To tell the truth, I’ve always been a bit in awe—and not a little jealous—when I read on social media that an author is heading out for a writer’s retreat. It’s the ultimate luxury in my book—days spent in uninterrupted thinking/plotting/writing, either alone or with a group of friends who are also writing. Actually the group-of-friends thing appeals to me. I imagine us all typing away non-stop until about five pm when everyone takes a break for conversation, a pre-dinner glass of wine or sparkling water, and perhaps a little reading from the thousands of words we all managed to add to our works in progress.
So, when after a particularly horrifying, icy, frigid Ohio February, my husband and I rented an Airbnb on Florida’s Gulf Coast for two weeks, I decided to consider it my very own writer’s retreat. It’s not far from the truth. Neither of us has ever been busier, work-wise—me working to a hard deadline for the fourth in my Kate Hamilton Mystery series and my husband, Bob, dealing with price changes, sourcing challenges, and product allocations in his hardware-marketing company. We’ll both work solid until about five, we said. After that we’ll take a break for dinner on a nearby restaurant patio, followed by swimming adventures with our seven-month-old puppy Emmie, and then bed. Repeat the following day. And the next. As long as we have to work, we told ourselves, we might as well work somewhere warm and pretty.
After three days, I’m already thinking about making this an annual event. I’ve also been contemplating the reasons why writing is so much easier when I’m not at home.
Here are my Top Five reasons why a writer’s retreat is worth its weight in gold:
1. NO HOUSEWORK. Besides depositing dirty dishes in the dishwasher and an occasional whip-round with paper towels and a bottle of Windex, there’s literally nothing to be done. No grass to be mowed, definitely no snow to be shoveled. No drawers calling for rearrangement. No winter/summer closet switch to accomplish. Nothing but writing.
2. PEACE AND QUIET. The phone doesn’t ring. The doorbell doesn’t either. My husband, who’s set up his computer in one of the extra bedrooms, rarely emerges except to grab a quick lunch. Even Emmie, the puppy, takes long naps, giving me time to think. Some people write best to music. Not me. We’ve never even turned on the huge-screen TV or the stereo system.
3. MINIMAL FOOD PREPARATION. I love to eat, but I’ve never loved to cook. At home, especially during Covid, we prepare our nightly dinner and then clean up the dishes, a process that takes at least an hour, usually more. Here we each make our preferred breakfast (an egg for me, a banana for Bob). We throw something together for lunch. Dinners are eaten out. Someone else cooks. Someone else deals with the mess. Did I mention I love eating out? So far, the weather here has been ideal. Outdoor dining in beautiful surroundings is a perfect way to end the day. Bob and I have time to talk, share our work. Why don’t we do that more at home? We should. And Puppy Emmie is getting to be quite a sophisticated restaurant-goer.
4. FEW OUTSIDE RESPONSIBILITIES. The same thing holds true in the summer when we head to our cottage in Wisconsin’s Northwoods for the month of July. No doctors’ or dentists’ appointments, no salon visits, no HVAC check-ups, no mail to go through or bills to pay. All outside activities (besides a few mandatory Zoom meetings) are suspended until we get home, giving me more time to write.
5. THE VIEW. There’s something about a water view that feeds my creative brain. Is it the gentle lapping of waves or the sun shimmering on the water? I don’t know, but I do know I write better when I’m looking at water. At the cottage, my computer desk faces the lake. I create fictional conflict while listening to the call of the loons and plot murder while watching the small, streamlined mergansers lead their broods along the shoreline.
Here in Florida, I write while looking out over the pool toward one of canals of the Caloosahatchee River, and the acres of nature preserve beyond that. Could I work a rogue alligator into my story set in rural Suffolk, England? Probably not. So far I’ve haven’t seen any alligators in Florida either, but I know they’re out there. How about a body floating in a pool? Or a sinister pool cleaner with more on his mind than skimming leaves? I get all kinds of new ideas in a new place.
In contrast, the computer desk in my laundry/sewing/office space at home in Ohio faces the conjunction of two walls. No view. No water for miles. I suppose we could flood the ravine behind us, but I don’t think our neighbors would be best pleased.
So, while I’m here on my own personal writer’s retreat, I intend to take full advantage of the time and press forward. My goal is to finish Act 3 and get a jump on Act 4.
Revision can wait until I’m back in Ohio, facing that wall.
Where do you write best? Post photos!
Have you ever been on a writer’s retreat?
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