I use the term “writing retreat” in the loosest sense here. We all dream of being able to disappear to a cottage in rural France like Jamie does in Love Actually. But let’s face it, that’s almost never possible. Especially not if you have a full time job, family, pets…the list of obstacles goes on.

There’s a couple of ways to create yourself a writer’s retreat type of space for varying time frames.

Writing Retreat

One Day

Most of us aren’t lucky enough to just take a whole week or even whole weekend off from everything else that’s going on in our lives. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still create yourself a mini writing retreat. It can just be one day, or even half a day if that’s all you have. The secret here is preparation. Making sure you have a location in mind; a local cafe, park or library and that you won’t have any interruptions.

If you’re planning on taking time out of your weekend, plan ahead. Do an extra load of washing during the week, arrange child care, gather your research etc. before you set off. That way, you won’t be worrying about other things that need to be done.

Here are five steps you need to follow to create your single day writer’s retreat:

  1. Set yourself a goal – think about what you want to achieve during that day. Whether it be the outline to your next e-book or editing the backlog of draft blog posts you have, if you have a goal you’ll find it easier to remain focused.
  2. Find yourself a location – do some research into places local to you that will be quiet enough for you to focus but also provide you with a good working environment and maybe even some inspiration!
  3. Prepare ahead of time – if you only have one day to tackle that goal (see #1), you’ll need to use that time wisely. Plan ahead, do the research you need, think about what exactly you’ll need to do and write out a plan for the day. If you know you’re going to be pushed for time, pack your bag the night before. It sounds stupid but if your morning is rushed and hectic, you’ll find it difficult to settle into your writing later on.
  4. Switch off. Stay focused – stick to your schedule and don’t get distracted by other things. The magazines and newspapers in the cafe might seem interesting but you’re there to work. Your emails might seem important but they’re only a distraction. If your goal for your retreat is to complete a task or reach a milestone, you’ll want to eliminate all distractions. Turn off your emails, phone and maybe even your WiFi.
  5. Reflect – sometimes it’s hard to recognise your achievements over a single day. So it’s important to take the time to reflect at the end of the day and acknowledge just how awesome you are. It’s just as important to be critical too, so long as it’s constructive. If you realised that you struggle to write new posts in the silence of the library, consider trying somewhere with a little more background noise next time.

A Weekend

Ooooo a whole weekend of writing?? Lucky you! No seriously, a weekend is perfect for a DIY writing retreat. It’s long enough for you to get stuck into something juicy but not so long that you’ll start losing focus or getting bored of your own company!

Here’s five steps you need to follow to create your weekend writer’s retreat:

  1. Set yourself a goal – think about what you want to achieve during the weekend. Unlike the single day retreat, you can be a little more adventurous with a weekend. You can even have a couple of goals. One important thing to remember is that whilst two days might be made up of 48 hours you will not be working all of those hours. Be realistic in the goals you set yourself and remember to allow yourself time to rest.
  2. Find yourself a location – finding a location for a whole weekend is probably more simple than finding one for just a day. If you want peace and quiet, scope out some countryside cottages on Airbnb. If you want city centre buzz check out websites like lastminute.com or booking.com. They’re both great for boutique hotels close to the heart of the action. Whatever you’re looking for, make sure it has a comfy bed, some natural light and somewhere for you to write.
  3. Prepare ahead of time – as well as your goals (see #1), it’s helpful to write a  to-do list. From that list, you can then prepare a checklist of things you need to take with you to your retreat. This is particularly useful if you’re planning on travelling away from home. Can you imagine getting to your destination only to find out you’d forgotten something critical to your work?
  4. Stay focused but also rest – stick to your schedule and don’t get distracted by other things. If your goal for your retreat is to complete a task or reach a milestone, you’ll want to eliminate all distractions. Turn off your emails, phone and maybe even your WiFi. But remember that you can’t maintain focus for two days solid. Make sure you schedule in plenty of breaks and time to reward yourself and relax.
  5. Reflect – and get some more rest. Don’t burn yourself out. Make plenty of time to step back and take stock of what you’ve achieved. You’ll want to do this at various stages of the weekend, not just at the end of the two days.

A Whole Week (or Longer)

The first thing you need to think about if you’re planning to take a week off, is the timing. You want to be able to focus solely on your writing so make sure you choose a generally quiet time of year (so not the school holidays or Christmas time!)

Use the five steps set out above for the weekend retreat they all apply to a full week. The key to staying focused all week is to have a variety of tasks to do. Your main focus might be to complete a few chapters of your book but pencil in time for other things too. You’ll need to break up the week.

A Few Final Tips

  • Respect the time you’ve set aside – don’t get distracted by other things going on around you.
  • Only reschedule if you have to – if something really important or unavoidable comes up make sure you reschedule your retreat as soon as possible, don’t just keep putting it off.
  • Look after yourself just because you’re in a new setting and you’re focusing on writing, don’t forget the basics such as drinking plenty of water and eating right.
  • Remember to rest – you’ll burn out really quickly if you don’t take regular breaks. Take the time to step away from your laptop or put down your notebook. Take a yoga mat or an adult colouring book – something to distract your mind when you do take a break.
  • Allocate communication times – this sounds weird but trust me. Almost all of us will find it impossible to ignore the outside world for a whole day, let alone a whole week. But rather than checking your emails, texts, Facebook at sporadic intervals, schedule in “communication times” where you can check everything all in one go. That way you can reply to everyone you need to, switch off again and go back to work.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to have a DIY writing retreat remember to enjoy it. Embrace the process. I’m really hoping to have a little writing retreat soon so I’ll be sure to share my experience with you.

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