here’s no denying how much you can learn and grow as a writer when you attend a conference or retreat; but in today’s economy, it’s hard to part with the cash it takes to attend. So what’s a cost-conscious writer to do? Why, do it yourself, of course!
Now I’m not saying you should put on an entire conference, replete with big name speakers and hotel bills, but certainly you could replicate the best aspects of a retreat and do it on a reasonable budget to boot. My own critique group held a one-day retreat where we focused on producing pages and talking shop. Your group may want to focus on revisions and critiques or querying and agent talk. It’s up to you.
Whatever your goal, follow these easy steps to run your own successful writers’ retreat:
Location, Location, Location
The first step in setting up your own retreat is to find a location that works for your group and is reasonably priced. Sure, you could go for a posh spa for you and your writer friends; but seriously, how much writing would you actually do, and how would you afford it? You don’t want to err on the other side either and book a monastery. You want to be comfortable enough, so you can focus on your work and not the numb feeling in your backside!
Keep these tips in mind to guide you to the perfect space:
- Find a place large enough to accommodate your entire group, but not so large you feel disconnected.
- Make sure there are a variety of workspaces for different types of writers and learners in your group. Think desk space, couches, table seating, and walk- around room.
- Look for spaces that include a larger meeting room for lunch, group critiques, discussions, or presentations.
- Keep in mind access to restrooms and a kitchen area for easy lunches.
To get the most bang for your buck, you may need to think outside the coffee shop box. These options offer reasonable working conditions at great prices:
- Coworking—More and more coworking offices are opening across the U.S. and Canada to serve freelancers who wish to rent office space for a day, a month, or even an hour or two. Our writing group chose this option and rented the entire office for a Saturday—a day the office was usually closed—and got an excellent rate.
- Park lodges and library meeting rooms—These spaces are often free for residents or available for a small fee for non-residents.
- Church halls—Many churches are willing to rent their banquet facilities or meeting rooms.
- Colleges—Some colleges will rent classroom space, especially when regular classes are not in session.
- Personal home—If your group is small, you could choose a member’s finished basement or living room as long as spouses and children will be away, and your group is disciplined enough not to treat the homey atmosphere like an extended visit among friends.
Time is Money
It seems like you should be able to just get together and write. But if you’re anything like our group, you’ll want a schedule (and a strict schedule enforcer), or you’ll end up gabbing the whole time!
These tips will keep you on track and productive:
- Try typing up an agreed upon schedule and posting it visibly on the day of your retreat.
- Have a timekeeper who politely, but strictly, enforces the schedule.
- Change the schedule only when everyone in the group agrees.
- Be flexible if a great idea comes up—you’ll know it when it hits you!
The most important advice, though, is to think about your schedule ahead of time. What types of activities do you want to include in your schedule?
- Blocks of uninterrupted writing time
- Learning sessions with presentations and then time to put the lesson into practice
- Sharing time to read a page or two and receive feedback
Consider all of these options ahead of time, and write them into your schedule. Remember, you can’t do everything in one day. Maybe this quarter’s retreat is for writing only, and your next retreat’s focus can be revising or learning new techniques. Whatever your goal, the most important thing to remember for a successful retreat is decide ahead of time and stick to it!
A Girl’s Got to Eat
Yes, we all have to eat, but you don’t want your writers’ retreat to turn into an expensive drain on your finances. Simple is best, especially if you want to really keep the focus on writing. Remember, too, that the more elegant and expensive the lunch, the more time it will take away from your writing.
Consider a few of these cost-conscious alternatives:
- Boxed lunches–Every member contributes a few dollars, and one agrees to purchase rolls, cold cuts, snacks, and beverages. Buying at a wholesale store or discount grocer will help the bottom line while keeping you well-fed.
- Bagged lunch—If you’ve booked somewhere with a fridge and microwave, each member can bring her own lunch and be as frugal or as spendy as she likes.
- Catered—If you have a large group, you might be able to find a personal chef or a restaurant with economical lunch prices. This option is great if the caterer drops off the lunch, preserving more of your writing time!
- College run—Remember back in the day when everyone chipped in and wrote orders on scraps of paper? This is a great option for smaller groups. Have one member call in orders to a local restaurant and pick up for the group. Remember to keep the restaurant close by and to have a menu printed ahead for easy ordering.
However you choose to handle lunch, make sure you keep it from becoming its own event. Remember, the focus of a writer’s retreat is not the food. Try the following tips to keep on track during and after the meal:
- Set a timer or fall back on that timekeeper to wind things down at the end.
- Restrict conversation to a writing-related topic.
- Let your lunchtime double as presentation time.
- Do critiques during lunch.
Talk the Talk
A great way to save money on speakers is to search within your own group. Do you have a member who is published or has an agent? Maybe she could speak about how the process worked for her. Maybe you have a freelancer in your midst, who could teach newer members the ropes. Or possibly you have a member who knows social media or website promotion really well. Another option is to look locally. Local speakers will cost far less than speakers that need to cover their travel expenses.
Consider the following inexpensive options:
- Local authors who might be willing to give a short presentation in exchange for free attendance and lunch or for a small fee
- Media-savvy professional willing to give a thirty-minute lunch presentation on marketing your book, developing a website, or using social media
- Give each member a ten- or fifteen-minute slot to share information or research on a writing-related topic.
- Q & A breakout session with less experienced members asking and more established members answering
- Video conference with a published author, editor, or agent willing to talk about market trends
Whatever you choose, be sure you allot proper time to your speaker or presenter and have a lunch ready for her. Just make sure to balance your day between learning and writing, and stay focused on your goal for the day. Both will go a long way toward creating a successful and productive experience for everyone involved.
Go for the Gold
So what can you expect at the end of a DIY writers’ retreat? If your group is anything like ours, you can expect quite a lot. As a result of our writers’ retreat, I completed nearly twenty new pages and learned the ins and outs of the writer-agent relationship. Depending on the focus you choose, you can expect to have written or revised a large chunk of text, learned more about your craft, and had the opportunity to put some of that learning into practice.
You can also expect to be re-energized. A well-run retreat can mean a positive and productive time that pushes past the day itself. Buoyed by the accomplishment and the camaraderie of fellow writers, you can expect to ride the wave of success for several days or weeks. And if you mind the tips above, your writing will be jump-started while your pocketbook remains intact!
Lisa Tiffin is a freelance writer from Upstate New York. She usually meets her fiction critique group at the coffee shop, but loves the once- or twice-a-year DIY retreats. In addition to Web content and business copy, she writes articles for many publications, including Grit, Twins, Business Strategies, WritersWeekly.com, FundsForWriters, and many others. She is also working on a fiction series for young people.
Visit her at www.lisatiffin.com.