Writing Retreats Part Two: Tips for planning a great retreat

Good morning, Writers!

After last week’s post, I received tons of private emails asking me about planning a retreat. Thanks for your interest!!  It seems clear that writers (especially far away from the East Coast) want to know how they make their own events.

So today, I’m going to give you a few tips. (at least, the important ones)

Note:  If it sounds like too much work, you can always call me! (I love planning these events and I don’t mind traveling!)

For those who are ready to dive in and organize, let’s talk!

Tip #1:

Give yourself some time.

For the last nine years, I’ve been a co-organizer of the Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  I am a big believer in the power of a safe, inspiring writing community, and it is one of the most humbling things I do—making this experience happen for others. But even with all this experience, we need time to plan. We need to contact faculty. We need to talk about lectures. We need to reach out to potential participants. Every year we take many months to plan our event. We think about everything that could happen. We stay flexible.

If you are not flexible, this is HARD work.

Tip #2:

Start with a mission.

What do you want to happen at your event? Do you want quiet time? Or lectures? Critique opportunities? Time to read out loud? Do you want to unlock the subconscious? Talk marketing?

When I began planning the novel writing retreat at VCFA with Cindy Faughnan, we decided to offer the retreat to advanced writers. (For us that means: published writers, writers with MFA’s, or writers who have completed a draft.)  We wanted our retreat to be a time to talk craft ONLY.  Over the years, we have added a writing track to the traditional critique track. It allowed us to include more writers who might want to come hear lectures and write. Every year we evaluate what we offer and what we could offer. We look at our area and the other events. We find a time that doesn’t compete with other events.

If you don’t know what you want to accomplish, it’s hard to market your event!

Tip #3:

Know your strengths.

As an organizer, it’s good to know what you do well.

Not good at making a schedule? Hate talking to a group? Understand what you can offer to a group and then find someone else with different skills to help you.

I like chatting.

Tip #4:

Location, location, location.

Place is important in books. It’s essential for a retreat.

If your retreat is a small group or sleepover, a big house or hotel works fine. But for large groups, you may have to rent a space. This is a big expense, and it makes a big difference. A good facility can make add comfort or personality to your event.  It’s important to keep track of your budget, knowing you will have to pass on this expense to your retreaters.

It’s okay to rough it, but then the retreat should cost less.

Most important Tip #5:

What do you want????

And I don’t mean your characters. I mean…you. As an organizer, you can think about the other classes and conferences available to you. And you can plan your event to fill a niche. That includes bringing in faculty that YOU want to learn from.

Be honest!

Don’t like getting out of the house or even your PJ’s? I also teach online classes for writers.com. And I think that community is just as potent and supportive. (There is nothing more exciting than teaching! I learn so much from all my students.) If you are willing to communicate often, an online retreat can also be a great experience. For LOTS of writers.

The final word: remember: making a retreat is a big responsibility. People spend hard earned money to attend. Writers are people with dreams and hopes. Writers often work without any feedback or recognition. When you step up to plan an event, you will have the honor to meet new people, to inspire them, to help them take the next step. This is an amazing feeling. I hope these tips inspire you to try it!

Have a happy writing day!


If you are looking for a great online class, registration is open for Sarah’s Manuscript Review at writers.com. for this September. It’s a WONDERFUL experience. Email me with q’s!

Sarah Aronson