For many writers and artists, these names are uttered in the same reverential tone a oenophile might use to speak of Bordeaux or Tuscany, or your crazy aunt uses to talk about Disney World. They're magical destinations where you can be who you are — in this case, a creative free spirit with a kick-ass work ethic — and do what you love 24/7. In this case, it's writing the next Great American Novel/Memoir/Poem/Play.
What's less magical about these writers' retreats and colonies is that they don't always jibe with the realities of every day life, like jobs (which you work to pay the bills until you write the next Great American Novel/Memoir/Poem/Play), finances (because you haven't yet published the next Great American Novel/Memoir/Poem/Play), school, family, etc. While dropping off the grid for a few weeks or months to focus on developing your craft and finishing your latest project should be an inalienable right for a writer, in reality it's more often a luxury that time, budget or other circumstances do not allow.
So what do we do? Throw those manuscripts in a drawer or let them languish on a hard drive, collecting dust? Hell no! We do what we do best: get creative, and design our own damn writers' retreat to suit our needs and lifestyle. Here are some tips to get you started (and here are some established writers' retreats for which you can start saving up your money and vacation days.)
Change Your Surroundings
Sure, you can write anywhere, but the point of a retreat is to switch it up, take a break from your normal surroundings to see how that jump-starts your creativity. It's easy to stagnate when you're staring at the same four walls every day and your chair is so broken-in there's a permanent imprint of your ass on the seat cushion.
Changing your scenery doesn't have to be costly or time-consuming, or require long-distance travel. Ask a friend, neighbor or family member if you can borrow their place the next time she's going out of town. She'll get a house- (and if necessary, pet-) sitter, and you get a fresh new space where you can work and recharge.
If you really want to treat yo self (RIP, Parks and Rec ), spring for a hotel, B&B, or your fever-dream fantasy home. From Groupons to home-swapping websites, there are a million ways to find deals on places to stay, so figure out what kind of environment will most inspire you (fast-paced city, tranquil seaside town, isolated cabin in the woods) and start Googling.
Can't even get away overnight? Try a solo day trip to a new locale, or even a familiar place that you may have found inspiring in the past. If you live in a city, find a park or nature preserve where you actually see grass, trees, and animals other than pigeons and mice. Used to being isolated? Head for the closest city; even if its not a bustling metropolis, the point is to do something that shakes up your normal routine.
Just remember not to get distracted by sightseeing, lounging on the beach, or your friend's 60-inch LCD TV, which leads me to the next tip...
Sometimes the hardest part of writing is just sitting down and doing the damn thing (which is saying a lot, because there are many difficult aspects of writing). If you've gone through all the trouble of finding an alternative space to use as a writers' retreat, you better be ready to get some work done, and not spend the whole day or weekend going through your friends' medicine cabinet or ordering room service.
So first things first — avoid distractions as much as possible. Try to get as off the grid as possible. Find a place without a TV, where cell reception sucks, and accessing the Internet means listening to 10 minutes of this. If that fails (because it is the 21st century), make your writing space as distraction-free as possible. Hide the TV remotes, shut off the modem, and put your phone on silent, at least until your writing for the day is complete.
If structure's what you need to be productive, draw up a schedule (or if it's hard for you to stick to schedules you make for yourself, have someone make one for you). Use the time to figure out what works best for you — maybe you do your best work in the mornings or late at night. Maybe you're a sprinter, who writes in short bursts throughout the day, or a marathoner, who will write for hours on end and call it quits. This is all about having the opportunity to work in a way that suits you best.
A lot of writers work well with some pressure. While the purpose of your DIY retreat is not to be stressful, having some kind of end goal is helpful in ensuring you accomplish something. At a writers' colony, you'd probably be sharing work with others, in a formal or informal setting. Create the same atmosphere by scheduling a reading either during your retreat (so you have time to keep working and incorporate the feedback) or after (so you know you have to produce something, because otherwise there will only be the sound of people eating your cheese and crackers to interrupt the disappointed silence at your reading).
Get Your Creative Juices Flowing
Maybe just getting away from your home or office is enough to give you the boost you need to get those pages done. But what if it's not? Writers' retreats and colonies offer all sorts of activities and interactions designed to spark creativity; how can you replicate that experience on your own?
For starters, exposing yourself to other forms of art outside of writing can make you think about your craft and your work in a new light. A selling point for many retreats and colonies is that they welcome artists of all kinds, not just writers, and encourage everyone to mix, mingle, and share ideas. Whether you're in a familiar place or a new location, find a museum, a gallery, a theater, a concert, a dance performance — whatever — and see how it can influence your work and your process.
Another awesome aspect of retreats is that many of them include workshops about a specific aspect of writing, or lead by renowned writers. The good news is that many of those same writers (or others who you may admire even more) teach workshops and classes on an individual basis through schools, organizations and writers' groups all over the country. See what's being offered around your location (or try an online workshop if there's absolutely nothing of interest near you), build a retreat around it, and let the words flow free!
Maybe instead of a whole workshop, you just need a little nudge in the right direction to help you make the most of your retreat. If you're in the middle of working on a piece, have a trusted friend or writing partner read your work-in-progress, and give you feedback before your retreat, so you know what you need to focus on. If you're not working on anything in particular, and are hoping to use this time to get started on a project, collect some writing prompts (I like to have people make them up for me, so they're completely fresh and not subject to my counterproductive analytical pre-screening process), and start turning them into literary gold.
Happy writing, friends!