Thursday, February 19, 2009

Inexpensive Writing Retreats

Camy here, feeling the crunch of the economy just like all of you. But sometimes, you need something to jumpstart your creativity or to kick you out of a writing block.

Writing retreats are wonderful things, because they can do many different things:

--Help to immerse you in that creative right brain mode so you can get “in the zone”

--Give you that kick in the pants you need to plow through a writing block or a difficult patch of writing

--Eliminate distractions that might be keeping you from writing effectively or efficiently

--Help you to focus and pay attention to details

But let’s face it, writing retreats are expensive.

Fear not! Camy the Cheapskate is here to give you some ideas for how you can make your own mini writing retreat for very little moolah.

Writing retreats don’t have to be for days at a time

A good writing retreat can be for only a few hours. That time of undistracted writing can be just what you need to Go Forth And Write when you get back to the “real world.”

If you can swing a day or two, that’s great. But if you can only swing a few hours, then try for that instead.

Childcare/Husbandcare options

Most writers have to think about their families first before planning any type of time away to write.

If your husband can’t take care of your kids while you’re gone, consider cheap alternatives:

--Trading babysitting time with a friend
--Hiring a high school student
--Grandparents/aunties/cousins/siblings who can take care of your kids for you for a few hours or maybe even a few days. Don’t discount out of state family, because your writing retreat can be anywhere.

You can also consider forking over the money for daycare if you make the rest of your retreat inexpensive. It might be a viable option for you if you don’t have any others.

Husband/Wifecare: This is more tricky, but you know your spouse’s needs and can plan ahead to meet them while you’re gone.

For example, if they can’t cook, then make and freeze a few meals. If they can’t pick up the kids from daycare, arrange with a friend or relative to pick the kids up for only a day or so. If they can’t drive, arrange for transportation from a friend or make them take the bus.

Once you’ve taken care of the fam, you can go somewhere for a few hours or a few days and just concentrate on your writing without stressing about what’s going on at home.

Location, location, location

ANYWHERE can be a good writing retreat, as long as it meets your writing needs—usually just a plug for your computer, or not even that if you use an Alphasmart.

Ideally, we’d all love to hole ourselves up in a nice cabin in the woods with no distractions, no cars, nothing but the sweet sound of nature and our fingers clicking the keyboard.

But that isn’t always a viable option. So be creative:

--hotel rooms (you can sometimes find a cheap rate at a nearby hotel—just far enough away that the kids can’t walk in the door but not too far)

--a room in a neighbor’s/friend’s/relative’s house (be careful that the host knows you don’t want to be disturbed)

--a room at your workplace, if you can arrange things with your boss and if you know no one will disturb you

--a café or restaurant

--a library

Also, think outside the box—would it cost more for you to rent a hotel room or to drive or fly a short distance away to an understanding friend’s home, where you can write in a spare bedroom for free? Would it be cost effective to drive to a family member’s home (even if it’s in a different state) to drop off the kids, then go to a library or café (or a hotel room or a friend’s house) to write?

Try to eliminate Internet and cell phone usage

I know this sounds hard, but a writing retreat is for you to WRITE. And it’s too easy for people to call or email or IM and say, “I know you’re writing, but…”

They especially do this when they know you’re not far away. In fact, the likelihood of you being disturbed decreases with your distance from your family while you’re writing.

So if you’re going to be away for a few days, arrange with family to have your phone on for a certain period of time each day so they can call if they need something, but otherwise, the phone and your Internet connection is going to be OFF.

If you’re only on a retreat for a few hours, the family can WAIT or LEAVE A MESSAGE. Or if it’s a real emergency, someone can drive to come get you.


Even if you don’t eat while writing, if you’re going to be away during any mealtimes, you need to figure out how to eat inexpensively and also conveniently, because you don’t want to have to stop to go to McDonald’s when you’re right in the middle of a great scene.

Plan ahead—make sandwiches and stock up on snacks. Buy or fill water bottles, make sure you have all your meds, and arm yourself for several hours of blissful writing time.

Also, if you need music or aromatherapy or whatever, pack those things as well.

It’s worth it

This might seem like a lot of work just for uninterrupted writing time, but you’d be amazed at how productive you can be. More importantly, you’ll be amazed to realize how much you’re normally distracted when you write at home.

You obviously can’t have a mini writing retreat every week, but once every few months might be worth it to keep your sanity and your writing productivity.

Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Her novel Single Sashimi is out now, and she runs the Story Sensei critique service. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels every Monday and Thursday, and she ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for monthly giveaways!


  1. Camy, I love this post. And I have to brag on you and Captain Caffeine here for taking me into your home and allowing me to write a deadline book.

    That time was just what I needed. This post brought back very pleasant memories of my time there.



  2. Camy, these are great ideas for both short and long getaways. Good job, my friend!

    And I love the stock up on brain food idea. My brain food is M&M peanuts. Gazillions of them. And some kind of diet drink to offset the mega-worthless-calories I'm ingesting while the three pound Sam's bag of delicious chocolatey goodness lies to my left.

    Thanks for the tips and the cost-effective ideas. Perfect.

    Hey, I also brought some warm breakfast croissants, stuffed with sausage, egg and cheese. Soooo good. And there's fresh coffee in the carafes to your right. Flavored creamer of the day:

    Italian sweet creme...

    because they run out of it at our stores, too!


  3. Camy,

    These are great ideas. You've thought of everything to cover and a variety of possible locations.
    I tend to beat myself up about the fact that I can't always write even when I'm home by myself. It's nice to know others have the same struggles with distractions.

    My biggest obstacle to this would be telling my family I need to do it. It feels like admitting I lack the discipline to write at home where I "should" be able to.

    I have even been tempted to make arrangements for going to a conference or even a writer meeting and then just fly the coop and go somewhere to write instead.

    I'll need to think through why I feel so guilty about a retreat as opposed to other activities I do to bolster my career. The money is part of it, but you've given some great options to help with that.


  4. Mmmm ... now that my husband has retired and plans to work at home with me in our tiny, little office ... day after day ... nerve after nerve ... Uh, I just might need some writing retreats!! :)

    Great post, Camy, and great ideas. Hope to try any number of them.


  5. I'd like to reserve the first week in May at the Camster Hotel please. Non smoking room with a view of the bay.

    Actually these are awesome ideas, thanks for sharing.

  6. Thanks, Camy, for the excellent suggestions for implementing writing retreats. Even without children at home, I get sidetracked with the phone and chores around the house. I know one writer who leaves home every day to write for that very reason.

    Thanks, Ruthy, for the yummy croissants!

    Julie, your d/h may be wise to find his own office space. :-)


  7. My fondest dream is a Seeker Writing Retreat.

    ONe of these days we're going to make it, ladies. It'll be an annual event.

    We can rotate around the country having it at each other's houses.

  8. Great ideas, Camy! I really do need a writing get away because I don't accomplish enough at home. Or maybe I just need to discipline myself. No, I love the idea of a real get away.

  9. Mare, I love the idea of a Seeker retreat, away from the craziness of conferences, etc.

    With either proximity to Starbucks or cheap convenience store cappuccinos.

    I'm soooooooo not fussy.

    And I can't wait until there's enough space on the Island to host writing retreats there for our writing friends. We'll have a ball.

    And learn.

    And I'm tough, I have no problem brow-beating seemingly nice people into producing good stuff. If they mess up I make them run a lap around the athletic fields.

    And I'm not talking VIRTUAL athletic fields, either. Oh, no. Nothing but the real ones for slackers.

    Heh, heh, heh....


    Former Soccer Coach Ruthy


  10. Ruthy, thank you for sharing your Italian sweet cream!! I may just steal the bottle. (Actually, I recently found it at Walmart and bought 5 bottles!! LOL)

    Camy, you gave some great ideas! Lynette Eason and I recently did this. We met halfway between our houses (we're about 2.5 hours apart) and rented a hotel suite. It was great! Although I had force myself to stay off the Internet.

    I like to get away to a different setting so I'm not tempted to answer the phone or wash a load of clothes or watch TV.

    I actually work best at the beach! I can focus and get more work done when I'm outside with the sound of the waves in the background. It's my dream to own a house or condo or at least a timeshare at the beach someday!

  11. Love these ideas. I usually take a mini-retreat to the library every couple of weeks. No internet, research materials at my fingertips, and someone else to enforce quiet.

    And it's WAY cheap.

    I've been known to use the coffee shop too, though I'm not a coffee drinker. I sure smell like java when I leave there, but the Earl Grey tea can't be beat.

  12. I'm right with you, Camy. A couple of years ago I told my husband that's what I wanted for Christmas -- a weekend away by myself to write. He found me a wonderful B&B about an hour from home and it was fabulous!!!

    Then a friend and I had a day-away retreat back in the fall. We have a monastery nearby so met there. Took some time to catch up, wrote beneath the ancient oaks for a couple of hours, went out to lunch, and came back to write some more. We decided next time we'll bring sandwiches so we don't have to leave so long.

    It's amazing how much more can get done when we just go somewhere different!

  13. Great post. I haven't gone on an official writing retreat, but I've had mini-ones at my house a couple times.

    It's so much easier to get a good chunk done when you set up the time and get all the distractions eliminated.

    Great post!

  14. Camy,

    Great Post!

    Due to budget constraints, I took an "inexpensive" writing retreat last year myself, and it was wonderful.

    I rented a "Yurt" at a coastal campground here in Oregon.

    It wasn't much more than the cost of a tent site, but it was MUCH more comfortable, and a perfect writing site.

    Basically, an office with a bed.

    Bed, table & chair, lights, heat and electricity, so I had a sheltered place to write and power to my laptop, got to sit around a campfire each night, walk in the woods (notebook in hand) and even took an afternoon off to fish in the lake.

    I scheduled it the week following Labor Day, and the place was practically deserted.

    It was awesome!

    I’m looking forward to incorporating some of your tips when I rent the same yurt this year!

    Thanks again,


  15. Great post, Camy!

    When I'm in a bind and can't get motivated, I head for a local Starbucks. Just a few hours gets me back on track. And I love seeing the people, hearing the background noise . . . somehow it feeds my creativity.

    If we ever did a Seeker retreat, I'd want to sit around and talk and giggle. Wouldn't work a bit, I'm afraid!

  16. Brilliant!

    I guess I'm doing a mini retreat right now. Kids are at school and DH, bless his heart, is having free pork chops at the fertilizer dealer open house.

    (As much as we pay these people, they can afford some chips, beans and potato salad with the chops!)

    If I can't go away, I can try and grab odd moments like this here and there.

    I'm going to get my GMC and character charts going here and get out a corner I painted myself into earlier.

    Later, gators!

  17. Ann!

    Pork chops sound good!

    Is he bringing some back?


    No take out at the fertilizer conventions, huh???


    You enjoy your down time and open a door from that corner.

    Man, I've been THERE!!!!

    That's when I started at least making brief notes since we know I won't chart anything.

    Have fun, kid.


  18. Come on Ladies!

    You’re missing the best job of all.

    Dog and cat sitting.

    People go on vacation and it is cheaper to pay you to take care of their pets in their homes than it is to board them. The pets like it better, too.

    (Tip: find out where the family is staying and have the pets mail them a “Wish You Were Here’ post card from home! After that, you have a job for life.)

    My wife has two friends who do this all summer and get paid $10 to $40 a day for sitting out by the pool and enjoying life. (These jobs are available all year, BTW)

    While you can sleep over at the house, you are not expected to be there all day nor do you have to sleep there.) You really should be a genuine pet lover as these people are usually crazy about their pets. Some even call to speak to their pets.

    Just let your vet know you’re available. Vets are often asked if they know any ‘responsible’ cat or dog sitters. (Just tell them you are a member of ACFW.)

    Single girls: no pool parties, please.

    Now, what I would do is seek a job in a light house while the keeper is on vacation. I’d also look for a fire tower job in a national forest while a ranger is on vacation or take the job for a week as a volunteer.

    Of course, an ideal solution would be to get your husband to build you a little studio in the back yard. It would increase the value of the house and might actually produce a sizeable return on investment once the royalties start coming in.

    Good luck,



    I would love a cat sitting job.

    This is a spectacular idea. I am going to tell my vet to keep me in mind. Dogs, now I cannot handle. But cats and I understand each other. (You don't eat my food and I won't eat yours.)

    This is brilliant.

  20. Cheryl--that was MY pleasure! I knew you needed the writing time and I had things to do too, but after we both finished our work, we got to hang out together!

    Ruthy--I LOVE M&M peanuts! In fact, I've got a package in the fridge right now (Captain Caffeine likes them, too, but he likes them chilled).

    Cathy--You're definitely not alone when it comes to trying to be productive when at home. Most of my most productive times are outside my home, too. It's hard to explain to family why that is, but part of it is the "availability" factor--if people know you're home, they feel no qualms about calling or emailing you, and any interruption can drag you out of "the zone." While unplugging yourself at home is an option, people still feel the right to try to contact you since they know you're there, and then they get mad when they can't. If you can convey that to your husband, at least, that might smooth things over when you tell them you need get away to write.

    Julie--you are the perfect candidate for a writing retreat!

    Tina, you are welcome at Chez Tang ANYTIME!!! Seriously!

    Janet--I totally get sidetracked by chores that need doing! It's as if the dishes in the sink are calling me telepathically..."I'm dirty...wash me...I'm going to keep you from writing until you do..."

    Mary, I would LOVE a Seeker writing retreat! That would be so much fun!

    Cara, sometimes discipline isn't enough. Sometimes you need the uninterrupted hours and the new place to jumpstart creative thinking.

    Missy--the BEACH???? I'm there, girlfriend!

    Erica, I love the library too. I get TONS done there.

    Leigh, you lucky girl!

    Lynn--totally! Next time, try one outside the home, too--just a different place can sometimes help your brain work even faster!

    Perry, that "yurt" sounds really great! I'd have loved something like that, too.

    Debby, when Cheryl and I are at a writing retreat, and when others start chatting, we just go off to a room by ourselves. You're welcome to join us!

    Ann--sounds great! If you can arrange to have something like that--maybe bribe the hubby to cook--one day a week or once every two weeks, that might be really great for your writing efficiency! You will actually find yourself writing better in the days after the retreat.

    Vince, housesitting is a great idea! I have a friend who does that once a year for a couple she knows, but I'm afraid those kinds of opportunities are too few and far between. I'd like to have a mini retreat once every two or three months, because it helps to improve my writing efficiency. Tina's idea of contacting her vet is fantastic!


  21. I am totally game for a Seeker writing retreat. Mary and I have been talking about trying to get one going for a while now, but seems like life keeps intervening. We might not get much actual writing done, but I think it would be so fun to brainstorm together! And like Ruthy said, without the distractions of the busy, crowded conference atmosphere.

  22. Myra, it would be so fun to brainstorm together! I mean, think of the possibilities of all our brains in the same room!

  23. "I mean, think of the possibilities of all our brains in the same room!"

    Now you're trying to scare me, aren't you?

  24. Camy,this is fabulous! I can't wait until we can do a retreat together... someday!

  25. It's hard to imagine a writing retreat. It sounds great, but home is the only place I've ever written. Going away has always meant I won't get to write at all! If everybody could be forced to leave me alone for a few hours every morning, do all the grocery shopping, cleaning and cooking, I wouldn't need a writing retreat.

    I guess I just proved why I do need one.

  26. I just noticed that Myra and Mary have the exact same four letters.

    I just think that is so intriguing. Especially that I never noticed before.

  27. Mel, trust me. You need a retreat.

    Stop spelling names in your Alphabets.

  28. Tina, I know, it's a little scary, but I think we could come up with some great story ideas for each other!

    Dream, I totally hope we can do a writing retreat with our friends someday!

    Melanie, the difference between "leaving your home" and "having a writing retreat" is mostly the mindset, but also your purpose. If I go to the library to write, I end up doing a lot of writing, moreso than I would have in that space of time at home. It's the fact that I'm inaccessible to the people in my life who would otherwise bother me "just for a second." Every interruption, even if it's for a few seconds, sets me back in terms of my right-brain creativity. If you get a chance to do a mini retreat, you'll see what I mean.


  29. Wow, Mel, I NEVER noticed that. (NOT!!!)

    M-Y-R-A = M-A-R-Y

    M-A-R-Y = M-Y-R-A

    Let me know if you'd like a signed copy of my latest release, Gingham Petticoats Celebrate an Imperfect Christmas at Mouse Ranch.