What Makes a Quality Writing Retreat?

By Annalisa Parent

Opportunities for writers to convene and to create seem almost endless: workshops, classes, library writing groups, and, of course, retreats.

There can be so many appealing events, it sometimes seems nigh impossible to choose one that will help to move your writing forward, to help you to get the work done and to move you closer to published.

Here are some of the most important ingredients for a successful writing retreat:

A quality retreat should be time away

While it may be tempting while looking at all the options out there to throw in the towel, set up the tent in the backyard (or simply stake your claim on the living room sofa for the weekend),  if you’re anything like 99.99% of writers, this simply won’t do.

Why not?

Three simple reasons: distractions, distractions, distractions.

Case in point: I never have a cleaner kitchen than when I have a chapter due. When I’m stuck or the writing feels hard, suddenly tackling the dust on top of the cabinets feels mighty important.

Is it?


It’s 100% distraction.

Distractions come in many forms. I bet you know yours–from spouses to spawn, canines to canaries–we all have our Achilles’ heel when it comes to distraction.

Ergo one of the most important aspects of a quality retreat is to remove yourself from your everyday life–whether into the next town, the next country, or the next continent, the space away is important.

Space away from the distractions of television, Internet and up-to-the-second texting are helpful to the writer’s soul, too. As we immerse ourselves in the act of creation, we benefit from high-level synaptic movement and the activation of the pleasure centers of our brain.

A quality retreat should be a treat

Ah, you’re away from your everyday life for five glorious days. You’re just going to sit down before this beautiful natural vista and do nothing but…

Grumble, grumble, grumble. Time to make lunch.

What’s wrong with this picture?


A quality retreat should not only be time away, but also time to be treated–to let someone else prepare delicious home-cooked meals from locally grown and raised ingredients while you’re very busy untangling your protagonist from the latest plot twist.

Time where the tea and fruited water flow into your cup before you know you are thirsty; the beds are made and the floors are vacuumed.

Yes, it’s luxuriant and yes, you’re being pampered–you should be. Writing is no easy business, as we know, and letting someone else not only take care of life’s daily duties for a while, but to take care of them well is integral to your writerly success–whether you’re just starting or in the final revision.

A quality retreat should expand your horizons

One of the most important keys to success for the would-be author is immersion in the cultural canon. Knowing where we’ve been as a culture–who has written what before us, and what its impact was–helps us to see where we fit now and how we can create toward a future readership who will love our books.

A quality writing retreat integrates cultural experiences–from poetry readings to a meet-and-greet with a successful author; these cultural touches contextualize and enhance our creations.

Add to a retreat the opportunity for new experiences, such as eating fish and chips in a real English pub or horseback riding and you’ve given yourself experiences to inform your writing, expanding your ability to “write what you know.”

Just as important: these new experiences create increased synaptic connections in the brain, making it fertile ground for creativity.

Speaking of your brain…

A quality retreat should be based on how your brain creates best

Decades of study on the integration of emerging understanding of neuroscientific function and its application to creativity have shown us, undisputedly, how to generate an enduring creative state. When writers use methods based on how their brain functions, they end up in the euphoric state of creative flow. When they do not, they end up in what they often term “writer’s block.”

Despite availability of proven results and methodology, many writing opportunities out there still use techniques that work against a writer’s brain rather than with it, and leave the writer more stuck than s/he was to begin with. A quality retreat experience understand the intricacies of multi-modal functioning to get the writer into creative flow and writing, writing, writing.

A quality retreat provides you with meaningful connection and true community

Writing is a solitary activity, but that doesn’t mean we’re alone. Writers frequently tell me nightmare stories of writing groups which become backbiting, nitpicking events–but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Not only should a successful writing retreat create meaningful community–where writers sincerely cheer for one another’s success–the group writing experience and the feedback should encourage connection and the progress of each individual writer in the group.

Also, to avoid that new-student-in-the-lunchroom experience, a quality writing retreat not only gives the opportunity for participants to meet each other before the retreat, but to write together, to become familiar with one another and to understand the format of the upcoming retreat.

The write, er, right retreat can be an invaluable experience for a writer and set him or her off on a trajectory of writing and publishing success, be an enriching experience, and the beginning foundation for lifelong friendships.

About Annalisa Parent

Annalisa Parent is the author of the EVVY-award winning Storytelling for Pantsers: How to Write and Revise your Novel without an Outline. She studied the connections between neuroscience and creativity at the MIT Brain Imaging Lab, and Boston College, among others. She is a writing coach who hosts retreats for fiction writers all over the world. For information on her next retreat, go to www.DatewithTheMuse.com/England.

The views expressed herein are not those of Colorado Independent Publishers Association, its officers or directors.  They are solely and completely those of the author.  The Colorado Independent Publishers Association will not be held liable for any legal action resulting from information published in this newsletter, and the organization’s insurance will not cover any such action.