Writer’s Retreat. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When I signed up for my writer’s retreat, I was looking forward to a weekend away from the chaos of my life.

I had a vision of a sleepy little cabin and absolute quiet, with 7 others as focused as I was.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

My husband warned me, “There’s probably going to be alcohol.”

“No,” I said.  “These are grown women, not a bunch of kids.  We are all going there to write.”

He smiled and shook his head.  Geez, I hate it when he’s right.

When I got there, I went to the kitchen to put my stuff in the refrigerator, and found the table covered with enough liquor to fuel a small public bar.  Ummm… there are only eight of us, right?

There were a few other people there, and they were chatting.  That’s okay.  We were getting to know each other.  But of course, they would eventually stop to write, right?  Ugh.  No.

Eventually I left, and went to my room to try to write.  It was too uncomfortable, though.  So I went back to the kitchen and set up at the table, cranking my headphones to drown them out.

“It’s okay,”  I thought.  “Tomorrow, everyone will have this out of their system, and they will start writing.

Imagine my surprise when they started pouring alcohol into their orange juice at breakfast.

Thank goodness, someone thought up “quiet time.”  They set up an alarm clock and no one could talk for hour stints.  My problem is that I just get going by the time the hour is up.  If I had more silence, I would be flying.

In truth, I think only one other person there was as devoted to writing as I was.  Two were half-devoted.  Two more were kind-of interested in writing, and two people were only there to socialize and drink.  One of which I don’t even think turned on her computer.

Not quite the creative atmosphere my naïve little mind had hoped for.

The good thing was, I completed my first draft.  The bad thing was, I only completed my first draft.  I was hoping to get a few edits in as well.

I am looking at this as a learning experience.

#1 Ask questions first.  See what other’s hopes for the retreat are.  If everyone isn’t on the same page, you might not be happy with the results.

#2 Don’t go into an unknown situation with goals that you HAVE TO achieve.  The Unknowns will drag you down.

Now, honestly, this is completely my fault for not knowing
what I was getting into.  This retreat happens twice a year.  This is just what they do.  No harm, no foul.  It was just not what I expected.

Would I go again?  Yes, probably, but I wouldn’t want to work on something important that I was up against a deadline with, because there was not as much writing time as I’d hoped for.

I might also watch to see who else is going, depending on how much work I really wanted to get done.

I mean, I like these people.  They are nice, we had a good time.    The problem is that I was there to write… and some people were there for different reasons.

My mistake…


21 responses to “Writer’s Retreat. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. I was thinking of taking a private writing retreat to our shore house for a few days, but I fear that I would split the time between sleeping and eating mass quantities of Swedish Fish. Maybe I should aim for a retreat between what’s in my head and what you experienced?

  2. Sorry… Re-reading that cold, you’re right. It’s over the top. If you can/want to delete it, go ahead. Didn’t realized I cussed quite that much in it.

    But, it was early, and I’ve had terrible experiences. Experiences that really did set me back at least three to five years. Experiences that nearly killed my dream, and I worry about other young writers attending them — I attended mine when I was like 20 or 21… I’ll try to write a more coherent blog post on it at some point. (And also sorry about writing such a long response. Sheesh. I was unhinged. We’ll blame the Marine Corps…)

    • Actually, don’t worry about it. I have heard horror stories, and everyone should know that there are people aout there that are busted and broken and want to drag others down.

      I have been lucky. I have surrounded myself with great people. This writers retreat, even though it was not what I hoped, was a very positive experience as far as encouragement goes. They are a great group of ladies. (They just had different priorities than I did that weekend)

      Everone should learn from Stan. Don’t take one opinion, and if you are uncomfortable, find someone else. There are plenty of authors out there who are positive and willing to help.

      The Marines ROCK, by the way.

      • Two quick points. First, I’m an idiot and meant to reply to your comment below, but I had to re-sign into wordpress and I hit “comment” instead of reply. Then, I couldn’t manage to delete my comment. Sigh. I hate looking stupid. And second, on a completely different note, did I read on your site about someone putting out a recent gun book for writers? (I tried finding it on here, but couldn’t, and yet it still seems like in my mind I saw it here…)

  3. Well, live and learn, right? Naively, I would expect a writer’s retreat to be about writing. Maybe the alcohol was supposed to channel the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald? 😉

    But thanks to your heads up, I know that if I ever decide to try one, I need to research it carefully!

  4. I have never been to a retreat for writers and I would have expected what you did Jennifer. Peace and quiet – inspirational scenery, maybe even a speaker with some great editing tips. The last thing I would have expected was an alcohol fueled gabfest. I like people – well, as much as my husband forces me to – but I don’t think I’d be tempted to go to another one, unless it was a lot closer to what I was expecting. Thanks for sharing and I’m sorry that it wasn’t what you wanted it to be. xo

  5. Thanks for this post!
    Like you, I’ve always had this vision of an ideal writer’s retreat, and naturally assumed that it would involve, um , WRITING!
    Good for you on persevering, and finishing that draft. Now I’ll know what to look for if I decide to give this a shot.

  6. Julie Catherine

    I’ve always wanted to do a writer’s retreat – but I would want to spend at least 80% of the time writing. Good to have this head’s up, thank you. And while it wasn’t what you were hoping for, congrats on completing your first draft; awesome! ~ Julie 🙂

  7. I’ve only been to two writer’s retreats, but both were structured Master Classes with Margie Lawson. Some of the best memories were the “after work” chat only fellow writers appreciate.

    Some of my best work came out of those classes.

    I do agree with you that writing retreats aren’t for a project on deadline. Fortunately, my home dynamics are different from yours. I can isolate at home or at SBUX when I’m on deadline.

    If you don’t know the dynamics, I can see how expectations wouldn’t meet reality. I’d rather go on a retreat with one or two writing buddies I know. Off now to pack a bag!

  8. Sorry it wasnt more productive. It was a little annoying that there wasnt more focus on writing this time around.

  9. Hmm… Good to know. I’ve never been to a writers’ retreat before, but I think I would have been going into it with the same misconception that you did. I get super stressed when I have writing goals for myself and they don’t get done.

    Congrats on completing your first draft, though!

  10. She Started It

    I’m attending a writers retreat this summer — every artist gets their own studio– and no one can visit another person without prior permission! I’ll be locking my door to make sure I have my time alone to write!

  11. I’m not sure about a “writer’s retreat,” but I think writer’s critique groups and workshops and most of the other silliness are a major, big-time waste of time.

    In fact, I think they’re worse than a waste of time. I think they’re almost always detrimental.

    I’ve told friends, every one I’ve ever attended set me back at least three years. Maybe five.

    Why? Because bitchy, nit-picky, literature-y, club-y nobodies will tear your *** apart and do everything in their power to tell you how HARD every part of the industry is, and how you shouldn’t get your hopes up, and how basically, you’ll be at these same groups 30 years from now, tearing down other young people’s shit — all under of the heading of trying to help them, but usually more of an attempt to destroy them so that they don’t — heaven forbid — lap your *ss and make you look like the worthless sack of *** that you really are.

    If you’re young and dreaming big — super BIG, then stay the hell away from them. Otherwise, you’ll overwrite your *** (line-by-line), superdoubt your abilities, and spend the next ten years trying to publish a single silly article in some barely read magazine, while also trying to win some stupid, worthless contest, that believe me, you won’t win.

    Because they want deep literature, which couldn’t sell more than a few thousand copies in the entire country. If that’s your cup of tea, then have at it. I hope you like these people more than I do.

    But if you want my advice, avoid them and spare yourself having to unlearn their lessons.

    Get your writing advice at home, from the web on blogs such as this, and through dozens of books. Read all this on your own. Stay in your garret. Go kick *** and don’t let the weak people who HAVEN’T succeeded in over thirty years of trying destroy your confidence or give you the wrong path to success. Believe me, they don’t know or they wouldn’t be at that workshop. (There are exceptions to what I’ve written, but they are few and far between. I’ve also probably upset most of the people who will read this, but if it helps one young writer avoid these deathtraps, then it’s worth the venom that will come my way.)

    • Wow. Don’t hold back now, Stan. Please tell us what you really think!


      Honestly, you need to be careful. Stan is right, but I think there are groups out there that are beneficial. I have a great group, and everyone is helpful and supportive.

      I have heard some horror stories. If you are uncomfortable, get out right away. It is not what’s right for you.

  12. bummer! lesson learned… I’m really surprised. I could understand a co-ed or mens group being all about the alky and fun and not about the focus, but women? weird!

  13. It’s too bad more of them weren’t serious. I can’t blame you for your expectations as I would have been the same way. Certainly a lesson learned!

  14. I hear you. I’ve been to several writer’s groups where it was the same thing…a social fest and not for ‘writing’. But, you never know until you try. It was a great experience in that you got to learn what actually goes on behind the scenes.