Friday, May 29, 2009

A Writer's Retreat...

As you read this six of the seven Chicks are on a writing retreat (hello to Karen who couldn’t make it – we miss you). This is an annual retreat for our writing group, Saskatchewan Romance Writers. The last weekend in May is designated Spring Retreat and I, for one, look forward to it every year. This will be my fourth.

A lot of groups offer retreats where the members gather to learn about the craft of writing. Our group uses the annual Fall Retreat for that purpose. The Spring Retreat is strictly for writing. And although we go as a group, our days are spent alone with our pen and paper, laptop, notebooks, and muses (my Evil Editor is left at home). Let me tell you about the retreat and then offer some suggestions to set up your own (before you get all green with envy and quit reading this).

Our destination – St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Saskatchewan. This is a working monastery of Benedictine Monks. It is also a part of the University of Saskatchewan campus. We are housed in a small building where there are 11 single bedrooms, numerous (because I can’t remember the exact number – more than 3) bathrooms, a kitchenette (with fridge, coffee maker, microwave, plates, cups, etc), and a lounge with couches and chairs. Within the single rooms there are desks, chairs and adequate lamps. There is no Internet hookup! There are no phones! There is no TV!

As part of our stay, we are fed three squares a day. The food is wonderful and includes fresh baked bread daily. You can eat as much or as little as you want. The added bonus – homemade cookies left on the kitchen table in our little dorm. In addition, everyone is encouraged to bring whatever she wants to eat for snacks. I’ll head to the grocery store before I arrive and stock up on bottled water, milk for my coffee, an assortment of potato chips (and I’ll bring my own ‘special’ beverage for after supper).

The agenda – writing! Last year we procured the space for three days after the weekend, for those that wished to extend their stay. This year, other boarders will be waiting for us to clear out Sunday after lunch; so we’ve opted for a couple of days before the weekend. We’ll gather for breakfast (because the meal times are carved in stone) then spend the morning writing in our rooms. We gather again for lunch followed by more writing in the afternoon (with perhaps a nap or a walk around the beautiful grounds to refresh our muse). The evening meal is taken together and then an hour after supper is set aside for writing. The rest of the evening is spent snacking and visiting in the lounge. We talk writing, life, dreams, celebrations, and so much more. There’s usually a lot of laughter.

Two pieces of business will be given time. We have our official meeting on Saturday night. And this year Hayley is going to do a short presentation on technical stuff (track changes in word, Internet shortcuts, etc). That will take place Saturday afternoon. The rest of the time is our own. How much or how little we get done is entirely up to us (I plan on searching for my voice in Lady Bells – and I want to get some work done on Mac and Gillian’s story).

So, for those of you who won’t be with us this weekend here’s some information on setting up your own retreat:

Time – you don’t need to have a full weekend, or even a full day for that matter. Find a time frame that will work for you and commit to writing during that time. No distractions!

Setting – find a place where no one will disturb you. Set boundaries so that everyone understands what you’re doing. If you can, leave the house. Use the local library or for a longer self-imposed retreat go rent a room at the local hotel/motel. The article I read on creating a retreat for yourself suggested you find somewhere without a TV or Internet access, so if you go the hotel/motel route don’t give in to temptation. Another option would be to find a writing friend and suggest a two-person retreat to cut costs.

Conveniences – Our food is supplied. The cooking is done for us. You may not be so lucky, so plan ahead. Make up meals ahead of time so that all you have to do is pop something in the microwave. Consider buying and using paper plates and plastic utensils so there will be no dishes that need to be cleaned. And remember there’s always take out. The goal here is that you do not interrupt your writing for anything. Of course, if you opt for the hotel/motel retreat, you can either call for room service or take an hour to get out of your room and sit in the restaurant.

Camaraderie – writing is a solitary pursuit. Or is it? I’ve come to learn that writing does not have to be a ‘me, myself, and I’ experience. The eleven of us on retreat gather at mealtime and talk about our writing – well, we talk about a lot of things really and end up being the noisiest table in the dining hall. We also come together in the evenings. So, think about asking a friend to retreat with you. It doesn’t have to be physically together – create a retreat where at the end of the allotted time you’ll meet on instant messenger and talk about your writing. A virtual gathering, if you will. Share your accomplishments. Talk about your writing. Laugh about your muse (she’ll be so tired she won’t even think about looking over your shoulder as you chat). This final step will give a whole new dimension to your retreat – and might give you the added incentive of sticking with your plans if you know you’re accountable to someone else!

So, People of Blogland, have you ever been on a writing retreat? Alone or with a group? Would you consider a self-imposed retreat? Would you team up with a virtual friend to create an Internet Retreat (Betabloggers, we may have to talk)? I’ll check in during the day (there’s a common computer over in the main hall that I can access). Looking forward to hearing about your ideas.

Janet (for sheer indulgence check out these writing retreats and see Hayley's blog for tips on what to pack for a weekend of writing.)


Captain Hook said...

Y'all are sooooo lucky! I wish I had a retreat to go om.

Helena said...

I'm one of the lucky ones -- retreating at St. Peter's which is known to be an amazing location for writing.

I've also been on other group retreats. The Saskatchewan Writers' Guild 'colonies' and facilitated retreats are popular with writers from all over the country. One of the best programs around, it requires application to attend.

The benefit of participating in these retreats is huge. To focus exclusively on your current wip and to share the experience with other writers is a rare opportunity. For me it has resulted in pages and pages more than I would have produced in twice (or more) the time in my normal home routine.

I haven't tried to do a specific retreat on my own, but it would be great to hook up with someone at the end of a virtual connection and share the experience. Similar to that is Book in a Week (BIAW) which SRW members do in January - each of us in our own little home writing corner or alcove reporting progress on our individual goals at the end of each day. Also very beneficial and productive.

Thanks for telling people about the practice of retreating to write, Janet (my neighbour across the hall for the weekend!)

Silver James said...

Gonna miss ya'll! Come back and check in with all us when you get home. Much happy writing!

Karen, if you get lonely, you can come over to my place and hang out.

May your Muses bless you with inspiration! And may you have thousands of words written before your Evil Editor even knows you're gone!!

Erika said...

I'm so jealous. Have fun ladies, it sounds like a wonderful time. Karen, if you get lonely you can stop by and visit with all of us over at Silver's place tomorrow morning for brunch.

Janet C. said...

One day, Cap't, you'll be going on a retreat - I just know it. Until then, you could think about doing a virtual one. I really am thinking the betabloggers need to look into doing one in the fall (when I get settled, that is - don't want to miss out on all the fun :)

Janet C. said...

Hey, Neighbour! Yes, we are lucky aren't we, Helena. I would love to go on one of the SWG's colony retreats - I read about them on their website and dream of one day doing a retreat like that.

I'm not sure what part of the retreat I love the best - the solitude dedicated to just writing, the yummy meals cooked for me (just came back from breakfast) or the evening fellowship of laughter and conversation.

And I think virtual retreats do work (as in BIAW or the May Blitz).

Happy writing, Helena.

Janet C. said...

Hey, Silver - thanks for the good wishes. I arrived yesterday afternoon and once I settled in (got the room in the order I wanted it), I got 2500 words written. Muse is very happy - and I'm sure The Husband is having a grand time with Evil Editor.

BTW - just because I'm away from my home internet doesn't mean I don't have access - I'm coming for brunch tomorrow (I'll just have to make sure the people passing the guest computer area don't see what's on the menu - we are at a monestary, you know :)

Janet C. said...

Hey Erika - I just had to let you know that I took my own advice and wrote the ending of Gillian and Mac's story yesterday. It flew from my pen (yes, I wrote by hand). I'm heading back to my room after I've finished here and write the *sigh* moment, the Happily Ever After ending. I'm so excited.

Seriously think about a betabloggers virtual retreat in the fall :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Morning all, it's gorgeous here. And so many trees!!! Remember, the prairies are pretty flat 5 hrs south where I live on a farm.

This is my first spring retreat. It's hard to get used no Wifi in my room, but it's here in the lounge and I don't really need to know everytime someone updates their status on Facebook, eh.

I did go to the fall retreat year before last and really enjoyed it, but last year I went to a writing conference scheduled for the same weekend. I've already reg'd for the same conference in Denver this year so this will be the only retreat of the year.

And I'm going to make use of it so bye bye for now...

Karen said...

Hey Retreaters. Wish I was there but since I'm not may you be blessed with lots of laughs and many, MANY words.

Hey Silver and Erika. Thanks I'm going to do that, I'm already feeling lonely and a little sorry for myself (especially since I'm off to buy groceries). I've just finished Sinjin's interview and will read Jack's at lunchtime. See you after lunch in cyberspace!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Good morning, bloggers! The time to write and the time to visit are definitely most valuable for me, but the trouble is balancing the two. I want to do both!

That, and all you early risers keep me from my nighthawking habits. How can I work until three am when you're up and moving around (and happy about it!) at seven? But waking up to the hour being tolled is lovely, and having nothing to do but turn right for my pen and laptop... fantastic.

Happy writing everyone, whether you're retreat-ing it or snatching some time away from real life.

ban said...

ooo, yeah, not a morning person - at least not a HAPPY morning person. i'd much rather stay up all night and sleep all day ... wait, i can't do that ... i've got two girls :( and yeah, i'd have a hard time balancing too - i'd want to spend as much time socializing as writing.
hey karen ... you won't be lonely for long - i'll join ya'll for brunch tomorrow too :)

Janet C. said...

Hey Anita and Hayley - great retreat so far, eh? Sorry about the early rising - and I, too, could be a night owl if the day job wasn't mandatory :)

Karen - we miss you! I hope your writing is going well today - and you get lots done on the weekend. And you had to tell me about Sinjin and Jack's interview? Now I want to go read them Wireless is available in our little home away from home - but luckily I left my router device, old computer, at home. I mourned that fact earlier, but having to use the guest computer in the other building has kept me from blog hopping. I'll have to read those interviews when I get home - can't wait :)

Ban - socializing is an important part of a writer's retreat. Which is why Hayley, Molli, and I spent the morning sitting in the little kitchen talking. Mostly about writing :) I'll sequester myself away this afternoon and get some serious writing done.

Glad you're all taking care of Karen :)

Karen said...

They are indeed!! I'm so thankful for them!

I'm settled in at the computer and look forward to a couple hours of writing.

BTW - I'm one of those disgusting morning people.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I've been coming here to St. Peter's Abbey for at least 10 years. For me, it's one of the most peaceful places on Earth.

I look forward to retreat every year. Where else can I go where someone will cook for me, I don't have to do any housework, and nobody expects me to do anything but write? There are zero distractions - except when Hayley and Molli are visiting in the kitchen down the hall from me. But hey, I close my door and they don't bother me at all. My muse is happy and I'm singing a cheerful song!

Miss you Karen, wish you were here!

Janet C. said...

Well, Hayley and Molli should know better (says she who was also sitting in the kitchen visiting, er, talking about writing). Sorry :)

This place, this opportunity is wonderful. And Muse, this year, has come to write her little fingers to the bone. So, off I go, back to my room and the story FINALLY coming together.

Silver James said...

The monastery sounds lovely and peaceful and so very inspiring. I can't wait to hear all about the many chapters ya'll have written. Brunch tomorrow is actually...fairly...almost...mostly safe. Really. And I'll be getting back to work tomorrow. Sade is sitting here gritching at me, telling me to hurry up and get the rewrite done.

Ya'll have a safe trip home! See you soonly.