You know I did it. Yes. I escaped into the mountains for a writing retreat that pushed my limits. AND IT WAS AMAZING.

Two of my favorite writers (Stephan McLeroy and Kristin Luna) and I pulled together and busted out the best. writing. retreat. ever. If you want to see pics from it, check out here, here, here, and hereI’m kind of a creep in that last one.

*awkward chuckle*

Overall, it was pretty stunning.

We worked 12-14 hours days (I’m pretty sure I worked 16 hours one of the days, but it blurs) with sheer dedication to our writing tasks and career. There’s kind of an art form to productive writing retreats, so I’m giving you the information you need to craft the best—and most productive—time away.  (Trust me: this is not my first rodeo, but it is my first organized retreat with other people).

Because the most effective retreats are 1) focused 2) cheap and 3) exhausting.

12 Tips for a Productive (and cheap) Writing Retreat by @kcrosswriting

12 Tips To The Perfect Writing Retreat

1. Don’t Spend Money.

At least, not more than you have to.

I was easily under $500 for the trip (minus an airline snafu due to a change in my schedule). I left on Saturday, returned on Thursday and had 4 days of full-time work and 2 days of part time work.

  1. We split a rental car.
  2. Bought groceries for the week, and shared dinners.
  3. Kept track of flights way ahead of time to buy cheap.
  4. Carried my bag on the plane.
  5. Used my family cabin. (Thanks again, Ma!)

No one ever said writing retreats had to be far away, for the record.

2. Pick the Right People.

Kristin, Stephan, and I knew each other from the Superstars Writing Seminar where we met. We keep in contact enough to sense that we’d be great together.

And we were.

A few things that helped:

  1. We all did our own dishes.
  2. Took turns making dinner.
  3. Had (and used) headphones/ear buds.
  4. Set out expectations every day.
  5. Collaborated whenever we needed.
  6. Did other stuff, like card games, trips to a local town for groceries, etc.
  7. Fart jokes.

3. Pick the Right Environment.

For me, the familiar mountains are a safe place. (New ones are just a temptation I couldn’t refuse, so that was off the table for options).

Although I just wanted to go trail running all the time, being up there moved me out of my usual headspace and into another one. I busted through work like crazy, and enjoyed some trail time when I needed a break.

4. Have a To Do List.

I’d started a list before I arrived (and added to it quite a bit). Having it already in my head beforehand made it easy to plunge into the retreat. I also discussed some of my goals with Kristin and Stephan, who always had valuable feedback.

5. Take Comfortable Clothes.

I literally wore yoga pants the entire time. This will vary. Some people find heels comfortable. You do you. I’m just saying: put yourself in a physical place where you can dive headfirst into writing. Whatever that means.

6. Pick Childcare You Totally Trust.

This was so important. Because, obviously, LM got sick the day I left and had raging fevers until Wednesday. Thankfully, my amazing husband and in-laws rose to the occasion and I didn’t worry at all.

7. Have Decompression Time.

Working that much (if you choose to work as much as we did) can get really intense. At the end of the day, we had great food and plenty of easy card games that didn’t require a lot of brainpower. Not to mention intense, deep conversations I’ll never forget and always cherish.

8. Don’t Hold Onto Parent Guilt.

Doing something for myself and my career was no joke!

That is hard to do! Husband took two days off work so he could care for my son, and my in-laws made space in their busy lives for me—and LM—so I could have this chance. When I found out LM had a raging 102 degree fever, I felt horrible. But then I realized that this was going to be fine. LM had people who loved him taking care of him, and this was a wonderful opportunity I didn’t want to squander in guilt and insecurity. So I let go of it and chose to enjoy.

When I came back to LM, it totally was fine.

9. Take Breaks. Often.

Breaks meant several things for me.

  1. Trail run.
  2. Walk/hike.
  3. Walk around the deck.
  4. Lay in the sunshine and deep breathe.
  5. Dance to the Moana soundtrack.
  6. Edit instead of writing.
  7. Web design instead of editing or writing.
  8. Talk to Kristin and Stephan.
  9. Take a hot shower.
  10. Stare at the wall.
  11. Play a card game.

10. Switch Projects.

This won’t apply for everyone, but having a lot of projects helped me be able to work 12-14 hour days, because I never got bored or overloaded by one thing. I did anything from editing, freelancing projects, website redesign, blog post curation, fantasy book development, and more.

11. GOOD FOOD. I mean, like, GOOD FOOD.

This, for me, was a must.

At the end of a long day, knowing I was going to dive face first into delicious food (like this vegetarian South African soup that Kristin made) motivated me a lot. Is that sad? Probably.

But so wonderful, too.

12. Don’t forget to take the tax deduction.

That flight? Deduction. Those miles? Deduction. Those groceries? Deduction. Deduction. Deduction.

In Conclusion

Writing retreats really don’t have to—and arguably shouldn’t—break the bank. Especially as parents. If you can finagle time away from the kiddos to just do what you love (and you don’t have to work as much as I did), then you can thank yourself for the self care. There are no rules. Retreats don’t have to involve other people, travel, or even food. (But why wouldn’t you?)

We’re definitely doing this every year. I’m going to make the choice to take time for myself once a year. Even if that means I lock myself in my bedroom for an entire weekend and send everyone else to my inilaws.

Writing retreats are just good for your brain.