My DIY Writing Retreat

Recently Deb talked about creating your own writing residency. *Sigh* a whole WEEK devoted to writing. Oh I get all a twitapated just thinking about it, but for now, with two active kids and a husband with an insane travel schedule, a week away devoted solely to my writing is just not feasible. For now, I squeeze my writing getaways in where I can.

Last spring, I attended the New England Romance Writer’s Conference and stayed an extra night to write. It was lovely. Last month, the only week my husband was home, I traveled to Detroit for work. I extended the trip by a day and a half and devoted that time to writing. I’m thrilled to say I added more than 8,000 words to my work in progress. There were a couple of key factors that make these little writing retreats work for me.

My writer's perch (a long couch in the hotel room, my "view" of the parking garage, an original Olga with fries and wine with cookies.

Location, location, location!

Both of these retreats took place in hotels that cater to business travelers. One was located in a business park, and most recently, I stayed at the Detroit airport.  There was no beautiful scenery to draw me away, no tourist attractions that I “really shouldn’t miss.” Basically, I had permission to just hang out in my room guilt-free.

The other side of the location coin, is picking a place that isn’t so isolated that you go stir crazy. Yes, I need to focus on my writing, but the four walls of a hotel room can start to close in after too much time and crush your creativity. The conference hotel was in an office park but it was near a mall so there were a number of dining options (and a Starbucks) within walking distance.  Detroit has a public transportation system that runs to and from the airport. With a few quick swipes, I was able to find a bus route that stopped at a nearby mall. Even better? I found a an location of a restaurant chain (Olga’s Kitchen) that I hadn’t eaten at since I was in high school. Triple play? There was a Target across from the mall that sold beer and wine this allowed me to stock up on motivation and rewards (I’ll explain that later).

Set Goals

For both of my getaways, I set goals that weren’t cakewalks, but weren’t so ridiculous I’d be stressed out or ignore them completely.   Last spring, I was plotting, This time, I was just flat out writing. I set my goal at 5,000 words on the day that I was supposed to have the full day to write (again more on that in a minute) and 3,000 for the half day.  I ended up writing until I was halfway through my flight home, BUT, I made my goal with a little padding.

Expect the unexpected (and roll with it)

I was supposed to have all day Friday and half the day Saturday just to write, heh, yeah, best laid plans and all that. I ended up having to attend to a few work details on Friday morning, so I didn’t start writing in earnest until after lunch. Saturday I also ended up working on tasks that needed to be completed on site. Since that’s why I was there in the first place, I couldn’t exactly say no. However, this is where creating goals that were a bit of a reach but not overwhelming worked well.

Plan ahead

As Deb mentioned in her post, plan a head and clear your desk before you leave, so when you come back you aren’t playing catch up.

I didn’t do as good a job at this as I could have. It would have been better if I could have cleared my inbox(es) before I left, but that just didn’t happen. Instead, I finished my original onsite commitments a little early, so I took the time to wipe out my emails before I sat down to write. When I did finally sit down to write, it was with a clear conscience.

I *could* conceivably have stayed until Sunday, but I knew that would throw off my weekly routine of meal planning and grocery shopping. So, coming home later Saturday afternoon made more sense for me.

Motivate and reward yourself

Plan a head and build in times to reward yourself for your efforts. Since I got such a late start on Friday, I set a goal of 2,000 words before I left for my dinner adventure. That way when I stopped, I felt like I’d achieved something.

While I was out, I stopped at Mrs. Fields Cookies and bought 5,000 word reward. When I was at Target I bought a bottle of wine as a little motivation (plus it was cheaper than going to the hotel bar).

All in all I was pleased by the outcome of my mini writer’s retreat and I can’t wait to do it again.

How do you fit in focused writing time?


Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at She has been a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

22 thoughts on “My DIY Writing Retreat

  1. Lee, This is a terrific way to sneak in short residencies and all good advice. I especially like your decision to return on Saturday in order to pick up your weekly household routine on Sunday. I know it sounds so humdrum, but I find getting the household on humdrum allows for so much more possibility – and time – at the desk. Great post! – Deb.

    • Returning Sunday meant I could keep my daily 1,000 word goal in place for the following week. I didn’t want to take 1 step forward and two steps back. 🙂

  2. I’ve been contemplating using a friend’s place to get away and write. When I set a goal to write at home I get distracted. I don’t feel right about writing when the bed needs clean sheets and the laundry basket is overflowing. It’s just me in the house so it really shouldn’t matter but the clutter will clutter my mind. If I can schedule some time away I think I’d be more productive. I also have a spare room in my house with a long desk in it. I used to make jewelry in this space. It has just recently occurred to me, I’m slow to come to some realizations, that I can move the jewelry accessories out and the pad, paper and laptop in. A new goal! 🙂

    • Do it! Do both things. Use your friends place to remind you of how much you want to write then slowly get the spare room in order. If it doesn’t have a door (so you can’t see the clutter), you can use curtains to block your view.

  3. It was great to hear how you rewarded yourself by buying a nice bottle of wine(umm..hope it was a french wine!…great idea!), and also getting some cookies when you reached your 5,000 word reward. Brilliant way to twice reward yourself for your hardwork. Keep it up!

    • Oh, sorry to disappoint you. I drink cheap wine and cheap beer. Now rum? That’s a different story. The wine was less of a reward and more of a relaxation device 🙂

      • That’s okay, I used to drink Le plait d’or which was a fantastic french wine, but unfortunately the supermarkets stopped selling it, and as a part time cleaner on a very low wage, I drink mini bottles of wine, but still a joy to have with my pasta dinner. Again keep up the great blogging posts. Their fab to read and to be inspired.

  4. I love this! I traveled last month and having one night – just one night! – in a hotel room by myself led to great things in my writing. I’m now addicted to the idea of a DIY writing residency… and I live in The Middle of Nowhere so I can probably find a cheap hotel not too far away. Hmm. Must think…
    Thanks again!

  5. I’m jumping on the train too… I’ve done a few nights/weekends away where I’ve just gone by myself to somewhere quiet to read, write, practice yoga, drink tea… but I really like these tips to make it a more productive writing residency and really achieve something. This is happening after Christmas!

  6. Great job creating your own space, time, and place to write! I love to journal. I have my journal at home that stays at home in addition to my “catch-all” book that I carry with me. It serves as a reminder book for important dates, a place to record aha moments and lightbulb breakthroughs, and a place to record the highlights of my adventures. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I once edited a heap of pages when I found myself with a few extra hours in an all but abandoned hotel bar (very meta as I was editing my book *about* a hotel, Room 702). Well planned and thank you for sharing! Congrats on your word count – very inspiring.

  8. Great advice. Sometimes, it can be very hard to schedule time to write especially with a home to keep and if you have deadlines, it becomes very frustrating. Now, I know I can get some alone time when I travel and pen down those words!

  9. I think that the advice is great. I think inspiration shilud also be counted in this list. On my last trip, I got to stay for two days in a hotel near great green hills. I sat in the hotel balcony and enjoyed the fresh breeze. For inspiration I read Heidi and it stuffed me with ideas. At night I lay awake there and placed a lamp. I wrote a beautiful draft there.

  10. Tip for writers on a tight budget: If you have a friend who has better means than you have to enjoy her own weeklong retreat as well as seven adorable pussycats, offer to feed them for a week – live in. At least two days will be spent doing headcounts, opening and shutting the front door, trying to get the hang of their feeding routine and thinking you’re getting nowhere fast, but around 48 hours before you are about to leave, you will make enormous progress …

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