Writer in Residence

5 Tips For a DIY Writing Retreat

Now that we're peeking around the corner at a post-pandemic world, I've been starting to crave a DIY writing retreat. I don't get to do them as often as I'd like, but there's something magical about blocking off a weekend, holing up in a hotel room, letting the outside world slip away as I immerse myself fully in my writing (or at least make a very fine effort to do so).

Traditional writing retreats are a great way to meet other writers, learn from experts in the craft, and often travel to new and interesting locations. However, these retreats can be unaffordable to some, or otherwise inconvenient. Even though a DIY writing retreat does often have cost involved and the assumption that one can take a night or two away from home, for me it's a helpful alternative to a traditional retreat. 

If that sounds good to you, here are my top five tips for doing your own DIY writing retreat.

diy writing retreat tips

1) Be realistic about the location

Finding a good writing retreat location can be hard to get right on the first try, but start with a list of must-haves. For instance, do you need absolute silence and privacy, or are you okay with a livelier location where you may encounter others? Will you need a kitchen or food preparation area? How far are you realistically willing to travel? I would advise you to choose a place with good, representative photos. There's nothing worse than showing up to your DIY writing retreat location excited to write, only to find out that the "writing table" in the listing is nothing more than a glorified TV stand.

2) Decide how long your DIY writing retreat will be

When it comes to something like booking accommodation for a DIY writing retreat, your own budget and length of time you can reasonably stay away are the most important factors, and using them as your main guide is a good idea. But, with all things being equal, I would also suggest you account for "getting settled time." At least with me, I've never closed the door behind me upon arrival and then sat down for a productive writing session. If you're opting for paid-for accommodations like a hotel or an Airbnb, a new space can feel a little strange! You have to investigate things, figure out how everything works, maybe update people about your arrival. Allow yourself some time to let the space settle around you. Also, keep in mind that most accommodations require a check-out time before noon. For me, I find two nights, three days is a good length of time for a writing retreat that takes those factors into consideration.

3) Make some sort of a plan for your retreat

Don't worry, I'm not going to try and tell you that there is a specific type of plan you must follow for a writing retreat (unless you're a plotter - in which case please reread my "don't worry" as "I'm sorry"). But even if you're the sort of writer guided by inspiration and the way things feel, I highly suggest you create at least a loose outline of the things you'd like to accomplish. If to-do lists stress you out, think of it more as a list of potential. If you check everything off, great! If you only manage one or two, also great!

4) Take breaks and move around

In your retreat plan, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to take meaningful breaks. The image of a writer locked away in self-imposed isolation can seem romantic beforehand, but if the past year has taught us anything, it's that isolation can do a number on our mental health. On a smaller scale, a weekend entirely on your own has the potential to feel a bit lonely, scattered, or unfocused. Be sure you take some time away from your writing, whether it's a quick coffee run or a walk around the property. You could also try bringing your writing to a coffeeshop, library, or park for a change of scenery.

5) Try to replicate some features of a traditional writing retreat

Of course, in doing a solo DIY writing retreat, you are necessarily cutting yourself off from many of the reasons people are drawn to a traditional writing retreat in the first place. If it suits your plan and your energy, you can try sprinkling in elements of traditional retreats. Make a plan to be online the same time as another writer friend and do some writing sprints for an hour. Prepare a playlist of author talks or interviews where you feel you could learn something valuable. While you can't quite have your cake and eat it too, who's to say you couldn't have a small piece of the cake?

I hope these tips have been helpful! If you've never created a DIY writing retreat, I hope you're able to try it one day. They've always been very enlightening experiences for me, and I can't wait to book my next one.

If you'd like to read more about the specifics of my own DIY writing retreat experiences, check out my blog post sharing the things I learned, and what I'd do differently.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.