The writer’s retreat is a time-honored tradition, and every writer I know seeks out at least one every year.
A retreat can take all sorts of forms. I take one all alone when I'm making a final pass through a book. I'm fortunate to have friends with a space they don't mind me borrowing, just far enough away from home to be out of reach. A retreat may consist of two or three writers slipping away someplace quiet to work side by side. A retreat can also be large, like the Rainforest Writers Village, tucked away at a rustic resort in the Quinault Rainforest. This is a yearly event attracting more than thirty writers from around the country. We gather to work, talk, and study in company. The retreat provides a quiet space, a collegial atmosphere, workshops and panel discussions, and the opportunity to meet likeminded writers and learn something about how they work and how they manage the writing life.
The central purpose of a writer’s retreat is reduced distraction. Every writer knows that real life–family, housework, the day job, the pets, the kids–demands a significant slice of time and energy every day. Many people who long to write are so overwhelmed by all of these things that they never begin. In fact, the writing process may seem, to the nonwriter, a supremely selfish activity. The writer shuts herself away, if she can, to work. She may stare for hours at her screen or out her window, not typing a word. She might be reading, or searching for information on the Internet. It might not look like she’s doing anything productive. It might look like avoidance, or self-indulgence, or laziness. But this is the way the work goes forward.
For the brief period of a retreat, the distractions of daily life are put aside. Usually, we leave family behind. It’s especially great if there’s no internet, no television, sometimes even no cell phone service. There’s nothing but the work in progress to take up space in the writer’s mind.
Would I want to live that way all the time? No. I love being with my family, in my home, with my dog beside me. But once in a while it’s both refreshing and instructive to find out what it’s like to focus just on my writing, to spend a few days or a week with nothing to dilute my mental energy. I learn how much I can get done, and I also am reminded of my limits.
At the end of my current retreat, here in the picturesque rainforest, my novel has grown to over 120 pages. For these four days, my usual output has doubled, and I’ve solved a number of challenges. I have a quarter of a book already, and it’s only the beginning of March! I’m feeling cautiously confident that I'll have a completed novel by the end of the year. The journey continues . . .