Why a Writing Retreat (Probably) Won’t Help You Write Better

Is it really the best solution to a much bigger problem?

Wouldn’t you just love to be able to drop everything, escape to an isolated cabin in the woods, and spend day and night working on your latest writing project until it’s finally finished?

It’s the dream. No distractions. No excuses. Only words.

I used to picture what life would be like when this finally became my “normal.” After all, isn’t that one of a writer’s many luxuries — having a quiet, distraction-free place to go when an idea comes calling?

I don’t know about you. But I learned the hard way that’s not exactly how writing as an adult works.

It turns out writers have just as much to deal with on a daily basis as everyone else. Friends, family drama, errands, meals — all the stressors that come with being a grown-up, except you also have to write. Or, you want to write. Maybe a little bit of both.

That cabin-in-the-woods fantasy is tempting because we all wish we could write without being interrupted. Unfortunately, that’s just not a realistic expectation. It’s not something we should really hope for, because most days of the year, it’s not going to happen.

Most days we will have to figure out how to write amidst the chaos. How to write when there are three TVs blasting at once in different parts of the house, when there are more people than usual in the coffee shop, when we haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in over a week. When we’d just rather … not.

You can go off on your own, isolate yourself from the world and its many problems and distractions, and write at least some of a really good book.

And for those who have a hard time getting started or focusing, this might be a great thing in the short-term.

The problem is that retreating isn’t really teaching you how to write in the real world.

In the real world, distractions are prevalent. You can’t always easily shut them out. I would love to take the next week off, lock myself in a room, and work on some personal writing. But I can’t. I have to write “for fun” on top of work and taking care of my puppy and … everything else. It’s not ideal. It’s just How Things Are.

There are pros and cons to writing retreats. I think everyone can benefit from the occasional quick escape — as long as you actually write while you’re there! But it isn’t necessarily the most practical or realistic strategy for everyone, especially those who want to make writing their full-time job.

You’ll be much better off treating writing retreats as a very special luxury and doing what you can to learn how to create consistently despite life’s many distractions. In the long-term, you’ll be able to endure many more writing obstacles — and increase your chances of publishing something truly amazing.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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6 thoughts on “Why a Writing Retreat (Probably) Won’t Help You Write Better

  1. I suppose the commercial concerns who spend money trying to persuade us of the benefits of a writing retreat may not agree with this but it seems sound advice to me. Much better to write in surroundings that are normal and somehow reassuring, after all that is how the ideas came in the first place.

    1. I mean, I would love to go on one someday. But like, once. Just to experience it, you know? I’m definitely not against them or anything, though, I’m sure they’re very helpful to many writers. :)

  2. This is great and so true. I love your thoughts on what a writer’s life really is. It would be great to retreat to a cottage every so often, but would it really help us write more? Probably not.

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