How to DIY a Writers Retreat

Steepletop Barn

A few weeks ago, a group of five of us went to Millay Colony of the Arts in Austerlitz, New York. We had a terrific time, each of us working on poetry and fiction projects in various stages of development. It was not lost on us that we were on the property once inhabited by Edna St. Vincent Millay, a true rock-star poet in her day. There were times when I swear we felt her spirit move through us.

All of us had participated in different writers’ retreats in the past. But this one we planned, meaning, we rented the space and designed the week to our specifications as a group. It was self-directed, with enough interaction to keep us from getting bored. And, of course, we were surrounded by the spectacular vistas surrounding the Millay property to keep us engaged. The threat of bears also kept us on our toes.

Poet Jennifer Martelli lovingly captured our experience for Mass Poetry’s site. But for those who want a more practical approach to a do-it-yourself retreat, here are some tips

Pick a good location
It all starts with comfort level. Retreats don’t have to be expensive. But you need to feel as if you have everything you need, from a quiet space to access to a printer.
Limit the distractions
If you’ve on a retreat, be on retreat and limit checking email and social media.

Have a plan for your time
Are you trying to complete a manuscript or meet your daily word count? Whatever the goal, write it down and follow it. Even if the goals change, at least you have a base from which to start.

Stay open
Follow through on any idea or word. Get it down on paper. Don’t get discouraged. Or maybe it’s better to be discouraged if that’s part of your process. Give yourself permission to try, fail, and fail again.

Have good food
I won’t lie—we ate well. But we also walked, swam, talked, workshopped, fretted, and read lots of books. Chocolate helps.


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