01 December 2008

Build your own writer's retreat.

I've had several conversations lately about residencies and retreats. For those of us who are encumbered (to various degrees), it can be nearly impossible to find something that's just right. In a good location, with tempting perks, with necessary accommodations, with a timeframe and length that works with our lives.

I have only done one residency, and that was at Ragdale. I was single and sans children, and in grad school, but working full time over the summer until my residency. Mostly I think I just decompressed. I took the Metra train up there with my gigantic suitcase. One day I missed the city so much that I took the Metra back to Chicago to visit my cat. I wasn't as productive as I could've been. I was pretty antisocial. But it was still an amazing experience, and I wish I could go back now that I really need it.

I think that my ultimate writers' retreat would be a safe house for writers. When your kids are driving you nuts, and you have more laundry than you can wash in a week with loads running back-to-back, you can pack up the car and go to the Writers' Safe House. It's like taking your kids to the daycare at the gym, only you get to write instead of lifting weights.

Perhaps they'd deliver some lunch and tea, too. And the staff would never nag you about when you'd be done. And they'd have a hundred Babar movies, and thousands of unbroken crayons. It probably wouldn't include the "meatmarket" quality that some look for in a residency (not me of course...oh no), but maybe there's another place for that.

What sorts of attributes do you look for in a retreat or residency? If you could build your own, what would it be like?


Oliver de la Paz said...


I've sort of built my own retreat (I don't count the Kundiman Retreat as a "retreat" for me since I work the whole week it's in place).

Outside of Kundiman, I've never attended a retreat. Suffice it to say that I've applied. I'm sure if I kept at the application process I'd get into one eventually, but my enthusiasm to attend a colony/retreat has waned with responsibilities like being a husband and a dad. I just can't see myself being away for 2 weeks to a month with a wee one in the house. I also think I wouldn't know what to do with myself. I'd probably wander around asking to do everyone's laundry. I'd chop wood or mow acres of lawn. I'm a rather fidgety poet.

Anyway, my house is situated in the woods. It's at the foot of the Mt. Baker Nat'l Forest, so it's like a retreat. I've got a nice view of cedars and firs. I can be productive if I shut the door and have a few hours to myself. Eventually I want to build a little writer's shed. Nothing fancy, just a 20x20 shack with a desk and adequate lighting.

Radish King said...

I'm fine with a notebook and a pen in my bed. All I need is enough money to live on without going to work. A year's worth, for instance, that would be one fine retreat.

Justin Evans said...

I've been to one writer's workshop---back in 2002, I think, but I'm not sure. It was at Cedar Breaks, up the canyon from Southern Utah University. It lasted a week. I stayed in a hotel room which was 35 miles away (25 of them were freeway moles and then the last 10-11 were up hill). I stayed in the Ace Motel in Paragonah (pronounced para-goona) and ate at the cafe across the street. It was heaven.

My ideal retreat would be where I could sleep in, not be bothered, but still meet for at least two workshops a day and an optional evening gathering which starts with dinner but goes on as long as people are willong. There would need to be some outdoor component---a camp fire and about 100 acres at least. That is, if we get to shoot the moon with this thing. Oh, and as low cost as possible.

No television, no internet, no cell phone reception.

Anne said...

I did a sort of a DIY writing residency last June -- I spent a week at an inn in a state park a couple hours from home. I had lots of solitude and privacy (essential), but if I felt the need to see a human face I could go visit the front desk or get a cup of coffee in the restaurant. I had a little kitchenette so that I could eat healthy food instead of filling up on fried chicken & pie in the restaurant, and a coffee maker -- coffee and healthy(ish) food are also essential. And, although I had all the comforts of home (a comfy bed, a whirlpool bath, internet access for my laptop) I also had trails & woods just a few yards from my doorstep -- being able to get outside & walk/hike also felt essential.

Solitude, coffee, decent food, and an outdoors to walk/hike/run in. A comfy chair to read in and a few places to sit & write (desk in the room, picnic table outside). That's about all I needed. I can't imagine that a formally organized residency could have given me any more of what I needed; having other writers around to chat with would be a different experience, though probably also a good one.

Oh, and a goal. Just "go to this place and maybe write something" isn't enough for me -- I'd just nap a lot. :) I'm better with a goal, I think.

Word verification: "royawp" -- who's Roy and what's he got to do with AWP?? ;)

Lyle Daggett said...

Anne, I read your word verification as "ro yawp" -- yawp as in barbaric yawp. A long way from AWP, I'd guess. (Who "ro" is, I have no idea.)

Mary, to answer your question -- I've never been to a retreat or residency as such, though I went to the Port Townsend [Washington] Writers' Conference twice (1987 and 1990) and loved it there, just the right mix of being with other people and the chance to wander the town or walk idly along the beach.

I was also in a one-week writing class at Split Rock in 2002 (then at the U. of Minnesota Duluth campus, though it moved to Minneapolis a couple of years after that). I liked it too, very intensive four hours of class each morning, followed by afternoon and evening of much solitude in a dorm room or walking around the pine groves on the campus. I should say, perhaps, that this was in July -- visiting Duluth during the cooler part of the year isn't for the weak of nerve.

I've never felt a strong need for a retreat or studio or writing room etc.--in general, I can write poems pretty much anywhere. I tend toward what Radish King said in her comment, that I can do fine with a pen and paper in bed, and a year off with money to live on. (Years ago, I quit a job I'd been at for eight years, and lived off my savings for upwards of a year after that, partly going to school--though not to study writing--and partly just staying up late every night writing and reading. Greatest time of my life.)

My word verification is "inedula."

Pamela said...

I have been to a conference (Sewanee), and after that delightfully hectic experience, I was ready for a retreat. Seriously, I'd like a writing shack about a mile away from my house, just far enough I wouldn't be tempted to run in and do a load of laundry between chapters/stanzas.

Brian Campbell said...

In Quebec we have exquisite lake country with a lot of cottages to rent. (There are more than 8,000 lakes in this province -- plenty to choose from that are accessible from Montreal.) I've spent a week to two weeks of very productive time here and here andhere. The first and last I rented through friends for a very reasonable rate; the middle place is a commercial place; about $800 CN a week is the going rate at the height of summer. Lots of quiet, no distractions of phone, TV or internet...

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