On Retreat: Running Away to Write


Last week I started organizing end-of-fiscal year tax receipts. Having just returned from Bouchercon, it was a good time to make sure I had my business trip records all in order (read: receipts stuffed into individual envelopes). At first, it was the only trip I recalled, but then I remembered a couple readings in St. Louis I could claim hotel and mileage expenses for. It seemed slim pickings, but I will be touring this month and some of next, so there will be many more envelopes. Then I remembered my writing retreats.

Way back in early January, I needed to get some serious, concentrated words on my WIP, which was due on Valentine’s Day. ( I wrote a bit about it a few Wednesdays ago on my 10K-A-Day post.) I love my family, but if there are other people in the house, my concentration flees. Sometimes I’m able to shut my office door, but I’m always wondering what’s going on on the other side of it. So I often find myself doing things that are not writing during the daylight hours, and only writing after ten p.m. when everyone has gone to bed. I love the quiet. No voices. No music. Not much happening on FaceBook. Snoring animals. Owls outside my window. Those are perfect writing conditions for my ADD brain. Sadly, the not-perfect part is that I routinely go to bed at 1:30 and get up at 7:30. It wears on a body.

So, last January I got myself an AirBnB apartment in St. Louis for several days. It was on a cul-de-sac, and very quiet. Blissfully quiet. Lonesome, even. The chair was uncomfortable and kept me upright. I was paying lots of money to be there, so I was mindful. I only had to cook for myself. (That was weird.) I didn’t stay up all that late, and I wrote in 2-3 long sessions each day. It was my second-favorite writing retreat I’d ever taken, after a solo week at an inn on Ocracoke Island in 2002. (In fact I think it was only my 2nd writing retreat, period.)

But I did get in another writing retreat this year. Over Labor Day Weekend, I went to the Nashville home of another writer—along with four other women. That was something I’d never done before. (Though I did go to a scrapbooking lake retreat around 2004. I didn’t and don’t scrapbook, but I journalled and did needlepoint. On reflection, it was probably a little odd that I went. Still, there was wine and the women were friendly.)

Writing in a crowd felt awkward at first. There was plenty of room to spread out, so we didn’t actually even have to see one another if we didn’t want to. But eventually I adjusted. Everyone was serious about getting words done. Then we gathered for meals, taking turns cooking. In the evening, there was wine and much discussion and much laughter. We talked about our careers and the industry and craft, and told stories that were harrowing or hysterically funny. It was a completely different kind of retreat.

I didn’t get more than five thousand words on that retreat. Hardly comparable to my January trip. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I returned energized and ready to work harder. Writing can be such a lonely job. As here at TKZ, it’s good to be with like-minded people. To share stories and advice and good news and bad. And there’s nothing like face-to-face communication with nary a computer screen in sight.

Have you ever gone on a writing retreat—alone or with other writers?


Laura Benedict’s latest novel is The Abandoned Heart, coming October 11th. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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About Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the Edgar- and ITW Thriller Award- nominated author of eight novels of suspense, including The Stranger Inside (Publishers Weekly starred review). Her Bliss House gothic trilogy includes The Abandoned Heart, Charlotte’s Story (Booklist starred review), and Bliss House. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and in numerous anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, and St. Louis Noir. A native of Cincinnati, she lives in Southern Illinois with her family. Visit her at www.laurabenedict.com.

16 thoughts on “On Retreat: Running Away to Write

  1. I do like to retreat at least once a year. Sometimes for finishing a project (I just got back from a month at a beach house…I know…tough) but other times (and this can be just one day) reigniting the fire. That can be done by making writing plans for the year, revisiting some old craft resources (like my binders of WDs), and maybe getting around to reading that one novel everyone’s talking about.

    Then just some time to BE QUIET. As in, no phone, no noise, no politics, no Kardasians. Bliss.

  2. This is excellent timing. I was three paragraphs in when I remembered there’s a writing group in Colorado hosting a retreat next spring, and I’d set aside the notice to wait until registration opened–and then forgot all about it. Now that I’m registered, I’ll read the rest of your post! But I’m looking forward to meet new people, as the home base for this group is well outside my travel range for meetings, but they’re holding their retreat near me. I’m hoping for some new energy; I’ve got 3 books publishing this year, and my batteries are drained.

    • I’m so glad it jogged your memory, Terry. And 3 books?! 1) Congratulations! 2) That’s a lot of pressure. I’d say *at least* one retreat is in order. Enjoy.

  3. I’ve attended group retreats with Northern Colorado Writers a few times and have been very productive. But a solitary retreat in a quiet bed and breakfast is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Maybe one of these days….

  4. At the beginning of every Lawrence Block book I’ve read (and I think I’ve read them all) there’s an acknowledgement of the people and places involved in the writing of that work. The only place I’ve written so far, other than my own office, is in the waiting room of my auto dealership while getting routine service for my car. Maybe I should give them a shout-out at the front of my next novel. Seriously, your retreat sounds great, as do the ones described in other comments. Guess I should try it. Thanks.

    • I love reading acknowledgments for just that reason, Richard. The behind-the-scenes details are always fascinating.

      The auto dealership would no doubt get a kick out of the shout out. Go for it! And as to a retreat–you have nothing to lose except that motor oil smell. ; )

  5. I’ve gone to one, Writer’s Digest’s Retreat By The Sea, a couple of years ago, and it was fantastic! There was a lot of bonding, informative sessions, and tge setting was a quaint New England inn by the ocean. I didn’t get much personal writing done, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything!
    FWIW, I think it makes perfect sense for you to do needlepoint in a group of scrapbookers. You might have gotten drawn in by the fun of the craft with fellow enthusiasts, had you been an avid scrapbooker.

    • That sounds divine, Kathryn. The Writer’s Digest folks do good work. In fact, it was in one of their 1988 issues that I found the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop, where I met my husband, Pinckney Benedict.

      I had *such* a great time at that scrapbook retreat, and being an outsider made me a better people-observer!

  6. This works also on a mini-scale. I, too, can’t resist the siren call of laundry to fold or closets to clean when I am home. (anything to not face writing). I often pack up the laptop and take our water taxi downtown to sit in a Starbucks. It is noisy, the chairs are hard, I don’t trust public Wifi so I can’t log onto Facebook, and its so cold in there I have to bring a sweater in August. Plus, I hate Starbucks coffee. But oddly, I write like the devil when I am there, like 1500 words or more in a sitting. Maybe because I am so eager to get out.

    If I have had a good day, I walk down the block at 5 to reward myself at my favorite hotel bar. The bartender Debra always asks how the book is going and has my glass of Sancerre ready.

    Changes in latitudes can change the attitude.

    • I love that you go to Starbucks where it’s cold and you hate the coffee, Kris. That is true dedication to your craft, when you make yourself uncomfortable in order to focus on it.

      And a favorite bar, bartender, and drink at the end–Bliss!

  7. I’m usually writing like mad when I’m here in a Colorado. It’s my favorite place to work. Word count is zero now though. I’m going to need a retreat very soon 🙂

  8. Depending on how one works, a retreat may be for re-charging and not writing, at least not dutifully writing. Brenda Ueland apparently did this every day with her six-mile walks (non-cardio).
    I can relate to your difficulty working when others are home. My wife sends me off to Panera since her experience when others are in the house is much like yours. Despite my ADD, I can get work done at Panera. Better than at the library when someone is tutoring at the next table or having a discussion.
    Retreat to get work done. Retreat for recovery. Retreat for new friends. Retreat to be alone. All probably have a place at some time or other in our lives.
    Thanks for your story.

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