How Does One Set Up Such a Retreat

Santa Fe Writing Retreat. A friend asked me this morning about how one sets up such a retreat. It was good timing, because I spent a lot of time last night at dinner talking with my friends about wealth and privilege.

It’s a privilege, to be able to take away time from one’s life and go away for a week to write. If you have care responsibilities (children, partner(s), elders), it may not be possible, or may require spending money you may not have on supplemental care.

If you have a traditional American job, you probably have very little vacation time, so using some of it for writing retreat requires taking that time away from family. It can be hard to decide your writing is a priority, and it can be hard to ask your partner to take on extra care work to allow you space to write. So you may have some emotions / practical conversations to work through before even starting this process.

It always also costs money if you’re going to travel somewhere else. Also if you’re going to stay somewhere else (unless you’re lucky enough to have friends with space they can share — having friends in such a position as to have extra space is privilege too).

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The kind of retreat I’m doing here is part vacation, clearly, more luxurious than it needs to be. I could’ve found an Airbnb in town, holed up in a tiny room, packed some groceries, and for maybe $100ish, pulled off a writing retreat. I’ve actually done versions of that — 2-3 days retreats just three blocks down from our house, so that I could come back and get the kids off to school in the morning. You’d be amazed at what you can get done in 3 days, with a focus on writing goals and no distractions.

Now that the kids are older, it’s easier for me to go away for longer, and I adore travel, I find it so inspiring and energizing, being in a new place, learning about the culture. The blue doorframes and windowframes in Santa Fe. The quality of the clear light against a crystal blue sky.

The adobe aesthetic — one of my local writer friends, Emily Mah Tippetts, showed us around downtown yesterday and told us about what a wonderful building material adobe was, retaining heat in winter, keeping it cool in summer — and also how it’s very expensive now, and how locals might stucco over the adobe, so they don’t have to reapply it regularly.

All those little details wake me up, make it easier to do descriptive writing, world-building. They take me away from the endless minutiae of everyday life at home, the endless to-do lists of things that need to be done to take care of the house, the people who live in it, their health, etc. and so on… On writing retreat, my only real jobs are to feed myself and write. That’s it. Everything else is gravy.

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To review the nitty-gritty a little: I paid for the plane ticket out of my writing account; I consider this retreat a business expense. I also bought quite a lot of groceries before I left town out of my writing account, because I was planning to cook my hosts a Sri Lankan feast, and since I’ll be doing book promotion as part of that, those are also a business expense.

I scheduled an event that’s happening tonight as part of the trip too, more book promotion, also helps make it clearer that this is a work trip, should the IRS ever come asking. More details on the event in next post, locals, would love to see you at the Cocteau tonight!

Business expenses don’t make it free, of course, but being able to file those does cut down the cost in the end by about a third, which is significant. Of course, this presumes that at some point, you start making a profit on your writing business, but that’s a conversation for another day. (And yes, I’m planning to come back to that thread of posts I started during the holidays. Hang in there.)

That’s the bulk of my costs, airfare + groceries, because I’m staying in a friend’s place for free. If you don’t have that, but you do have money, you can do what Alex and Susan are doing, and get an Airbnb or hotel room instead.

(If you have writer / artist friends desperate for a retreat, and you do have extra space you can offer them, it would be very kind of you to let them know they’re welcome. They’ll probably be happy to watch the kids in the evening so you can have a date night, or spend a few hours helping clear out the garage, or some such. 🙂 )

I’m mostly eating Sri Lankan feast leftovers, supplemented with a bit of stuff from the grocery store, but last night, Alex and Susan took me out for a decadent hot tub soak at Ten Thousand Waves followed by a fabulous Japanese dinner (photos soon). I wouldn’t have budgeted for that on my own because funds are a little tight right now for our family (we have to put on a new roof this spring, ouch), but it’s lovely to be treated.

Long-term, I can’t expect that I’ll always have friends around who can afford to take me out to dinner while I’m on writing retreats, but I’m also hoping to do more paid travel & food writing in the future, which would be a way to make a writing retreat in an exciting new place (or favorite old place) do double-duty.

It’s very efficient, no? Go somewhere to write, while you’re there, take photos and notes, sell more writing as a result. That’s the dream, anyway — we’ll see if I can pull it off!

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So that’s the financial aspects covered, I think. Mostly, to do a writing retreat, the other things I’d think about are:

• do you know what you want to work on, and will you be ready and able to work on it when you get there?

• do you need instruction (so you might want to sign up for a class or workshop or guided retreat) or are you comfortable working on your own? (I am hoping to run a guided retreat in Sri Lanka at some point, and probably in Oak Park as well.)

• what kind of space do you like to write in? (I’m pretty flexible here — I can do cafes, or couches, or even beds — I’m writing from bed right now — and I don’t mind someone else writing in the same space; it can even be inspiring. It’s lovely to have a beautiful view to gaze at when I’m stuck for a bit. Susan, on the other hand, likes to write alone in a small dark room, presumably to help her focus)

• do you want company or not? (I like a mix — it’s been good and productive for me to be alone during the day, but relax with friends in the evenings)

• what time of day do you prefer to write? (I’m generally 7-3 or so — by teatime, I’m started to fizzle out) You’ll want to coordinate that with anyone you’re travelling with

• can you set expectations and be disciplined together? (if you’re meeting old friends to do this, it can be hard to keep from chatting!)

• do you want to pack board games to play with friends, or plan on other evening activities after the workday ends? (I suppose you could play board games in the morning if you prefer to write at night!)

• do you want to spend part of the time on sightseeing? Sort of a shame not to, but must be balanced with writing time!

• do you want to meet up with local writers while you’re in town?

Hope all this helps! Ask if you have questions.

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