Unlocking Creativity: The Transformative Power of Writing Retreats

writing retreat

I don’t often think of myself as someone who craves ritual. But I believe that to some extent, all human beings find ritual to be comforting (and I do have several daily rituals that keep me grounded—don’t talk to me before I’ve had my morning walk and don’t get between me and my three pieces of dark chocolate after dinner). 

There’s this sense that as long as I have a plan, the hard thing can get done. All I have to do is stick to the plan. And plans are always stickier when they’re sprinkled with ritual.

I’ve also always enjoyed the ritual of going on retreat. I’ve been doing yoga retreats twice a year for most of the past nine years. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my first yoga mountain retreat, just outside of Asheville, NC, changed my life. And I’ve done a few short business retreats here and there too.

Now, I’ve graduated to hosting writing retreats and I’m deep in the throes of honing my idea of what is most valuable about this type of retreat. After completing some (surprisingly fun) customer listening sessions, I can also share what others find valuable about writing retreats. So, let’s dig in!

The Evolution of a Writing Retreat

In addition to not thinking of myself as someone who craves ritual, I also don’t think of myself as a master planner. I chronically buy last-minute airline tickets and start thinking about vacation logistics much too late. I think Priya Parker was looking in my window when she wrote about “the chill host.” 

I much prefer to go along with the plans that others’ make. So the idea of hosting a writing retreat seemed totally out of the question—until I asked myself: What would it look like to host a writing retreat that feels like a win?

While I was on vacation in Puerto Rico (a vacation planned by someone else, of course), I hatched the idea to host my first informal writing retreat, probably after spending a bit too much time in the sun. 

I was thinking about the book I was writing for myself and texting with a dear friend who was also working on her book. I floated the idea of spending a few days at the beach in early May working on our books. She said yes to flying out to Raleigh from St. Louis, I rented an Airbnb, whipped up a quick agenda, asked another friend for a list of vegan food options at the beach, and we were off.

Over the course of two full days and eight 90-minute writing sessions, we each wrote over 10,000 words. I finished the rough draft of my book and she started hers. It was pure magic.

That led to a second informal writing retreat in Pittsburgh, hooking up with someone else who is a master planner and wants to facilitate retreats (taking care of those pesky “chill host” vibes), and a plan to co-host our first formal writing retreat this fall (October 5-9).

Since then, my co-host, Erin Braford, and I have been building deliberately behind the scenes, including doing some market research. And I have really loved the process. We learned so much by doing these interviews and while I have my own ideas about the value of a writing retreat, it has been amazing hearing others’ perspectives. So, I want to share some of what we learned.

The Work

We asked our market research participants about the value of retreats and the outcomes and experience they would expect from a writing retreat focused on helping them make progress on a business book. Of course, they all led with the work.

Participants want to leave a three-day writing retreat with a good chunk of their book written. Even those who haven’t started writing, would consider a retreat to help them nail down their idea, polish their outline, and get a couple of chapters under their belt.

There’s no doubt that the focused and distraction-free retreat environment is great for getting started on a big project, like writing a book, building momentum, and forming those writing habits that will become the basis for a strong writing plan moving forward.

To ensure that our retreat participants hit the ground writing in October, I recommend that everyone comes with at least an outline of their book and a clear idea of where they will start writing. I will also meet one-on-one with participants two weeks ahead of time and offer some “pre-retreat homework,” so they are set up to make the best of their time away from their normal routines.

To keep that momentum going after the retreat, we’ll also offer a couple of check in sessions with retreat participants. Feeling that the retreat was worth it in terms of the progress you made tops the list for everyone we talked to. And yeah, Erin and I wouldn’t do this if we didn’t agree.

Betting on Yourself

Participants also confirmed what I’ve experienced myself: When I invest in myself, I make damn sure I get a return on that investment. Taking time away from running your business is an investment. Taking time away from your family is an investment—let alone the price tag on the retreat itself. Make no mistake, this is not a vacation. This is work.

But in making this investment, you’re betting on future you. Many who are getting started on their business books know it’s a big undertaking and they can’t help feeling overwhelmed or intimidated. It’s natural to feel this way. And you wouldn’t be human if those fears didn’t creep in, delaying your progress. You can think of the writing retreat as a downpayment on facing that fear.

A writing retreat is dedicated time that you give yourself for the purpose of getting sh*t done. Sh*t that, let’s be honest, wouldn’t get done otherwise. That’s the value of betting on yourself.

Community and Connection

Above all, what we heard during our listening sessions is that no one wants to write a business book in isolation. There’s something so transformative and beautiful about writing in community and connecting with others on a similar journey.

I have experienced this power firsthand. Truthfully, this is the biggest reason I said yes to hosting another retreat after the first one. Sitting in a room listening to the diligent clicks of other writers’ keyboards, you can’t help but be swept up by their energy. There’s simply no way I’m going to stop and check my email or answer that text from my sister. All of that can wait until the timer goes off.

Yet, I was still underestimating the value of the community we’re bringing together. Before we started this research, I thought that the main attraction would be in hitting a word count goal. And while the work was top of mind for most participants, everyone closely followed up by talking about community and connection.

Participants talked about connecting with their peers and sharing their book ideas. They talked about connecting with experts for one-on-one time focused on their work and answering their questions. And they talked about networking with other business owners.

It warms my little collaborative heart to get this feedback. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the other entrepreneurs and consultants I have met in community. Building a community of writers who can lift each other up, share resources, and grow together is a key part of my grand vision for the future.

A Sense of Accomplishment and Confidence About Next Steps

Finally, participants reported that they see value in the sense of accomplishment and confidence about next steps they would experience following a writing retreat. Often getting started is the hardest part, and even once you are on a roll, you can get stuck and in that case, getting restarted can be just as hard as starting initially. 

This is why I talk to business owners all the time who tell me they have spent the past decade working on their books. Don’t let this be you. You can write your book in six months or less. Imagine how accomplished you’d feel and if you need some confidence, I’ve got plenty to spare. I know you can do this! 

Erin and I see the value of these writing retreats being there for anyone working on a business book at any stage in the process:

  • For those who have an outline, a retreat can be a great jump start to the writing process. 
  • For those who have a few chapters, but who might be stuck, we are here to talk you through those knots and get you writing again. 
  • For those who are close to the finish line, we’d love to celebrate you as you complete your draft or plow through those developmental edits on a draft you’re sick of re-reading.

In the words of one market research participant, “give yourself the gift of a big push.” This is the transformative power of writing retreats.

I may not be the person who craves rituals or plans out every minute of every day, but I know how to meet you where you are and push you to have your very best writing day. String together a few of those days in a row and viola, you have the rough draft of your book.

Applications for the fall writing retreat will be open soon. Here’s what you need to know now: 

  • Dates: October 5-9 
  • Where: a beautiful location, within an hour of a major east coast airport, TBA 

If you’d like to be kept in the loop as we release more of the details, email me (emily@thepocketphd.com) or fill out the contact form. I’d love to help you unlock your creativity.

Image by Freepik