I often see author friends on Facebook renting cottages in the mountains, at lakes and at various beaches for private writing retreats. A Brooklyn friend checks into a lower Manhattan hotel from time to time for a private writing retreat. To my knowledge, these friends have spouses or partners, but none have young children. So why the need to get away?
I’ve asked authors Edith Maxwell and Anne Laughlin to discuss their retreats.
Why do you retreat?
Edith: I need time away from home to get a big burst of work done.
Anne: I’m attracted by the idea of going away and concentrating on nothing but writing, free of the minutia that fills so much of our lives. I can handle a lot of time on my own and that attracted me as well. It’s a way of honoring myself as a writer. The amount of work you can get done in two-four week residencies is astounding.
Do you prefer a private or a group retreat?
Edith: I prefer private but have gone on several wonderful group retreats.
Anne: I’ve been to both and can say that in the earlier years I preferred the group and now I prefer private. Most people want to socialize more than I do, which led me to start creating my own solo retreats. I like the solitude and total focus it brings.
If private, must you be alone?
Anne: I don’t eschew all human contact. In recent years I’ve been renting a tiny cabin in Michigan for two-week solo retreats and I enjoy talking to the other women there. But you’re totally in control of how much you want to socialize and, I think, my focus is improved. It requires being comfortable with a lot of time on your own, but I seem to be built for that.
Do you always go to the same place?
Edith: In recent years I rent the same Quaker retreat cottage on Cape Cod during the off season.
Anne: Once I started doing my own retreats I went several times to New Mexico and to the cabin in Michigan. My most recent retreat (which was my favorite of any of them), was in the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. It was a formal retreat that hosted just one artist at a time. I’d love to return there but their list of future residents is long.
How long and how frequent are your retreats?
Edith: I go for a week twice a year.
Anne: In the beginning I’d go for month long residencies, but now I stay only two weeks. I try to go once a year.
If it’s not a led group, is it always the same people, like a writing group?
Edith: My blog mates and I try to go on an annual retreat. At the beginning we spent time writing. Now it’s mostly catching up and doing blog business.
At group writing retreats I’ve attended, we usually ignore each other all day, except possibly over lunch, but then gather for wine and cooking and talking into the night. Not critiquing each other’s work, but sharing stories, sometimes plot brainstorming, and lots of laughter. A really lovely coming together of like minds.
Anne: No, the population of artists is constantly changing.
Do you retreat at a particular place (plotting, writing, editing) in the writing cycle?
Edith: I like to be writing a first draft, but it doesn’t always work out that way because I have to reserve the cottage at least six months in advance.
Anne: I’ve worked on all aspects of novel writing while on a residency and all are well suited for concentrated work. In Wyoming I had a complete first draft and spent my time going through it making additions and deletions and generally getting it in shape.
Do you do anything other than writing?
Edith: I take a daily walk to the beach, sometimes twice daily. It clears my head, gets my circulation going, and lets me plot what’s coming next. Very rarely I meet someone for dinner or have a signing at a local bookstore.
Anne: Walking is a big part of my time at residencies. All that sitting around needs to be countered by some activity. In Wyoming I took amazing hikes. There usually is a town nearby you can visit for some shopping or a meal. It all depends where you are. I personally like jigsaw puzzles in the evening:).
Would you recommend private retreats?
Edith: I know others sometimes rent a hotel room for a weekend, or house sit for a friend, just to get away and alone. It might not be for everyone, but it works for me.
Being away from home alone makes me hugely productive. I don’t have a partner there, nobody but me to fix food for, no cat to play with, no garden to weed, no newspaper to read. At home I only write in the mornings. On retreat I write morning, afternoon, and evening. I love immersing myself so intensely in my manuscript.
Anne: Only if they are comfortable with solitude. The day can be quite long, even with working many hours on my book. Filling that time on your own could be a challenge for many people, but I really like it.
Before we end, tell me what you’re working on?
Edith I am writing MURDER, UNCORKED, my first Cece Barton mystery set in northern California’s wine country. Next to release, at the end of September, is a double blessing of “Scarfed Down,” a Country Store Mysteries Christmas novella in a three-novella collection, CHRISTMAS SCARF MURDER, as well as MURDER IN A CAPE COTTAGE, Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery #4!
Anne: I’m currently on the last legs of a mystery set in a sober living house. The protagonist is an ex-cop working as the resident manager of the home. I expect to see it published in a year or so.
Thank you, Anne and Edith. I appreciate you taking time away from your writing to share your experience with us.
Readers, have you ever taken a writing retreat?
More About Edith and Anne
Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Local Foods Mysteries, and short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she pens the Country Store Mysteries, the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries, and the Cece Barton Mysteries. A past president of Sisters in Crime New England, she’s a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime and a member of Mystery Writers of America.
Maxwell lives with her beau north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook. Find her (and Maddie) at EdithMaxwell.com, wickedauthors.com, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, and on social media.
Anne Laughlin is the author of seven standalone novels. She has won four Goldie awards and has been short-listed three times for a Lammy Award. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. Her story “It Only Occurred to Me Lately” was a finalist in the Saints and Sinners short fiction contest. Anne has attended writing residencies at Ragdale, Vermont Studio Center, and others. She was named an emerging writer by the Lambda Literary Foundation in 2008 and asked to return in 2014. She lives in Chicago, the setting for many of her novels, with her wife. Find her at https://www.annelaughlinwriter.com
In addition to publishing multiple mystery and romance short stories in various anthologies, Catherine has authored four romances novels. Her latest book, The Disappearance of Lindy James, was awarded a GOLDIE for Best General Fiction.
Since I usually know when Edith takes off for her retreats, the idea of doing it myself has established a small foothold in my imagination. I did something similar once–when I was finishing my first book. I stayed alone at our cottage in Wisconsin for the whole summer. My husband was there for the month of July, which meant I had June and August all to myself. I got a lot done and enjoyed going to bed when I was tired and waking up when my eyes opened. I’m looking into something like a week’s retreat now. Cape Cod? Wyoming? England????
Do it, Connie!
You have inspired me. There are some cottages in Truro I love to go to, but it’s always been part of a family vacation. But now I’m thinking a week to myself would be so productive.
Echoing what Susan mentioned, Outer Cape Cod off season is the perfect place for a writer’s retreat. Fortunately, I live there. I’ll take daily retreats at various local libraries at this point in my life but a week or two in a cottage alone is a dream!
I’m on board with the writing retreat idea, and I’m overdue! This post will ignite some planning on my part, I suspect. Thank you, Catherine and Edith and Anne.
I feel like my life is a retreat but, still, I’m looking into renting a cottage in Truro or Wellfleet for September.