Advice to Writers: Get the Hell out of Dodge

La Quinta, as we all know, is Spanish for “Next to Denny’s.”

I’ve developed something of a pricey habit this year, but it turns out it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, and I think all of you who make a living with your creativity would benefit from something similar:   a one night, low-budged writing retreat.

I read about the concept on a blog I follow, and it intrigued me. I wanted a cabin in the Pacific Northwest forests, with a ritual circle out back and no need for air conditioning. What I could swing, well, was a night at the Holiday Inn in an ass-back-of-nowhere town an hour away.

I’ve done it twice now, and it’s fantastic. All you do is find a room. The article recommended it be at least an hour away to give you that “retreat” feeling, but my second one was only 20 minutes away and was awesome. I think it’s just important that, like any ritual experience, you have the sense of leaving ordinary time.  You can build up that sense of ritual any way you want – change clothes when you get there, burn a candle, stay a prayer, take a shower, or like me observe an equally important ritual: I take off my pants, then my shirt, and dance around the hotel room to “Uptown Funk.”

Your mileage may vary.

Pack all your writing essentials and go. When you arrive in whatever town, stop at the local grocery and stock up on whatever you use as fuel – so far mine seems to be hummus, bread, about a ton of pastries, and chocolate milk. The idea is that once you’re checked in, you don’t leave the room unless it’s to get more ice, hit a vending machine, or complain about space monkeys attacking or similar.

For me it goes like this: I get there, check in, make up some wild lie about why I’m there. I go into my room and take a huge deep breath. Then I run quick recon for the ice machine, fill up my bucket and stick it in the fridge (if you crank that thing down to low you can keep ice frozen all night).

After a snack and a bit of lollygagging, I hit the word count. I hit that thing like a tree on Endor. I’m careful to take lots of short breaks, grab a snack the moment I start to feel hungry (hungry Sylvan is not good writer Sylvan). I make a point to bring along several projects, including something utterly frivolous, so I can bounce around among them and feel like I’m working even if I’m not specifically banging away on a book. This past week, for instance, I brought:

  • The latest Agency story I’m posting on Patreon, Song & Cipher
  • Chapter 8 of Shadowstorm
  • The fourth in a moderately embarrassing series of fan fiction porn involving the Avengers
  • Blog post ideas to flesh out
  • The writing-and-etsy part of my new planner, which needed to be filled and organized.

The first time I did this I didn’t get much work done, I think because of the novelty. This time, however, I rocked that shizz for 18 hours.

I think the reason this works so well for me is that since I’m unemployed and don’t have much of a social life, writing slowly becomes drudgery, the only thing I do all day when all those supposedly normal people are out having normal lives. It does both my heart and my creativity good to make writing special for a night here and there. I feel better about myself: I’m taking a small adventure where I have to speak to people and get out of the house. And I feel better about my work: I’ve given it my sole focus so we can reconnect.

It’s really amazingly effective.

I recommend all creative types, but especially writers since our habit is easily portable and tidy, give something like this a try. I’ve only done it twice but I think it’s going to be a long-term revolution for my work – and not just my work! I’ve had a number of really intense epiphanies on my back on those hotel beds just listening to the comforting jet-plane sound of those window unit ACs.

Here’s a $$ breakdown for you, just so you’ll know what I mean by “low-budget retreat.”

Room at LaQuinta*, booked 3 weeks in advance: $119.00 plus some fees so let’s say $130.00
Tank of gas: $30.00   (I used less than half)
Food and beverages from local grocery: $30

So it’s about a $200 overnight retreat, which is probably making you snort right now, but here’s the thing: as long as I can afford it, that’s a bargain to me. I’ve had the worst time staying connected to my work this past year and even longer. My writing has suffered, my soul has suffered, and that great gaping grey hole that is my depression edges closer and closer to my feet. Somewhere among the dusty drudgery of everyday living I needed something to remind me why I love doing this, why my life isn’t drudgery because god damn it, I’m a writer! I have stories to tell and hearts to break.

I’m just hoping I can find a way to write them off on my taxes.*sigh*

* – Yeah, I know there are cheaper places than Holiday Inn and LaQuinta, but the niceness is important to my comfort there.  LaQuinta is the cheaper of the two and I liked it better, but you could do just as well in a Super 8 or similar depending on how you’re comfortable working.  Since I do most of my writing sitting on my bed with the laptop in my lap, a comfortable bed is essential.  Cheaper motels do not, in my experience, have nice beds.

Question for all of you, then, particularly the writers in the house:  Have you ever done any sort of writing retreat?  Was it solo or group?  Pricey?  Do you think its benefit to your work was worth it?  Tell us all about it.

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2 thoughts on “Advice to Writers: Get the Hell out of Dodge

  1. I love this idea. I get sucked into daydreaming about where and how the retreat should be structured, forgetting that the primary focus is to shift just enough out of the every day and into new head space. It also helps to know what you need to write: I stall if I’m alone in a room. I need to be in semi-public space but mostly ignored. Perfect compromise for me has been borrowing a car and staying at a nearby hostel that has private rooms. (Too old and crotchety for the dorms, but like the communal atmosphere.) It’s a great blend of needs for me, covering low cost lodging, within an hour or so of home, semi-public but close to hiking trails, etc.

  2. I have wanted to do a writer’s retreat since I noticed that when I am on vacation or such, the ideas flow. BUT…I cannot afford any that I have found. Orrrr when I find one at a decent price, it’s on the other side of the country and airline tickets put it into the too pricey range.
    I have taken to carrying a notebook with me when I go hiking. In the late fall. When it’s not so hot.

    I think I am going to try this overnight/weekend retreat thing.

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