131 - How to Plan a Writer's Retreat on a Budget

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It's no secret that I go on a lot of writer's retreats. Well. For a mom of five pretty young kids I go on a lot of writing retreats. This post will explain why, how, and how you can DIY a writer's retreat on a budget!

You may be familiar with the idea of writer's conferences (and blogger conferences!) as an important part of community and growth for many writers. I am a conference JUNKIE and have attended tons. But I don't think people talk enough about a writer's retreat and how to make one possible for YOU.

I try to take 1-2 writer's retreats per year, completely by myself. As an introvert, this is luxurious.

And if that sounds terrifying to you, you can also do a writer's retreat with other people. This post is more geared toward the single-person retreat, but you can apply some of the ideas for a partner or group retreat.

But let's take a step back...WHY are writer's retreats a good idea?? Then I'll share some of my tips for planning.

BENEFITS OF A WRITER'S RETREAT

While conferences have many benefits like learning, networking, and getting new ideas, retreats are all about the work. Specifically, pulling away from the normal day-to-day in order to focus on the work.

Retreat actually means to withdraw, which is how I think of a writing retreat: I'm withdrawing from the normal tasks, plans, and people to focus solely on the work of writing.

But writing retreats do more than just help you focus. Here are some of the benefits of a writer's retreat:

  • Completing a task or project
  • Refreshing yourself and recharging
  • Harnessing a single-minded focus

On past writing retreats, I have completed editing manuscripts, built courses, finished off tasks I couldn't seem to get done otherwise, and written drafts of novels. For me, these retreats are one of the only times I get multiple, uninterrupted hours of work on projects. It allows me to finish things, but also to access a focus and energy that I typically don't in my 1-2 hour blocks during a typical week.

I balance out the work (which I find refreshing in and of itself) with other inspiring things like being in nature, reading books, painting, pampering myself, and sometimes hanging out with other people.

I return feeling refreshed and accomplished, ready to re-enter the typical grind and schedule. As an introvert, the recharging of a day or two alone is incredible!

HOW TO PLAN YOUR WRITING RETREAT

As I mentioned, you don't just have to write on a retreat. If you have other nagging tasks that you can't ever seem to complete, finishing those might help remove the mental burden and strain, enabling you to write better.

On my retreats I have finished editing and uploading podcast episodes and show notes, edited and formatted books, and built out whole courses.

The important thing is to know what you hope to accomplish going in. Just like at home in your day-to-day, you need to prioritize if you want to complete things. Put the first things first. What could you NOT do in your normal life? Or, what would be the BEST use of that time?

Make a list of the things you REALLY want to finish, then those that you HOPE to complete (or at least work on). I also make sure that I have some life-giving other work, like books loaded up in my kindle or in print versions, great music, and maybe some plans to step out a bit. Even on a retreat, I sometimes need a retreat.

You might even make a list of things you WON'T do. Perhaps you will ignore social media for the time or you aren't going to check email. (Unless those are included in your priority tasks!) Go somewhere without wifi so that you can ignore the internet altogether.

(As a humorous note, I didn't intentionally add showering to the list of things I wouldn't do, but that's how it worked out on the last retreat I took. I stayed in a tiny house with an outdoor shower and a sudden cold front dropped the temps to the mid-30s. I returned home from the retreat rested...and a bit smelly.)

Once you know what your plans and priorities are, this might actually help narrow down where you go. If you're on a serious budget, you may have to choose place first or place based on price, whereas if you have flexibility, make a plan and then pick the best place.

BUDGET-FRIENDLY TIPS

With five kids, saying we are on a budget doesn't quite cover it. So how have I been able to afford 1-2 writing retreats a year? Here are my tips.

Be determined. If you REALLY feel strongly about having a retreat, you have to make it happen and give it the priority it deserves. Because I feel like these are incredibly important, I've shared that with my husband, who totally supports me in this.

Between his help and my parents, I didn't pay for childcare, which would have been the biggest expense otherwise. If you don't have kids, that's one less cost/concern, but if you DO, you must try to your spouse or support system understand why you need a retreat and then ask for help.

Check first for free options. I have done several retreats house-sitting for friends. Put a call out on Facebook or other social media (if you dare) to ask if anyone has a place. Look for someone who has a garage apartment, guest room, RV, vacation home, or simply works long hours and has an empty home.

Several times I stayed with a friend who had no kids and who worked until around 9pm at night. That gave me tons of daytime hours and then we often hung out for a bit at night. If people know that you are someone who wants to take retreats, they may consider letting you know when they travel and have an empty home.

Use VRBO or AirBNB. I cannot say enough about these sites and how incredible they've been for my travel. You can choose simply a room in a house or look for a tiny home or other cheaper option. If you want an inspiring location, you can find that, but if you just need a space to work that has wifi, you can look for that too.

Pro Tip: Be sure to check the cleaning fee. Some places that are $30 per night have a $30 cleaning fee, which ends up making it as or more expensive than other options. Also do make sure there is wifi if needed.

In December I stayed at a tiny home in the country with cows right outside my door. It was amazing! There was no TV, so I simply wrote. When I needed a break, I headed into the small town to eat something or just look around.

You never know what you'll find on these sites, so if you haven't tried them, definitely see what's in your area or nearby.

Pack food. If you are on a super tight budget, you could bring your own meals if possible. Even if you stayed in a Motel 6 or something with a mini fridge and microwave, you could buy frozen meals for a few dollars a piece. Anything you get at a grocery store would likely be cheaper than eating out, so do check for a place that has the kitchen options you need.

Be food frugal. I wrote a post on my lifestyle blog about the best foods for family travel, and that might be good to check out. Almost every fast food place has a dollar or value menu. Breakfasts as dinners are often a great choice.

I tend to treat myself to at least one nice meal (can I get an Amen from people who love eating alone at restaurants??), but otherwise stock up on things from the grocery or dollar menu.

Take what you get. My ideal writer's retreat would be on a beach, have lots of wine and great food, and maybe be for like a week. Typically I get one night, maybe two, sometimes in a guest bedroom eating salad from a bag. IT'S STILL AMAZING. And maybe one day when my kids are older and I'm making bank, I'll be writing from a Greek Island.

Have you prioritized having a writer's retreat? What would you do if you had a day or night to yourself to write?

I hope that these tips help! If you feel like it's something that could never happen for you, I would encourage you to make it a priority, get the people who support you on board, save up or plan a super budget-friendly option, and MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Do you have any other tips that I missed? Share here in the comments or in the Facebook community!

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