Writer retreats - what are they and opinions

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Elenitsa

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Have you been on one? How was that?

I had the impression that the writer retreats are sort of literary camps, with people who join somewhere, and they are writing and some creative writing teachers (well, actually writers themselves too) come and give lectures/ workshops/ critics, or something. I mean, these are a few days somewhere far away from the crowd and daily tasks, focusing on writing alone, learning new things about writing and interacting among writers. Does it sound familiar for anyone? I used to attend such literary camps in 1992-1995, every summer. They had also trips around and things meant to fill our inspiration wells.

Three people I knew organise a different kinds of writer retreats, and I think these might be useful too, if done well: renting a cottage in the mountains and going there for a few days, when they challenge each other to write two chapters a day/ 10,000 words a day or something.

I think this is not too good, even if for them it seems it works. I would not go anywhere outside the city just to stay inside and write. If I want only to write, I can do it at home, by myself. If I am with fellow writers, I am both to write and to interact with them, to exchange experience and to learn something.

Which is your experience with/ opinion about writing retreats?
 

Stytch

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I have a former coworker who is involved in one in Mexico. They go in organized groups usually, do yoga, take trips, and yes, write. The place only holds a small number of people at a time, so it's quiet and communal and very rural. It sounds lovely, but I've never been.
I have done the OTHER type of writing retreat, where I stayed somewhere for a week, there were no activities, no one gave a damn what I did, it was blissfully quiet, and I was free to write as much or as little as I wanted. For me, with kids and a job at home, it was AWESOME. I basically just slept the first day, which I needed. I got one room in a wing of an old house, which also had a couple other writers (everyone had their own room) and the house actually a museum at the edge of a tiny rural town, right next to a nature preserve. The little town was pretty artsy-fartsy, so if you wanted to go there for inspiration, it was pleasant. I'm pretty sure there are lots of slightly more organized writing retreats like that, where you can go and either be alone or be in community, but it's basically unstructured time. That's my idea of heaven. Like, at mine, I had to feed myself, which was fine, but it would have been amazing to be able to walk down to a dining room or something for meals if I'd wanted. Instead, if I didn't want to cook in the little communal kitchen, I just drove into town and found something, so it wasn't exactly the worst or anything. I didn't spend much time with the other writers who were there, except at the end of the day, after or during dinner, for light conversation or a drink before everyone disappeared into their room again to write/edit whatever they were working on. Mostly we all kept to ourselves. I cannot stress enough how lovely quiet it was. Virginia Woolf nailed it with that "Room of One's Own" thing. Just to be free of the daily drudgery duties and responsibilities, and have the space to exist as such... Good times.
 
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neandermagnon

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I feel the same way as Stytch - I'm a single parent with a full time day job and also studying for a day job related qualification. The idea of being able to go somewhere and just WRITE... absolute heaven. Scottish Highlands would be nice for that. Or maybe rural Wales (Brecon Beacons?) I wouldn't say no to the local countryside either (south coast of England) but would prefer to avoid the most popular/busy beaches if I'm writing.

I also like the idea of having a dining room rather than self catering. And maybe the occasional workshop with other writers, but not for the whole entire day, so there's still time to write. Although I woudn't say no to one with more workshops and less time to write. I'd still get something out of it. But mostly just having time to WRITE without daily drudgery... yeah, that would be amazing.

But I expect I don't have enough money to go on one and also pay for somewhere for the kids to go to at the same time. Oh well.
 

litdawg

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A few years ago, I signed up for a writing retreat because I was polishing a poetry manuscript for submissions. I needed to revise what I had and write a few pieces to fill in the cracks and give the collection as a whole a trajectory.

When I arrived, I was given a schedule that filled every hour of everyday with curated writing exercises and group discussions of writing models. WHAAATTT????? They wrote retreat in all of the marketing, but it was a four day workshop instead. Absolute hell for me. I was youngest there by about 25 years (this was, umm, a few years ago), and one of a handful with recent poetry publications. After a lot of internal grumbling, I decided to make it an ethnographic journey into writing workshops, something I had no personal experience with but which my day job might want me to run some day. I got two poems written during the cracks in the schedule and met several lovely retired writers.

If I have point with this anecdote, it's this: make sure you're getting what you think you're getting when signing up for a "retreat."
 

Maryn

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My understanding is that there are two basic types of writing retreats.

One gives writers the quiet and privacy to write many hours a day without distractions. Meals are communal and there are times designated for socializing, although attendance isn't required.

The other is more a writing boot camp, highly structured, with pages due, classes, critique, activities to spur creativity, lectures, and more. The more elite of these are invitation only, and you submit a writing sample to be considered.

Whether one or the other would help you write more or better is very much an individual decision. I'm fortunate to have the quiet and privacy I need, and the last writing class I took, at my beloved Writers and Books, I knew more than the instructor. (I learned a lot of it here.) I also knew to keep my big mouth shut.

Maryn, smarter than you'd think
 

Helix

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For Australians, Varuna in the Blue Mountains is a good place. You get a room and a desk, no one's allowed to make a noise between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and dinner's cooked for you each evening. (You have to sort out your own breakfast and lunch, but there's heaps of food in the kitchen.)

This might be something for after the lockdown.
 

zmethos

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I went to a writing retreat in France and it was lovely, but I got no writing done while there. That was my own fault; I was too distracted by everything else: the cute little town, the chateau we were staying at, etc. The retreat schedule was a great balance of free time (in which I should have been writing), critique time (we'd sent in pages ahead of time for everyone to read for feedback), and scheduled activities (visits to local wineries, a flea market, etc.). It was a wonderful experience overall but didn't do much for my productivity.

A couple author friends and I once stayed a weekend away to write, and that was much more productive. We got together for meals, and other than that we just holed up and wrote.
 

WeaselFire

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Writer's retreats are simply a group of writers going to a place that's not home for a period of time to participate in various events and support their writing. The few I have been to have been more social than anything where people get work done, usually turning into some sort of wine fest with a fair number of inebriated participants doing what normal drunk people do. They are not a writer in residence program where a writer gets a small grant or stipend and is provided with a room or cottage along with food and other services so they can write.

Personally, a room at the local motel for a few days or a week with few or no distractions would be cheaper and more productive. But I'm not that into drinking with other writers and listening to various sob stories about broken romances, lost book deals, politics and whether or not a Pulitzer or Nobel prize was deserved by whomever got it.

You may find a writer's conference helps you more, especially if you're looking to learn or be informed. Dave Berry is a hoot as a headliner. :)

Jeff
 
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mschenk2016

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I don't know about writing retreats, but I took Creative Writing classes in college...and they hurt me as much as they helped. Basically, you HAVE to submit something every two weeks whether it's READY OR NOT. You might actually have a really good start to a story, but it's not finished and half baked. They're not going to judge it on what it could be, they're told to critique it based on what it is. And if you have a "loud mouth jerk" in class (as the teacher called him), he might tear your story apart and discourage you from continuing. I actually had a couple stories from back then that I abandoned because of something someone said, and then years later I saw a movie or TV show with a similar premise. I think it's important to take as much time as you need with your first draft and be able to write with the door closed.
 

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evenin' all

Australians might be interested in this from Varuna: https://www.varuna.com.au/fellowships/varuna

Varuna Residential Fellowships offer two to three weeks of full board and accommodation at Varuna including a prepared evening meal, uninterrupted time to write in your own private studio, the companionship of your fellow writers and a one-hour Varuna Conversation with a Varuna consultant.

But you have to be quick for these fellowships because they close on 29 July. They're for the first half of 2022.

You can find out about other residencies here: https://www.varuna.com.au/residencies

As I mentioned upthread, Varuna's a good place to write.
 

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