What writer hasn’t drooled over the thought of getting away to write for a whole day, week, or month—even an hour? My best fantasy is a cozy private cottage nestled in the mountains of upstate New York.
I sit at the knotty pine desk by the picture window, laptop purring, the splendid view prompting ever more creative flights, with only a silent padded server setting mealtime trays outside the door.
Few of us, though, with ever-increasing obligations, spoken-for finances, and multi-roles incessantly demanding attention and time, can afford our ultimate retreat dream. But we can reach it with some innovative and economical mini-retreats.
Listen for Your Preferences
First, though, recognize your preferences. One experienced writer was sure he’d put in twelve writing hours at a formal retreat, but he could only work four hours a day.
Do you crave absolute quiet? Or go bonkers without at least a few human voices? Do you need workshops and assignments, physical activities, introspective lectures, writers’ gossip fests, yoga classes, the bustle of people nearby, pizza or sushi in town?
Cafes and Restaurants
Cafés and restaurants remain the time-honored writers’ haunts (J.K. Rowling, Natalie Goldberg, Hemingway). See Juliet C. Obodo’s books on best cafés and “café etiquette” for writers in major cities (www.writersretreatcityguides.com).
When I lived in New York, I luxuriated in glorious writing sessions at a little café with delectable homemade Hungarian pastries, located near the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The “Hungarian” always hosted a mix of passionate and unruly-haired students from Columbia University, young mothers with baby buggies stuck in a corner while they furtively grabbed a cuppa and a chocolate fix before the next diaper change, and would-be dedicated writers like me.
I learned to stretch one mug of coffee for hours and project insulated solitude—bookbag propped on two chairs, notebook pointedly open, and chronic scowl—so no one would sit down, start a conversation, or try to pick me up. But I thrived on the humanity around me and wrote regularly in the Hungarian.
Get a Room
“Borrow” a study, guest room, or patio from a friend, relative, or neighbor for an afternoon or day. Explain your purpose and assure them they don’t have to entertain or feed you or check in at discreet intervals. Offer something in return—babysitting, a home-cooked meal, dog-walking. Once I exchanged writing sessions at a neighbor’s living room desk, overlooking the Hudson River, for watering her plants. She always left me coffee and supportive little notes.
Check Into a Hotel
Not literally. Nice hotels have great lobbies, and with your briefcase, papers, and laptop, you’ll look like you’ve just arrived for an important meeting. You have—with yourself. Settle into a cozy alcove or a corner table in the bar. Order something modest and non-mind-numbing. One writer became such a fixture that when the bartender saw her coming he set out a big bowl of pretzels and served her with a smile.
Check Out the Library
Despite our ability today to research anything in the universe from our cozy computers, real public libraries are still treasures. Creating the riddles for my children’s book Tyrannosaurus Wrecks: A Book of Dinosaur Riddles, I rediscovered the wonderful children’s section. The young people’s encyclopedias had easy-to-understand texts (I wasn’t a dinosaur major in college), and I sat for hours gathering information and watched parents help their kids choose real books.
Explore your local college and university libraries. Studious in atmosphere, with their beckoning cubbyholes and semi-private tables they promote serious writing. A writer-graduate student friend discovered small charming libraries in his school’s music and architecture departments. Alumni or resident cards are generally available for small annual fees.
Hit the Beach, Park in the Park
Go to the Mall
The local mall can be an oasis (stash your credit cards at home). In my neighborhood, a Starbucks reigns in the center courtyard with a high, light atrium. The management thoughtfully arranged café-like tables and chairs, and I regularly work at a table, enjoying the background din and discouraging visitors (see Hungarian above).
You never know where a mall session can lead. Another writer shared a Starbucks table with the man who became his historical novel researcher. My mall writing sessions evolved into my Absolute Write column, “The Starbucks Chronicles.”
Rent a Room
Rent a motel room for the day (alone). Yes, this costs something, but weekday rates are the lowest offered. Bring a big bag of indulgent snacks and hang out the “Do Not Disturb” sign. Just make sure the room doesn’t look out over the interstate. And turn the TV to the wall.
Save to Splurge
If you want a real getaway, save up for that divine week in Provincetown, Big Sur, the Greek Isles, or the magnificent cruise to Maui. Such retreats can give you much-needed respite from daily duties and refill your writing well of inspiration and purpose.
Home is Where the Start Is
Sometimes, though, the best retreat is no retreat. Our nests can be supremely soothing. Put on your cottons—or a crisp professional shirt. Choose a favorite room or spot. It’s sacred to you.
Hide all electronic lures and firmly announce your retreat to your household. Prepare your favorite food and drink in advance or order in. Decide on the project you’ll work on. Congratulate yourself for not having to pack, make complicated advance arrangements, or spending thousands on a “writer’s retreat.”
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Writer’s retreats are all around us, waiting only for our ingenuity and current projects. So award yourself, knowing you can “retreat” anytime and anywhere you choose.
Your turn, readers. Thoughts? Any of these ideas appeal to you? Which would be your favorite?
Author, editor, ghostwriter, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle visits many of the writer’s retreats she describes in this column. They have helped her publish over 250 fiction and nonfiction pieces in print and online venues. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has guided doctoral candidates to completion of their dissertations. Based on this work, her latest project-in-progress is a practical-psychological-spiritual handbook, Grad U: Complete Your Dissertation—Finally—and Ease the Trip for Yourself and Everyone Who Has to Live With You. In her current book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books), Noelle draws examples from her practice and other aspects of life to help writers and others release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at http://www.trustyourlifenow.com/
Image Credit: freedigitalphotos.net
Note: A similar version of this post appeared in the "Bloom" Column at the Coffeehouse Blog.