Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Create your Own Writing Retreat

Western Catskills Writing Gang
I've been to excellent writing retreats and conferences. There's Squaw Valley on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, there are multiple ones along coastal California and Southhampton conference out on Long Island. There's a popular one put on by the Highlights Foundation in PA during the summer. Basically, writing communities pop up in places where swimming or nature walks abound.

Some of my favorite ones are homegrown. For years I've attended a retreat on Cape Cod with good friends. Coffee on the morning porch, then a bit of exercise, then writing on the same wraparound porch--all afternoon until words swim in one's head and pages unfold on laptop screens. Then it's a bracing swim in the ocean, and a dinner of tacos or chicken burgers, followed by evening readings.
I couldn't get to the Cape retreat this year because I was invited to teach creative writing in Greece. Boo hoo, right? I wasn't complaining, except, when I came home and settled in, it felt as if something big was missing.
My awesome Summer Seminars in Greece writing students
strike a Zen-ish pose
And then came the July from h**l, where the gas to the entire building was shut off because there was a leak and people called Con Ed instead of the super. I had minor surgery (Went well and I'm great, thanks) and I was unable to shower. We also had a huge thunderstorm and the drains clogged and flooded, and... you get the picture. During all of this I developed writers' block, which I've never, ever had. And I kept wondering, was it from all of the calamity?

Cape Cod Writers' Coffee
No. Not really. My real problem was that I missed that infusion of writerly energy that comes from good friends sitting on a porch together and writing all afternoon and spurring each other on. I missed the war stories over coffee, and the shared tales of triumph too.

So, I decided to create my own writers' retreat after the fact; at my place in the Catskills, with some very good writer buddies. It was perfect weather--pre-September fall at 65 degrees, sun in a teal sky. We sat outside in the tall yard grass and wrote all afternoon. At night, we cooked together, and then read the Tarot for each other. We also played a fun dictionary game, and another where you sing songs that use certain words. Writers' games.

There was talk of angsty obstacles overcome, of strengths and fears. All of the stuff that binds people together and helps us face whatever, whenever. I'm unstuck, I'm writing again, and the best thing? We've already reserved a three-day weekend for a winter version of the retreat. Writing by a crackling fire with hot chocolate in hand. And breaks for snowy playtime. Yup.

Mr & Mrs Snow with their
two snow boys
Is everything.
How do you replenish your writing spirit?   


  1. I find that diving into a new WIP makes me feel refreshed. It's like meeting new friends.

    I do agree that community is important. I have my CPs and my other writer friends. I love talking to them and sharing my passion with them.

  2. Great post! You gave me a great idea. Perhaps I will host a fall retreat.

  3. I'm really looking for a community. I'm a member of my local RWA chapter but don't feel like part of the group. And there really aren't much in the way of writing groups here. And I was pregnant 1 year of the 1.5 years we've lived here, so I haven't really been out to meet non-writer people either.

  4. Thought about one here in the beautiful Loire Valley, in France? You can visit the nearby chateaux too.....

  5. I've always dreamed of going on a writing retreat, to some lovely remote place with no Internet and no distractions and the company of other writers at dinner. But I like the DIY idea!

  6. I'm planning a retreat with some writer pals and I can't wait! I kept bemoaning the fact that I didn't have access to an "official" retreat or residency and I realized I could just make my own.

  7. Adrianne, yes, you're on the right track! OpeningSpace, in France, heck yah!

  8. Sounds wonderful. I'd love to attend a retreat. Don't know if there are any possibilities around here or not. Would be nice.

  9. I wouldn't be much good at a writing retreat unless there was a net connection and TV. I get bored after a few hours of writing (sometimes after 15 minutes of writing. lol) and need to distract myself with emails, forums, or blogs. I guess I'm just a whiny kid, ya know? Moooom, I'm boooored. There's nothing fun to dooooo...

    1. We have TV! And internet! Lol

      Check out our

      We could come to some arrangements for a group.....

  10. I was hoping you would write about your recent retreat - thanks for sharing! It sounds wonderful, especially the early fall temps. I love Cape Cod and I hope someday to be able to go a retreat there.

    As far as replenishing my writerly spirit, I'm part of a great new critique group and I love to critique and beta read over email as well. Keeping connected with writers over social media is important, too.

  11. Sara, you sound nice and connected up. Maybe at some point I'd do a beta read trade with you! Lexa, you crack me up! Beverly, good to hear from you.

  12. Catherine, reading about the Cape Cod and Catskills home-grown retreats made me sigh with longing. I'd love to do something like that with writerly friends...
    Some Dark Romantic

  13. Your writing retreats sound so fun, Catherine! Enjoy your winter version. I replenish my writing spirit the old-fashioned way: going to the library, watch trees and read (& write, of course).

  14. Claudine, I like to watch trees too! :)
    Mina, make it happen.
    OpeningSpace, going over to look at the website now...

  15. What do you think Catherine? As we say....'a place where anything is possible'.....

  16. It's very nice! Fellow bloggers, check it out! As for me, I have my farm in the old Catskills. But if I'm ever in France....

  17. Ah, I'm so glad the Catskills Retreat was good! Those times with other writers (where one can truly be oneself) are critical. Beyond that, for me--the most important thing is to give myself a retreat from false pressure. --Pressure to be someone I'm not as a writer, to be on social media more than is healthy for me, pressure to conform to some standard of "success" that enervates rather than energizes. Thanks for a great post!

  18. That's a fantastic way to replenishing your writing spirit. I've not gone on a retreat before, though I love conferences.

  19. What a wonderful post, Catherine. I am glad to read your surgery went well. And that photograph of your comrades in various yoga poses is priceless!

  20. Yes, Suze, my MU students were real cut-ups!
    Lynda, I like conferences too. Apples and oranges, they are both delicious.
    Helen, I couldn't agree with you more--we all need a retreat from pressure of all types. And hey, who is that mysterious lady in the Curious George PJs?!

  21. Great idea, Catherine. Why not just do it yourself? The experience sounded perfect!

  22. I love the idea of creating your own retreat! I'm actually on vacation at the beach this week, so I think maybe I'll pretend this trip is my writer's retreat. Now where did I leave that bottle of wine... :)

  23. I'd love to do a weekend retreat like that. If I can only find the time!

  24. Every Wednesday evening my writing group get together to talk about writing, reading and creativity in general. Can't imagine not doing this anymore :-)

  25. I've yet to experience a writing retreat, but I'd love to try it out one of these days. I'm actually not sure it would work for me, as I'm a very routine based guy and sometimes breaking up the routine does more harm then good. But I'd still like to try it and see what happens!

  26. I have never attended a writing retreat. How do I replenish my spirit toward writing? I take long breaks (several months at a time). I find that I do most writing during winter.


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