.

Many of the writing events I know of place an emphasis on giving and receiving critique. This is great, and a lot of value can be had at these events. However, for the past year or so, I have found myself wishing for a different kind of event, where the focus instead lay on the writing. So this March I attended the Rainforest Writers’ Retreat in Washington, which seemed to (and did!) fit the bill.

Unfortunately, the Rainforest Writers’ Retreat is only once a year, so I decided I’d try to have my own retreat in Seattle. It’s fairly simple to arrange: I pick a week, arrange my flight and hotel, and then send out an email to the writer friends I have in the area, letting them know I’ll be in town and available to hang out. I know what I’m going to be working on ahead of time, writing-wise. And that’s it.

The view from my hotel window in Seattle.

Here are the benefits I get from these retreats:

1. Focused time to work, away from all “daily life” kind of distractions. I didn’t think this would make a big difference, but for me, it really has. I simply get more work done in a hotel room than I do when I’m at home. I’m less likely to waste huge chunks of time. And I’m also less likely to allow myself time to wallow in any writerly anxiety about my project I might be feeling.

2. New perspective. In a different place, my thinking becomes slightly more flexible, and so I’m able to see my work slightly differently and embrace new ideas and directions with slightly less resistance.

3. Motivation. Because I have spent the money on the retreat, I feel deeply motivated to make sure the time counts and I get as much work done as is both possible and reasonable. It doesn’t hurt that I’m seeing writer friends the whole time, and I don’t want to have to tell them I’m not getting anything done either.

4. Connection. In some ways, my retreat is like a convention in that I’m surrounded by like-minded writers. But in this case, I get to spend more time with these writers one-on-one and in small groups, which means we get to know each other better.

5. Inspiration. Also like a convention, because I’m spending time with writers, I get to talk a lot about writing and books, and our enthusiasms tend to feed off one another, making me feel more excited and ready to write. And if I need a little extra shot of brain juice, I’m in a big city full of museums, cultural events, and people-watching opportunities.

So far I’ve found these retreats to be a successful experiment, as well as something I look forward to. I hope I can do more of them in the future.

What about you? Do you have an ideal retreat or workshop scenario?

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