©2020 by Sarah Penner 

Photo credits - Alison Moore Photography

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DIY Writing & Revision Retreats

I've always loved the idea of a writing retreat. I imagine a one-bedroom cabin nestled on some snowy mountain; a typewriter in front of a window; a blazing fireplace just behind me; and endless, unhurried hours to churn through revisions.

 

Retreats like this do exist. They'll even bring food to your door three times a day, and there are often "mixers" in the evenings where writers can workshop together and drink wine.

I've never done a traditional writing retreat like this. It's not that I'm principled against them, it's just that I'd rather save the cash (and vacation time) for other things, like writing conferences or research trips.

But when Draft I of THE LOST APOTHECARY was complete, I needed a writing retreat. I could do without the cabin in the mountains, but I most definitely needed a few good days alone with my manuscript — no husband, no dog, no job, no chores — to explore my characters and identify key plot gaps or missing scenes.

 

Enter the DIY writing retreat: an intensive, 3-day, self-designed retreat close to home, for a fraction of the cost of a traditional retreat.

 

I developed a schedule well in advance, which I've summarized below, and I wrote down my objectives and goals for the retreat. I even looked at "real" writing retreat agendas in order to build out my own.

 

Ultimately, the outcomes of this intensive revision retreat would assist me in Draft II revisions.

 

Below, I've included my tips for planning your own DIY writing or revision retreat and a sample 3-day agenda.

Tips for Planning a DIY Writing or Revision Retreat

Find the right space. I'm lucky to have access to a family vacation home nearby, so I was able to escape to a location where I was alone, yet also familiar with my surroundings. I realize this isn't possible for most people. I highly suggested scouting out air B&Bs in nearby towns; outside city limits, country cottages often rent for cheap. Tell the owner you're a writer; they may very well cut the price even more. (Think carefully about hotels: personally, I struggle to focus at those little wall-facing desks.)

 

Set your objectives. Before my DIY retreat, I listed exactly what I wanted to get out of the retreat, all of which would be necessary to propel me into Draft II of my manuscript:

  • Lengthy character explorations on my three POV characters;

  • A clear sense of my "information reveal" (difficult in multi-POV and/or multi-timeline narratives);

  • A list of missing scenes; and

  • A game plan for Draft II.

Be realistic about your productivity. We all work, write, and read at different speeds. When drafting, I tend to write 750-1,000 words per hour. When revising, I tend to get through a page (about 350 words) in 3 minutes. Know your own trends. When you set out to list your objectives, don't shoot for the stars. Keep it real and err on the conservative end of things, or you'll find your confidence waning on Day 1.

 

Know how, and when, you work best. When planning the agenda of your DIY writing retreat, work with — not against — your natural habits. I'm a morning person: my best writing is done as the sun comes up. For this reason, I scheduled my most challenging, critical-thinking tasks for the morning. Late afternoons consisted of free-thought tasks like brainstorming, explorations, and reading (and no more than two glasses of vino!)

 

Run your race. I work best in sprints. This means 45 minutes on, 5-15 minutes off. I know loads of writers who thrive on this system, but maybe it isn't your jam. If you prefer 2.5 hours of solid, mind-boggling word immersion followed by a half-hour of head-banging to rock music, by all means, do it.

 

Get up and move. I've seen it firsthand: too many writers sacrifice their mental and physical health for their work. But as I've observed those in my writing circles, I am positive there is a direct correlation between health and productivity. Those who get sick often, or struggle regularly with periods of despair, also lack in discipline and consistent output. Health is vitally important to me, so I scheduled a 5-mile run on my DIY retreat and made sure to pack plenty of healthy, low-sugar snacks.

 

Remember, this is work. When I set my writing retreat agenda, I didn't make room for much "downtime" like naps, dinners out, TV, etc. This is work, and I treated it no differently than a real workday at my office job. Identify what "downtime" looks like for you, and stay disciplined.

 

Set social media rules. I use the "Do Not Disturb" feature on my iPhone every single day. On your retreat, commit to using social media only during breaks. Do not ever let technology own you. It is a tool. If it becomes an obsession, or the reason that you're not hitting your goals, throw that sh*t away. Seriously.

 

Sample DIY Revision Retreat Agenda (3 days)

*Note: Like any first draft, my manuscript needed significant developmental and structural edits. In two future features, I will outline my revision process. For now, please be aware that the revision objectives for your DIY retreat may look vastly different than mine. This is simply to show you the general outline of my retreat.

Objectives

 

1. In-depth character explorations on three POV characters.

 

2. Organize information reveal & timeline.

 

3. Identify missing scenes (derived from objective #2) that need to be written in Draft II.

 

4. Form game plan and timeline for Draft II.

Prework

 

Full read-through of manuscript (assume 80k words) to re-orient with key plot points.

 

Download 2-3 writing- or creativity-related podcasts for breaks.

 

Set reading goals (if any) for fiction, or writing- and craft-related books.

 

 

Day 1

 

6 am Wake-up, shower, breakfast

 

7 am Organize information reveal & timeline (first 20k)

 

8 am Identify (don't write!) missing scenes (first 20k)

 

10 am Organize information reveal & timeline (second 20k)

 

11:30 am Lunch & break

 

12:30 pm Identify missing scenes (second 20k)

 

2 pm Exercise

 

3 pm Character exploration 1 of 3

 

5 pm Podcast, read

 

6 pm Dinner & break

 

7 pm Character exploration 2 of 3

 

9 pm Done for the day, leisure, early to bed

 

Day 2

 

6 am Wake-up, shower, breakfast

 

7 am Organize information reveal & timeline (third 20k)

 

8 am Identify missing scenes (third 20k)

 

10 am Organize information reveal & timeline (final 20k)

 

11:30 am Lunch & break

 

12:30 pm Identify missing scenes (final 20k)

 

2 pm Exercise

 

3 pm Character exploration 3 of 3

 

5 pm Podcast, read

 

6 pm Dinner & break

 

7 pm Re-outline manuscript (3-5 pages) given new information reveals & missing scenes identified thus far

 

9 pm Done for the day, leisure, early to bed

 

 

Day 3

 

6 am Wake-up, shower, breakfast

 

7 am Given new information reveal, timeline, and character explorations,

 

drop the plot points of the new outline (for each POV character) into 6-column chart.*

 

 

External

 

Goal/Conflict/Disaster

 

 

Internal

 

Reaction/Dilemma/Decision

 

 

11:30 am Lunch & break

 

12:30 pm Finish 6-column chart

 

5 pm Give yourself a pat on the back & head home!

 

 

*I will cover this chart in more detail in a future feature regarding developmental revisions. This tool, which many published authors use in early revisions, was a game-changer for me.

Thanks for reading! If you've got questions about your next DIY writing retreat, drop me a line! And don't forget to subscribe to my site so you won't miss a single update!