How to set up your own solo (writing) retreat

by Starla J. King on January 22, 2013

You desperately want to go on a writing retreat but those offered by [insert famous writer’s name here] don’t fit your schedule… or your bank account … or your social / spiritual / environmental / nutritional needs.

So yet another year passes with that book unwritten, the soul un-explored, the deep dive into your most important work left sitting somewhere on a dusty “Someday, when…” list.

Well, why not set that retreat up yourself… for yourself?

You can have your own personal writing (or painting, photography, jewelry-making, self-discovering, or whatever) retreat:

  • led by the perfect guide (you)
  • in the perfect environment (yours)
  • at the perfect time (you decide)
  • for the perfect price (up to you), and
  • the perfect purpose (your choice).

I hear some of you melting like European chocolate on a sun-kissed, sand-smoothed rock being licked by the tide of the French Riviera.   Yeah, me too.

Which is why I finally set up my own writing retreat:  5 days, just me, here at home (or near home), with all my time from 5:30am – 8pm focused on facilitating the writing of my book.  It’s not an easy thing to do, but in reality it’s quite simple: 

  1. You decide it’s important.
  2. You set aside the time.

  3. You do the work.

1.  Decide it’s important. 

This one is likely your toughest obstacle — at least it has been for me.  How do I make the case (to myself or others) for the value of putting words together?  How does a visual artist make the case for the value of colors, lines and textures?  How does a “seeker” make the case for the value of solitary meditation, prayer, and contemplation?

Start by getting as clear as possible on what it is you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what impact you are hoping for (and if you’re stumped, get a coach to help coax your answers forth).

Me?  I do whatever I can to bring more beauty — and attention to existing beauty — into the world around me.

But what does beauty matter when there’s hunger in the world?  What good can beauty do when there are groups and individuals shoved to the graceless margins of existence?

Well, beauty opens hearts –> open hearts leak compassion –> compassion dissolves hate –> Less Hate = More Love.    And, as Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, “love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems.”   Case for beauty MADE!

Make the case to yourself and decide your work is important.  Claim your right and your need to write (or paint, pray, sing, care, photograph, etc!) .

Step 2: Set aside the time

If at all possible, set aside a substantial (in your opinion) amount of time — to show yourself you really mean it!

I chose 5 days, Monday-Friday (my regular work week), arranged ahead of time for no meetings and no client deliverables (sorry, my dears) and no work-time obligations to siphon time away from book writing.

Key phrase here:  ARRANGED AHEAD OF TIME.   Let people know your plan of dedicating time to your chosen pursuit — own it, cherish it, then protect it, protect it, protect it.

Easy?  No.   Doable?  Oh yes.   Particularly if (see #1).

Step 3:  Do the work

Ok maybe this one’s the most difficult.  Doing the work means you meet up with your own reality:  does the book idea have wings (and roots)?  Does your capacity match your vision?  Are you brave enough to jump into the murky waters of the not-yet-created?

Well, that’s why we set up these retreats — to get ourselves to do the work so we can see what’s really there.  Daunting for sure, and deliciously intriguing, exciting, strengthening.

So… doing the work:  even the creative spirit benefits from a little structure, so create a plan for the work … a loose, flexible plan, but a plan nonetheless.  Otherwise you can count on about 4.5 days of piddling around and a good solid 20 minutes of writing (or the other creating you’re  there to do) – TOTAL.

My plan looks something like this (I admit… my coach helped squeak it out of me):

Playtime to loosen up my brain.
Announce on FB that I’m heading into a writing retreat
Journal about writing the book, in order to:
– Clear
– Look for inner/universal wisdom
– Shine light on gremlins
Fill out Wheel of Life for Writing Retreat
Gather relevant reference books and inspiration books [see below]
Save all blog posts as Word docs for reference/ideas
Tuesday – Thursday:
Write my little brains, heart, & soul out.
End of Tues: send publisher 3-4 “final” pages so she can work on design
At end of each day, do a quick self-check-in re: any changes I may want to make to facilitate the writing process
– write down lessons learned
– schedule next writing days
writing retreat tools

My own writing retreat in progress this week (click photo to enlarge)

I’d love to discuss this further, but I’ve got a writing retreat to get to…


If you want to create your own solo writing retreat, I offer single coaching sessions and would love to help you get clear on your retreat needs and plan!  See my Writing Coaching Services page for more information. 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Viljoen January 22, 2013 at 1:36 pm

As a life coach, what catches my attention most, is your summary of the steps:
1. You decide it’s important.
2. You set aside the time.
3. You do the work.
You could live a life with these principles.


Starla J. King January 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Susan, I *love* your application of those 3 steps to LIFE! Yes, absolutely. Amen.

I find the tasks — and rewards — of writing to so often mirror the tasks — and rewards — of life and vice versa…


Rebecca P Cohen January 22, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Mmmmm. Love the idea of a retreat and thinking of writing as a retreat. I will take the essence of your plan and apply it to my non-retreat week by making 20 minutes for a writing retreat each day. Already did it today and can’t wait to do it tomorrow! Thanks Starla!


Starla J. King January 23, 2013 at 10:34 am

And once again, Rebecca, you give ME a new idea from my own post! Yes, who says we can’t treat 20 minutes as a retreat of whatever kind we need?

I’m psyched that we’re both on a writing retreat this week now! 🙂


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