Writers Get Wild: Creating Your Own Self-Run Writing Retreat

My rent is $350 for the next three months, and I can’t tell whether it’s that or the physical space around me, trees instead of buildings, cows instead of crowds, but when I arrive at the island house I’m staying at, I feel like I’ve shed a suit of chain mail.

Perhaps I’ve been living all wrong, I don’t know. I always tend to feel this way when I’m around a new culture, town, or lifestyle: This, this, is what I should have been doing all along.

I’m reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, so I bought a burner phone, gave the number to the people who would be looking for me in an emergency, and left my phone in the car.

My rent will be paid with four hours of work. I won’t have the temptations of the city, where I had a cafe, a liquor store with an ice cream freezer, and a Chinese restaurant on my street. Across the street an udon place, the Russian dumpling spot, fried chicken. Quite frankly, GrubHub kinda sucks out here, so it’s batch cooking for me. 

Finding a parking spot is not a thing anymore. Parking tickets, not a thing. Ferries are a thing, so it will cost me almost $20 any time I want to go back and forth to the city. 

Outside my window, bunnies, a garden. Life.

It reminds me a bit of the month I spent in Colombia in 2017, the first leg of a three-month backpacking tour. It was February. My book was due March 1.

I opened AirBnb and zoomed out to all of South America, looked for places I could stay for about $20 a night. I found Alto Bonito, in the hills of Colombia. “Do you know anyone in Colombia?” my uncle asked. “No,” I said, “But I will.”

And I do, now. Tell Martín I sent you.

I finished my book on a deck in his backyard, under a tree, looking at those mountains, a donkey bray echoing.

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I realized that with most of my adventures when I tell people I’m going to do it, they tell me it’s crazy. When I tell people I’ve done it, they tell me it’s cool.

You don’t have to sign up with a program to take a writer’s retreat. You can design your own. 

What I Look For In A Choose-Your-Own Writing Retreat:

  1. A house. I found a place called “The Cozy Deluxe,” and that’s kind of how I would describe my style. I’m obsessed with tiny houses and all the different ways people create a home. It also feels a little more isolated from other people, than say a condo.
  2. Nature. Looking at waves, mountains, or a river drains my ego and fills me up with reality. It reminds me I’m part of this alive world.
  3. Unique architectureDuring the 3-month trip I stayed in these weird little Smurf huts below, in Peru’s Sacred Valley. The place was fun, the landscape incredible, however it also turned out to be an ayahuasca temple, so like 50 people had their own trip in the building just down the path. I didn’t mind. 

How to Create Your Own Writing Retreat

You may not be able to go for a month or more, but hell, even a weekend is nice. Here are some things to consider when creating a self-run writing retreat:

  1. Do you want a private room or a place to yourself? The private room was nice because I felt a little safer with Martín and his dogs there. As not-a-country girl, I might have freaked out in the isolation. But most of the time, I didn’t even lock my door at night. We also worked out food, cooking for each other, and he brought me coffee and an arepa every morning.
  2. How close is isolation? Isolation can come in different forms. If you’re in a city but don’t speak the language and not many people speak yours: voila, isolation. Isolation is different than quiet though, so make sure you ask. Roosters can crow at all hours of the night and extremely loudly. My friends who moved to the countryside of Myanmar realized the blast music to scare away ghosts. 
  3. Can you do a home trade? If you’re stuck in a lease and have an apartment in the city, someone might love a change of pace in the other direction. Check out homeexchange.com.
  4. What are your tech guidelines? If you’re in a bed in Nepal looking at Twitter, than you might as well be at home looking at twitter. A retreat should be both physical and mental. Use the Freedom app or a physical barrier, like finding a place without wifi.
  5. What’s your goal while there? I have three months, and if I write 1,000 words a day, I will have 90,000 words, especially when I slap them on top of the 30,000 words I have already.
  6. Do you want someone to go with you? I am a talker, and a let’s-open-this-bottle-of-wine-er. I think I do best alone, if I really want to get shit done, but if you and another writer want to create a retreat, just make sure you set some ground rules.
  7. How much will it cost you to store your stuff while you’re gone? If you can get out of your lease, you might be able to just toss all your stuff in a storage unit for under $100 a month. That sounds like a pain in the ass, right? Well, I don’t remember any of what it took to get me to South America. Some things are worth it.
  8. Am I thinking through the logistics? One dumb thing I did on my trip to South America was that I booked the AirBnbs before I booked my travel. Some cities are way more expensive to get to. I also vertically zig-zagged altitude in a way I would not have if I’d realized. Before going, especially to another country, check if you need a visa, if there are any Department of State warnings (there’s always a little warning, but…), and what cultural differences might affect your trip. If you’re unfamiliar with the country, seek out someone who’s traveled there before for advice.
  9. How will you feed yourself? Go for simplicity. Right now I’m batch cooking soups, eating fruits, and keeping the time I spend in the kitchen to a minimum.
  10. Are you scared? A little fear is a good thing. It lets you know that you’re pushing yourself beyond your boundaries. I still get a little queasy when I’m holding 50 pounds on my back, destined for a metal tube that will whisk my physical being off to the other side of the planet. You may just need to start small, a weekend an hour away, before you dive off into the wild. But I encourage to start planning something.

Ready to Start Dreaming of Your Own Writing Retreat?

Good. Because I spent all last night obsessing about this list of Writing Cabins.

While looking, I found this place. It’s a little out of the ideal budget, but damn.

Possible Traveling Group Writing Retreats in the Future

And for the record, one day I’d like to start a writing retreat that moves locations, somewhere different in the world every year. So if anyone wants to collaborate or attend that when it becomes a reality, email me!

Need help starting?

I do free 15-minute consultations, and if you have a question about traveling or creating a writing retreat, I’m happy to help! It’s tricky to figure it out when you’ve never done it before.

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1 Comment

  • Helen O'Neil Reply

    Great post! Lots of fresh ideas for the resourceful writer. Will definitely be checking some of these out!

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