Daily Archives: October 9, 2022

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How to Plan a Writers Retreat by Kitty Bucholtz

October 9, 2022 by in category Writing

Yesterday, I was so happy to host another in-person and Zoom writers retreat at my home. I’ve been to lots and hosted several over the last few decades, and I just love all the creative energy driving people to get more done faster in a fairly stress-free environment.

In case you want to host one but don’t know where to start, this is what I did.

  • Look over my home and guesstimate how many people could comfortably work on laptops for a day, and how many people could comfortably eat together
  • Make a list of local friends who might be interested and decide if I wanted to open it up to non-locals via Zoom (or any of the other video services)
  • Contact friends individually and add the interested ones to a group chat (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, etc.)
  • After double-checking my calendar, offer three dates to the group and ask which ones work, choose the one that works best
  • Decide if I wanted to prepare the food myself, or if we’d do a potluck; make sure everyone posted allergies, then create a menu; decide if I wanted to take on the cost or distribute it evenly
  • Send reminder messages a few weeks before and create a schedule so everyone knows what to expect and we don’t accidentally talk most of the day
  • Send final reminders in the few days before with a list of things to bring: laptop, cords, chargers, extension cords (if I don’t have enough), food/snacks/drinks if applicable, sticky notes, pens, etc.
  • Do a little housecleaning the day before, and set the coffee on about ten minutes before the arrivals
  • Have some encouraging words ready, remind people of the schedule and where to find drinks and snacks, open Zoom if applicable, and start on time
  • Ask everyone what they accomplished at the end of the retreat and celebrate everyone’s successes!

For me, the key to success was to make sure I created an atmosphere where I, too, would get a lot of writing done. That meant that I picked my writing friends carefully and didn’t have too big a group. (We found that 4-6 additional people besides me and John fit comfortably in our apartment.) After we did this successfully once, THEN I asked if they wanted to do it again.

When first asking the group about a date, I found it was better to limit the date choices to a few I knew would work for me rather than to look at the entire calendar and ask everyone to pick one date that they could all commit to. (I made that mistake first!)

I also made sure that my husband John and I only committed to the amount of hospitality we wanted to provide. In our case, John loves to cook and he chose to make both breakfast and lunch! But he chose meals that were easy for him to prepare and easy to clean up after. (If you’re wondering, yesterday we had peanut butter chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, and his amazing grilled cheese with sweet potato soup for lunch!) For the first two retreats, yesterday and this past July, we decided to buy all the groceries and prepare all the food and ask everyone to chip in a set amount that was approximately equal to what we’d spent. Next time, we’ll do a potluck because now all my different friends know each other and everyone wants to contribute and work together.

We have a “great room” rather than separate areas for kitchen, dining room, and living room, so everyone was able to spread out over that whole area, and I connected my laptop to the TV so everyone could see our Zoom friends and they could see us. John and I worked in our offices, giving the others more room and allowing us to work in a setup we already enjoyed. Both times we started about ten minutes late because we were all happily talking over pancakes for an hour. Haha! But some friendly nudges every time it was time to start again got everyone back to their computers and we completed all the sprints close to the times on the schedule. (I set an alarm on my phone for each sprint.)

My schedule, in case it’s helpful as you’re planning your day, was:
9-10am Breakfast
10-10:30 Sprint 1, shorter to give people time to get back in the writing mindset
15-minute breaks between them to stretch, etc. and to share accomplishments
10:45-11:30 Sprint 2
11:45-12:30 Sprint 3
12:45-1:45 Lunch
1:45-2:45 Brainstorming, plotstorming, etc. (we used part of this time to do a “How to Create a TikTok Video”, and everyone who wanted to created an account and followed each other)
2:45-3:30 Sprint 4
3:45-4:30 Sprint 5
4:45-5:30 Sprint 6, getting tired, asked people if they want to do one more or stop, they always continue
5:45-6:30 Sprint 7 — Done!
6:30 – Ask each person what they accomplished for the day, CELEBRATE! Then some people have to leave, ask others if they want to order pizza, collapse on the couch and decompress, eventually everyone leaves, YOU finally collapse and tell yourself you’ll clean up the kitchen tomorrow 🙂

My little group works so well together that we decided to do this quarterly, so our next one will be in January. For friends outside my time zone who want to sprint via Zoom, I tell them the time and they decide when they want to arrive and leave. One person was going to write from when she woke up until we finished, about noon her time. Another is a night owl, so she wrote with us the entire time — 3am until almost noon her time! A few of us will probably get together at my place a couple Saturdays in November now that we know this will work — but for that we’ll get pizza or sandwiches or takeout so no one is cooking and we can write even more.

I hope this was helpful as you consider what you could do to create a writers retreat. Remember that one of the main points is that YOU also get a lot of writing done! Enjoy!

Writers retreat over breakfast
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