Staying motivated: Writing Retreats


Good morning from my lonely kitchen table!

The kids are gone. The coffee’s hot. It’s time to write!

Writing is mostly something I do alone (and I don’t think I’m alone on this). Although occasionally, I go out into the world to write at a café (my favorite is the King Arthur bakery, because it smells so good!), I mostly stay home. At my desk.


I’m VERY lucky to be able to work from home–there is not a day that I don’t appreciate my husband for making this possible–but  sometimes . . . sometimes . . . a girl needs to get out of her PJ’s and hang out with some other writers.

(This is also an example of how NOT to sit at a desk…..)


About three times a year, I go to retreats, organized gatherings of writers specifically designed to unlock the subconscious and kickstart my WIP.

Some of these retreats are loose and casual. No lectures. No planned discussions. Others are highly organized. Today I’ll talk “in the general.” Next week, we’ll get to specifics.


Obviously, we writers need feedback. We need to talk about the craft of writing. That’s why critique groups form. But getting together for an overnight with a few writers ALWAYS breaks me out of my shell.  At my favorite retreats, I have to do something scary…like share my work.

Great idea #1: At every retreat I attend, we organize an “open mike.” Each writer reads out loud for a short period of time. These readings are useful for a number of reasons: they provide recognition. (You’re a writer!!! You’ve been heard!!) Plus, there is NOTHING like reading your work out loud to understand what you have and haven’t done. A few weeks ago, I read a piece and realized that I forgot to insert the main character’s name. Hearing myself read helped me figure that out fast.

Retreats help you learn the craft!

I write better when I’m learning, when I am engaging in the “conversation.” When I can stay up all night talking about craft, it always works to unlock some idea I’ve been avoiding! Although I’m a girl who usually needs her sleep, this marathon of discussion always works to weaken my resistance to some new idea. It helps me reconsider what I need to make my draft work.

Great Idea #2: Can only get away for one night? Have a writer sleep over! Even two other writers (and a good meal) will do the trick. Do you have a writer friend who can get the conversation started? Even better.

At this year’s Novel Writing Retreat at VCFA, Bruce Black talked about the connection between yoga and writing. It was amazing! That theme helped me figure out a lot of ideas for my WIP.

When you retreat, you find out you’re NOT alone.

As writers, we all face the same problems: we edit too much. Or we experience fear…fear that our writing won’t measure up, won’t sell, won’t be reviewed well, won’t be read . . .

FEAR is a big problem. Every day we walk into the unknown. Our internal editors put us down.

When I retreat, I get to hear how EVERYONE feels that way.  We talk about it and figure out ways to deal with it.

Great Idea #3: Use your retreat to SET GOALS. Make yourself accountable not just to yourself, but to your work. Look ahead at your year and acknowledge when it will be hard to write (daughter going to college, family events), and when it will be easier. Know WHO YOU ARE….what are your other responsibilities? By setting short, medium, and long term goals (and that includes movie premiers….) WITH YOUR WRITING FRIENDS, you say

I CAN DO IT!!!!!

It means you are saying:


(Remember: every time you meet a goal, you get to celebrate!)

Next week, I’m going to write about a few specific retreats that are open to writers. In the mean time, let’s discuss: how do you create community? How do you stay connected to the writing world??? What tricks do you have for meeting with other writers???

Sarah Aronson teaches online writing classes at and organizes seminars and retreats. She believes that getting out of the house can help you stay motivated!

Sarah Aronson