I teach, I speak at writers’ conferences, and I lead writers’ retreats. I’m often asked what the comparative benefits are of each. Well, I’ve just returned from a writers’ retreat in Port Orchard, Washington. A craft or publishing course will give you more instruction. A writers’ conference will give you exposure to more of your peers and a broader range of faculty. But a writers’ retreat—writing in community—has certain advantages that are hard to beat.
1. It gives you a concentrated time to write, in an environment hand-picked to be conducive to writing.
We were lucky to have plenty of space to work privately or side-by-side, to commune by the fire or collaborate over a table. As one participant said, “the accommodations went a LONG way towards putting me in the right frame of mind to sit down and get some work done.”
2. Being surrounded by other hard-working writers and hearing only the tap-tap-tap of keystrokes does amazing things for productivity. Unlike most of us when we’re out in the real world, being on retreat with writers makes you feel like a writer. For those three or four days, it becomes your principal calling. I heard time and time again that participants got more writing done on this retreat than they had in the preceding year.
3. It gives you real relationships with other writers—people writing at your level and struggling with the same challenges; people who may be more established and from whose experience you can learn; people who may be professional editors, writing coaches, and publishers—all contacts that any aspiring writer should want to make, all gathered around a table or a fire once a day, commenting and collaborating on work.
It is a great benefit of writers’ conferences that they also expose you people, but on retreat, you are a small and tight-knit family for three days. The nature of the bond is qualitatively different. You can’t have the dinners we had together and not feel permanently connected.
In the end, the proof is in the pudding. We had one participant tell us that she was on the point of quitting for good, but with the help of all the collegial interactions, she’d landed on a new arc and was now re-motivated and back on track. We had another thank us for getting her out of the doldrums. And another excited by new project ideas that had come to her. Where writers gather with warmth and wine, the muses come visiting.
So, still basking in the rosy glow of a great retreat…wait, cue the sunset shot…
…I’d like to thank my fellow house-elves for making this possible. Wendy for the superb catering, and Robyn for keeping us all sorted and sane.
If you’re interested in joining our next retreat, we will be back in Port Orchard, March 24-27. Email me or firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
And in the mean time, happy writing!