The Reality of a Writer’s Retreat

I’m always posting fellowships, scholarships, and opportunities for writers to attend retreats. Some of them come with the responsibility of teaching, others require you take care of the property, maybe even the livestock. Some have you meeting in groups, collaborating on each other’s material. Others throw you solo without internet connection out in the woods or in a loft affair in urbania.

People are forever asking me if I go to the writing retreats I promote. The closest I’ve ever come to a retreat was when I was on the teaching staff of a four-day affair that had classes in the morning, offering time to write in the evenings.

Frankly, this editorial by author Alice Robb brought my deepest fear of a retreat to the surface, and the fact she experienced it gave me a chuckle . . . and gave me pause. Am I not a retreat person?

“I imagined that I would enter a fugue state and write thousands of words a day. I’d discovered that I was not a slow writer, as I’d always thought — just a Twitter addict.”

OMG, that statement cracked me up! And sobered me.

I mostly write in a study at home, overlooking the lake. I have a retreat. Am I afraid to write elsewhere? Not at all. I’ve written on planes, in restaurants, in parks, and even on the hospital floor beside an ailing parent’s bed. I can write anywhere . . . for spurts of time.

But what happens when you plant me in a place where I have the freedom of writing for, say, five days? I love being alone, but I think I have a bit of an ADHD definition of alone. I might not check Twitter, but I sure check a bunch of other things.

I may write 500 words then walk the dogs. Another two hundred and check email. Another two hundred and go fold clothes. Go online and research a fact I wanted to be more exact about. Check on FundsforWriters submissions or research another grant for the newsletter.

Not the best habits, not by a long shot if you read all the how-to missives out there. So . . . what happens when you take those responsibilities away from me and all I have to occupy my brain is the blank screen?

I’ve never done that before. But don’t we all dream of being faced with only our minds, our stories, and zero interruptions? What initially sounds like a writer’s Nirvana turns into a fear of being unproductive.

But we can prepare for these isolations. We can outline our story, do research ahead of time, even write long-hand for a change. We can meet with other writers at meal time and toss ideas. We can, gasp, do what language students do when they go abroad and live amongst the natives…immerse ourselves in the culture, endure the struggle, and come out on the other side stronger, the “language” more natural, more understood.

We never know what our reality is for a retreat . . . until it becomes our reality.

BIO – C. Hope Clark is author of 16 mysteries, several award-winning, and several nonfiction books. She is also editor and founder of, chosen by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for 20+ years. /


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