Now that I’ve written about the experience of my first ever writer’s retreat, I thought I’d share some of my tips for getting the most out of a retreat and what to take into account when prepping for a writing trip!
Check facilities ahead of time:
Check with your writer’s retreat as to what facilities are provided in terms of cooking, cleaning and even laundry services. After all, you are going to be staying there for at least a few days! In my case, the KSP centre were amazing – the cabins come equip with a microwave, small fridge, toaster, kettle and even an oven toaster. They even had cutlery and plates provided! Towels and shower gel were also provided so I didn’t have to pack these (though I brought my own mini bath pack), and they even had laundry facilities, which I didn’t end up using as I was only there for a short stay but I can imagine that would be great for those who were on a longer sojourn. Knowing what is and isn’t provided can make sure you’re packing the necessities and leaving out stuff you don’t have to bring, and saves you from spending an hour of your precious retreat time driving out looking for a convenience store from which to buy toothpaste or something. And it’s also good for…
Food prep depends a lot on your length of stay. If you’re on a long stay at your writer’s retreat or flying in from out of town, you’d probably want to take time out from writing to dine at the local restaurants and catch some of the sights. However, if you’re on a short stay and wanted to make the most of your time (after all, one of the main reasons for a writer’s retreat is to avoid all the usual distractions and social outings that could tear you away from your computer!), you might want to think about doing some food prep ahead of your stay.
On the morning that I left for my retreat, I cooked up a huge batch of yummy cashew chicken stir-fry that I packed in a few containers to take along so I could easily reheat and eat. I also stopped by the supermarket on the way in to pick up a loaf of bread, butter spread, crackers and dips for snacks. Knowing what kitchen facilities are provided will help you decide what to cook or bring along, food-wise. Having this food prep was great as there aren’t many great choices for eating close by the KSP Centre and I didn’t have to waste time worrying about where my next meal was going to come from on my retreat.
On the whole, if you’re staying for a few days, I would suggest a basic food prep of:
1) Two or three batches of hot food – i.e. dishes you could heat up in a microwave and which would last well over a few days. Some examples are a healthy stir fry, casserole, a hearty soup or curries (curries have a strong smell, but they’re great because they always taste better on the second and third day!). With all the above choices, you could pack them full of whatever meat and vegetables you want, so you could be sure of a healthy balanced meal without the fuss! If there’s not any heating facilities, you could also go with a pasta or quinoa salad that would taste good without needing to be reheated.
2) Snacks – a busy writer is a hungry writer! Keep the cravings at bay with some crackers or breadsticks and dips, fresh fruit, cheeses, yogurt cups, and some chocolates as treats.
3) A loaf of bread – two slices of buttered toast and a cup of tea in the morning was my mainstay for breakfast while at the retreat. And you could also toast some of that bread up to serve with a soup for lunch or dinner too!
4) Drinks – there’s always water on tap (very important to stay hydrated!), but I also brought along a selection of teabags and a couple of small bottle of juices to the cabin for some extra drink choices.
5) A bottle of wine – in my defence, this was for the writer’s group meeting I was attending!! But there’s also nothing better than unwinding with a book and glass of wine after a long day of writing.
I was lucky to live close by my writer’s retreat and could drive there so I had a car and could get to places easily enough. But if you’re flying in from out of town, it’s always a good idea to check Google Maps and see what shops are close by so you could make a quick trip via taxi or bus to stock up on food.
Set Clear Goals:
Before you arrive at your retreat, make a short – very short – list of the things you would like to achieve at your writer’s retreat so you have a clear idea of exactly what you would like to get done in your time there. I say very short because you don’t want to get too ambitious and overwhelmed by a long list of things that you just couldn’t achieve in your time at the retreat. Stick to just two or three goals, max. And if you want, you can even create a mini list of steps to follow to help you achieve each of these goals. For example, if your goal is to write 1500 words a day, you could have a list of mini steps such as – a) write five hundred words in the morning, b) write seven hundred words in the afternoon, and so on and so forth. Or you could spread your day into portions such as Morning – plot your next chapter, Afternoon – Write rough draft of said chapter out, and Night – edit rough draft of said chapter.
It’s easy to feel that you have to be writing every single second of your time at your writer’s retreat. But you don’t want to burn yourself out by the second day either! Make sure you set aside time for short breaks so you’re not just chained to your desk with cramped legs, hunched shoulders and blurry eyes from staring at your laptop. Take a little time out every hour to get up and move around, go for a walk, do deep knee bends, breathe some fresh air and look at some greenery. Trust me, you’ll feel better for it. And this way, you have less chance of knocking yourself out halfway into your writer’s retreat with carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrists and a massive headache from staring at your laptop for too long. Moderation is key.
Ensure you have all your equipment sorted:
If you’re working on your laptop, make sure it’s fully charged and that you have packed your charger! And if you’re flying overseas for your retreat (and in which case, lucky you!) check that you have the right power adaptors for your destination. Prepare USB sticks as secondary storage for your documents. Have your writing music playlist sorted. Ensure you’ve run all the updates on your laptop so it’s not going to crash on you the moment you get there. Make a list of the things you need such as notebooks, pens, books for reference, books for getting your creative juices going (having a Kindle helps immensely in travelling with books!) etc., and tick each item off the list as you pack them.
You’re at a writer’s retreat to write, not to spend hours on Facebook, Instagram or text messaging your friends. So turn off that phone and try not to go on the Internet unless you absolutely have to. You can check your messages and your social media on your breaks but on those long stretches of writing, turn it off so you will be distraction free. There was no TV in my cabin at KSP and no Internet (well, there was, but I chose not to hook onto it because I wanted to stay distraction-free.) The end result was I got a lot done because I was forced to – I literally had nothing else to do!
Though, having said that…
Plan a couple of other activities besides writing:
While it is absolutely heavenly to knuckle down and get some serious writing done with absolutely zero distractions, one or two days in and I found I was getting a bit stark raving mad and wild-eyed. Thank goodness for the writing groups that were available at the centre to meet up so I could spend a couple of hours away from my desk and return with fresh eyes.
So make sure you have one or two other activities planned – say a few episodes of your favourite show uploaded on your laptop that you wanted to catch up on, a book you wanted to read, some blogs online, a DIY meditation or yoga session, knitting – it doesn’t matter what you do, so long as it’s a) not writing and b) you limit yourself to short spurts so you can only spend, at most, an hour on said activity. Because after that, you are going back to writing.
You don’t have to do these things while you’re at your retreat but it’s good to know you have something on hand when you look up and find you’ve spend the last nine hours of the day writing nonstop and your brain is super fuzzy and you just want something to zone out to for an hour or two as a break before you go back to writing or to bed.
Light layers of clothing:
It was almost winter when I arrived at the KSP Centre and the nights were chilly so I was glad for the heating unit and a warm coat to snuggle into! There can be nothing worse than it being too hot or too cold when you’re trying to concentrate on your work. So bring a few light layers that you can take on or off depending on the temperature, and at least one thick blanket or coat – even summery beach days can taper off into chill nights, and you want to be prepared.
Bring one or two comfort items:
Not necessary, but it helps to pack a couple of comfort items, such as a pair of fluffy socks, a favourite pillow or a scented candle to set the atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be something major, but remember, you are going to be away from home. Some retreats can be super cozy and luxurious, while others are more utilitarian. In the latter case, it always helps having a couple of comfort items to make your writing spot feel more like a comfy home away from home where you can work to your heart’s content.