Retreating to Advance: Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreat

All you really need for a writing retreat.

by Janet Riehl

Quite often when we want to focus on our writing, we sign up for a group retreat. These serve as get-away creative vacations.

We go to an exotic place and study with someone Who Ought to Know. We drop a chunk of change. We leave inspired, pack our notes and the addresses for wonderful new friends. We may even have done a bit of writing. Group retreats may help us develop craft or spur our motivation. They have their place.

But, there is another choice: a Do-It-Yourself writing retreat. It’s cheaper and deeper. You are in charge. You pick the place and set your own structure and goals.  Writing down the goals and structure for your retreat makes you accountable to yourself.  Talking these over with a writing buddy may help you, too. Here are some questions to get you thinking.


1) Motivation. Why do you want to go on a solitary writing retreat? Do you need to live without distractions and responsibilities to others for awhile? Do you need chunks of time to increase your productivity? Do you want to gain greater self-reliance? Or?

2) Purpose. What do you want to accomplish? Will you work on a project? Write on a theme? Journal to heal and gain guidance? Select a skill to practice to develop your craft? Or?


The structure you design for your retreat contains you and your work.  Setting limits provides boundaries and paradoxically leads to greater creative freedom.

1)  Location. Where will your retreat take place? Will you weave larger chunks of time into your daily life at home? Will you travel? Or?

Although I’m not Catholic I’ve gone on several solo writing retreats at Catholic retreat places and loved it. These places are inexpensive, beautiful, inspiring, and quiet. Once I brought my own food to cook in a cozy kitchen. Another time I ate in a private dining room by myself. A third time I ate at a long table with the monks. What a social feast!

2) How long? Will your retreat be a day trip, a weekend, a week or more?

3) Schedule. Set up a daily routine—as loose or tight as you like. Make it fit to serve you and your purpose. Do you need to rest? Then wake up on your own time before setting about your daily schedule. Set times for meals, daily writing periods, walks, and reading. You can flex these, but start with a plan.

4) Make your writing periods realistic. Intersperse writing with planned breaks. You can vary these as needed. Fifteen minutes for free writing followed by lying down to look at the ceiling? An hour followed by a snack and stretch? Two hours followed by a walk in the woods? Or?

5) Get in the swing right away. Habit is our friend. We’ll bring habits with us, and develop new ones.  What we learn about our work and ourselves on solo retreat strengthens us and our work when we return home.

When you end your retreat, feel your gratitude for this time, this place, and the writing you’ve done. You’ll want to go again, and I bet you will.


Pose questions about practical creativity;give ideas for future cycle themes ;and join in the dialog. Browse the Creative Catalyst archive:

Learn more about our audio book “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music”

7 responses to “Retreating to Advance: Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreat

  1. Very thought provoking and inspiring! I love the sytematic approach towards planning a DIY Writing Retreat you have devised here, which is designed to develop and serve my/yours/ our exact writing needs, opening us up to a feast of word smithing perfectly tailored to the moment!
    I think that perhaps I shall create a DIY Buddhist Meditation and Writing Retreat and schedule it for sometime in the very near future. Sounds absolutely perfect! 30 minutes of meditation followed by 30 minutes of free writing. It could also include some walking meditation time and longer writing periods, maybe focusing on a story or some specific project….Sure the skies the limit!!!:-)
    Thanks Janet! Once again your article hits the mark!

  2. I love the idea of a DYI writing retreat! And I like your suggestions for defining and structuring it. This article is a keeper. Thanks, Janet.

  3. Janet, I LOVE this idea. Thanks for the tips–so much potential, especially for getting support from a writing buddy and allowing breaks.

  4. Dear Amber, Thanks. I like the continuum of professional retreats, group retreats, and solo retreats. It gives us more choice in the range of our development as writers and what we need.

    Dear Edith, I’m thrilled that this post hits the mark–especially because you requested it.

    Your idea of a meditation-writing retreat is on the mark. Writing is practice & so is meditation. In fact, I’ve modeled my tips on classic Buddhist solitary retreats. Start with Motivation. Maintain your motivation during the retreat. At the end dedicate the benefit of your retreat to all beings and your own practice.

    The idea of structuring your retreat to provide a container also comes from teachings on setting up a solitary retreat. It’s part of the “retreat boundaries” and helps you settle.

    I look forward to hearing how this works for you.

    Janet Riehl

  5. Becca,

    Glad it was helpful. The solo retreat, I believe, builds and refines both your character and your writing.

    My first book “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary” came out of a quiet “leading” in a two day retreat at a Catholic retreat center. “Clearing/during this quiet time.” That’s the power that can come from slowing down & listening.

    Janet Riehl

  6. Janet,

    This post came at a great time. I actually DO have retreat time right here and now. I am trailblazing (found a house, got a job in a town away from my fam-they will follow in 6 weeks) and I have free time. structuring this time, this gift of time, and material, actually, will make such a difference in my free time.
    Instead of wiling away the hours, they can be put to good use. Thank you.

  7. Carol,

    I’m delighted to hear this post will be useful to you. Personal retreats can be very inexpensive and deeply productive. They can be done anywhere.

    Good writing, and let us know how it goes!

    Janet Riehl

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s