The Benefits of Attending a Writers' Retreat

Last Updated on April 11, 2022

A view from the Palazzo Stabile artists' residency
The view from the communal outdoor table under grapevines at the Palazzo Stabile artists' residency in Castelletto Molina, Italy.

As a budding writer or an experienced one, you might be intrigued by the idea of writers' residencies or retreats that offer the time and space to work on a project you haven't been able to fit into your daily routine.

Located in the United States and many other places around the world, writers' residencies or writers' retreats are places for artists that offer lodging, space, and time for writers to work on their projects — away from home and away from the distractions that come with modern life. Some residencies can last for one week, while others are much lengthier, lasting one to three months or more.

Attending a residency or retreat usually involves living among other creatives — typically other writers or other artists such as musicians, painters, and dancers.

Most retreats and residencies require an application in which you present the writing project you wish to work on while you're there. Some programs offer grants to help you pay their fees, while other programs require that you pay out of pocket to attend.

Here are a few ways these wonderful programs can help you finish your book.

1. Time to Do the Work

Many writers say they have a book or a writing project they've been meaning to finish, but just haven't had the time. Attending a retreat or residency essentially can buy you time — time in which your only task is to work on your writing project.

2. Concentrated Time Alone

Modern life includes a multitude of distractions and responsibilities— from your job to your family to chores and errands. Retreats and residencies offer time away from your routine and usually are held in quiet spaces in which you will be able to focus only on the writing you need to get done. For a writer, alone time is a key factor in writing and finishing a book.

3. Distraction Free

Even before the pandemic began, finding time for your book or your art could be challenging. Now, in the work-from-home era, we're pulled in more directions than ever. Our homes are no longer spaces reserved only for personal life; for many, they also serve as offices. We're constantly distracted by notifications, social media feeds, the news, and an ongoing barrage of pings, rings, and dings. Being at a residency or a retreat offers you the chance to mute the outside world.

Most residencies offer quiet desk spaces where you can set up your computer or open your notebook and have blank space to think, feel, and generally get down what you're trying to say.

Many residencies and retreats offer you the chance to be off your devices and screens for as long as you'd like.

4. Change of Environment

The new terrain will have its own routines and rhythms that, in turn, will help you create your own new routines and rhythms. The change in your familiar environment will inspire you to dig deeper with your words or perhaps open up channels and portals within yourself that you didn't know existed.

For instance, a residency that offers you a single room in a 14th century winery in Italy in the middle of a vineyard will have you reconsidering the way you view the world.

5. Exploration

Retreats and residencies often offer the chance to see and experience a new place. This can work wonders for your creative flow. New experiences are a breeding ground for new ideas. And being somewhere unfamiliar might be just what you need to get creatively unstuck or allow your thoughts to meander in new directions.

Many residencies and retreats encourage you to explore the local towns, restaurants, and outdoor areas as part of their programs. Some places may also offer their own programming, such as dinners with the locals in the town where you're living, or bonfires in the evening that gather artists together.

6. Being Around Other Artists

Being around other writers or other creative artists will inspire your work and possibly your process for how you create. Seeing how they work, their commitment level, what their daily pace and routines are like, and how they work through patches of being stuck can inform how you might work through challenges too. The time to be around other creatives can also help build your momentum toward completing a piece of writing you've really wanted to get to the finish line.

You might meet pianists who inspire you to write every single day because they play every day.

If you are moved to attend a writers' residency or retreat, there are a few points to consider when applying, such as: the application fee (if there is one) and other program fees, travel costs (residencies and retreats are often in faraway places, and most often writers are expected to pay for their own travel expenses), and how long you can afford to be away from home (i.e., will you use vacation days? who will take care of pets, kids, and other responsibilities?).

Overall, these opportunities exist in the world to help artists of all stripes focus on and finish more work. Taking a chance on shaking up your routine and doing something different in a new place that offers concentration and inspiration could greatly benefit your book projects and move you toward getting more pages written.

You can find retreats and residencies on Poets & Writers.

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