Retreat! (A How To)

by sarahenni on August 6, 2012

I’ve been waiting all year for late July, because it meant a trip to Colorado with many other YA Highway members for a writing retreat! Last week was really special, because I got to see some of my favorite girls in the world AND I managed to add about 10,000 good words to my WiP. We had a great time, and managed to be crazy productive, so I thought I’d share how we set up the retreat, and what we did there to keep ourselves motivated, in case you are planning or attending a retreat in the near future (which I totally recommend).

The Supplies

Be sure to bring:

  • Chargers for everything electronic
  • The writer’s uniform (yoga pants, comfy T-shirts)
  • A plan for who will cook what meals, on what days (doesn’t have to be a rigid schedule, just something to get an idea of what grocery shopping should be done and what dietary restrictions might come into play with your group)
  • Headphones
  • Any books you want to share

The Space

We used to find a fantastic cabin in Colorado, a central location for everyone. We organized everyone’s arrival and departure times by using a shared Google Doc, and that way we only had to rent one car for the week. (Rental cars are expensive, yo.)

We planned it from Friday to Wednesday to take advantage of a weekend, but definitely ate into some vacation time. It was well worth it, though, because at least one full day was spent catching up with one another, and admiring the truly bizarre lodge art that filled our rental space. Evidence:

I took to calling him “The Statesman.”

DISCO DUCK (.gif pending)

The Writing

The first morning, after we made ourselves breakfast with lots and lots of coffee, we all gathered around to write. To make sure we resisted the urge to chat, we set a timer for dedicated writing time. Most of the time we set aside hour-long chunks. (I downloaded Howler Timer for my Mac, which makes [as you might've guessed] a wolf howling sound instead of a buzzer. I took much enjoyment from it and recommend it highly.)

Moose hat optional, but encouraged.

We took breaks for lunch, but most of the late morning and afternoon was spent working individually. Eventually we spread all over the house, with people writing anywhere they felt inspired.

The Goofing Off

Toward the end of the day, most of us were a little creatively spent. We gathered around to make dinner, and to unwind for the day and chat. At times, chatting long into the night… or early morning1. Talking, drawing, getting silly, playing the Twilight Commentary Drinking Game2—all of these things recharged our creative batteries, and were just basically a blast.

Photo taken by Kate Hart

The Exploring

It can be tempting to stay inside like, the entire time. Especially when the words are flowing. But if you’ve gone to a destination retreat, you’re missing out on a big part of the reason you traveled somewhere outside your living room. I don’t regret the handful of hours spent exploring the small town nearby, hiking, or just sitting on the porch appreciating the wonderful view. Evidence:

Photo taken by Kate Hart.

So that’s my advice! But what about you?? Have you done a writer’s retreat before? Anything I missed? Anyplace in particular you’d recommend to reach maximum word count? Are you planning on going to a retreat anytime in the future? Do you have a moose hat to bring??

  1. Note: staying up until 5:30 a.m. chatting with a friend as awesome as Kate Hart is worth any lost productivity the next day.
  2. With modifications because good lord people, we’re not indestructible

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah G. August 6, 2012 at 10:54 am

Sounds so lovely! I keep hearing wonderful things about Colorado lately, too, and now want to go there.


sarahenni August 6, 2012 at 12:23 pm

It was crazy gorgeous. And pretty centrally located! I’d definitely recommend checking it out :)


Alyssa August 6, 2012 at 11:02 am

Wow. The clouds in the last picture… beautiful. Thanks for the information on your writer’s retreat! It seems like it would be tons of fun.


sarahenni August 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Aren’t the clouds insane? We spent about an hour just staring at them. It was unreal. And you are so welcome! The retreat was even more fun and productive than I had imagined. I definitely recommend it!


Ghenet Myrthil August 6, 2012 at 11:32 am

Sounds fun! I went on a couple of writer retreats this year – one small one with just 3 other writers to the Pocono Mountains during the winter, and another last month to North Carolina with 7 other writers. Both were super fun and extremely productive. I wish I could do them more often because I get SO much writing/revising done!


sarahenni August 6, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Oooh Poconos and North Carolina! Perfect destinations. I agree—we were getting so much done while working together, and now that I’m home I appreciate even MORE how focused the environment was.


Amy Lukavics August 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Gaah I loved this post! Especially with the ‘what to pack’ list. I’ll keep this in mind for next spring, my lady!!



sarahenni August 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm

The duck .gif will be my greatest creation. YAY SPRING RETREAT!


Krispy August 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Sounds like a great time and what a beautiful view! I would love to do a writing retreat someday! Also, that is an amazing moose hat. Where did it come from?


sarahenni August 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I wish I could link to the exact moose hat, but awesome YAH-er Kirsten Hubbard picked up that bad boy at a swap meet! However this looks like a pretty exact replica:


Jess Byam August 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm

As usual, you have perfect timing. I’m actually leaving for a writing/riding retreat tomorrow, and this was great advice! Sounds like you had an absolute blast, and I’m even more excited about my own retreat now (if that’s possible…). Thanks!


sarahenni August 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Oooh, writing/riding?? As in, bikes? Horses? Either way, that’s so awesome! I hope your retreat is amaaaahzing.


Erin Bowman August 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm

I am so jealous of this retreat. The cabin (and disco duck) look fabulous. The view was stunning. And how fun to write with friends during the day only to turn around and giggle with them come evening!! (Great tips too re: coordination, car rentals, etc) :)


sarahenni August 6, 2012 at 3:46 pm

It was SO fun, and now I just want to hop from one writing retreat to another! Someday we shall be in the same coffee shop, at least, being productive at the same time! The group setting helped a ton with motivation :)


Jessica Love August 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I did a local retreat with some of my writing buds in the mountains around here and it was so awesome…and, like you said, surprisingly productive. I think the wacky cabin decor is really the key.


sarahenni August 6, 2012 at 3:47 pm

The wacky cabin decor makes the trip! I think I remember seeing pics from that retreat on your blog, and being really inspired by it! So much fun to be around people that truly understand the process, you know?


Melanie August 6, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Sounds absolutely amazing. I’m crazy jealous.


sarahenni August 6, 2012 at 3:47 pm

It WAS amazing! And it’d be easy to do a mini-retreat with local friends, too, even if it was just hanging around someone’s dining room table :)


kay Seeberger August 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm

What a wonderful way to spend quality time with your YA friends and in such a beautiful setting, good for you. xxx


Kate Hart August 6, 2012 at 4:08 pm


also I will be your roomie anytime! :)


Elodie August 7, 2012 at 7:49 am

It looks WOW :D (especially the duck ;-)) and like you had a wonderful time! I’ve never been to a writing retreat but I’d love to!


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