For a lot of my friends, a retreat is an excuse to get together with friends and hang out and talk about a favorite topic. It's more like a mini-vacation with a little work thrown in. At the office where I used to work, "retreat" meant several days of meetings with at least twenty other people.
I, however, am an introvert. I take retreats very literally. When I take a writing retreat, I pull back, away from the society of others, pull away from the internet and the television, pull into myself and concentrate on the work. I take a writing retreat every November during National Novel Writing Month so that, without the distractions of my household chores and my kids (I do take my husband with me, but he's well-trained at non-distraction), I can be productive.
The first time I took a November writing retreat, I chose a bed and breakfast in Monterey, California, not too far from where I live. This particular inn was close to all the touristy Monterey spots so that I could get up and stretch my muscles occasionally, but far enough removed that I couldn't hear endless foot traffic all day long. This place had inviting sitting rooms with plenty of big, comfy chairs, reading lamps and outlets. With the promise to myself of a long, hot bath at the end of each productive day (and, what the heck, another one to start the day out) I wrote more than 20,000 words in three days.
The best part is that I didn't have the feeling of being torn in two. My biggest problem in life is that no matter what I'm doing, I always have a nagging feeling that there's something else that I should be doing. Right this minute, I should be running a load of laundry, walking my dog, and making some important phone calls. The act of going on a retreat gives me the mental permission and space to tell myself "there's nothing else that you should be doing at this time in this place." I would never have that if there were other writers in attendance, because I would feel that I should be social and paying attention to other people.
I've been going to Monterey on retreat for the last three years, sometimes twice a year. Every time I've gotten more done in three days (even with the evening's social hour, which I attend mostly for the homemade limoncello) than I would get done in a week in the company of other people. Every time, my writing (and sometimes my editing) had made great strides forward, which tells me an important thing.
To advance, I need to retreat.