Happy Labor Day!

Perhaps it’s appropriate that I’m blogging on Labor Day, since it seems nowadays I need national holidays to get caught up on my work! Unfortunately, I tend to use vacation time (or what should be vacation time) quite a bit lately to make sure I stay ahead of writing and editing deadlines. But for me, a simply change of venue, especially if there’s a beach involved, is all the vacation I need! Enter the writing retreat.

Before I completely understood what writing retreats were, I likened them to writing conferences. But they are very different in a number of ways.

For one, at a conference, you usually don’t have much, if any, time to actually write. The workshop schedule keeps everyone quite busy, and often there are so many people that it’s hard to find a quiet space to get away and work. But a writing retreat is ALL about the writing. There may or may not be any workshops or actual teaching time, and each retreat is limited to a small number of people. And, the environment is conducive to alone time–just you, your imagination, and your pad and pen (or iPad!).

The writing retreat is much more like a vacation than a conference could ever hope to be. You will seldom find a retreat in the middle of a big city (I haven’t actually heard of any), but rather tucked away in the mountains, overlooking a coast, or in a quaint, historic town (think bed-and-breakfast properties). The idea is to submerge the writer in tranquility and a natural environment that stirs the imagination and calms the soul. Unlike a frenzied conference, the feel is serene and slower paced.

Another difference is the cast of characters you’ll discover at a retreat versus a conference. Conferences are full of agents, editors, publishers, and speakers who can teach you everything from proper grammar to platforms. Retreats usually have none of these, but instead have writing coaches, mentors, and facilitators to guide group exercises and discussions.

Writing retreats range from a weekend to two weeks or more. Some are only for individuals, while others are open to hosting writing groups. (Retreats make a great getaway for critique groups, by the way!) Some retreats are self-guided, meaning they basically just provide a bedroom and a house (or lodge) for you to work in, and you’re on your own; others have scheduled events and meeting times for group  work, mentoring, or on-your-own writing each day. Finally, retreats may be general–open to any genre or niche, while others are specialized due to the coaching and mentoring available. For instance, so far I’ve discovered retreats that focus on: dissertations, poetry, screen plays, fiction, business writing, and those for women only.

So, think of a writing retreat as being able to take a vacation but not feel guilty about having extra work pile up when you get home! Retreats are perfect if you need a quiet getaway for a few days, if you’re stuck on your book and need professional help to jump start it, or if you need to be with other writers who can help you brainstorm ideas.

And, if you have the money and an adventurous spirit, you may want to travel outside the U.S. to help boost your creativity. There are plenty of retreats in France, England, Italy, and more exotic spots like Bali. Whatever setting you need to get you in the “write” frame of mind, there’s probably a writing retreat available!

If you’re looking for guided instruction during your retreat, one place to check out is the Elizabeth Ayres Writing Center:  www.creativewritingcenter.com.

If you need to get into character for your next historical fiction book, look into this retreat at a historic farmhouse overlooking the James River in Virginia: www.porcheswritingretreat.com.

For a list of various retreats by region (U.S. only), try: www.retreatsforwriters.com.

By the way, if you still want to find a conference, be sure to take a look at my Writers’ Resources page for an updated list of writers’ conferences through the end of 2011.