My DIY Writing Retreat: What it Taught Me about My Writing Practice

by A.H. Plotts
published in Writing

While my new column is about short fiction; short stories, novellas, novelettes, and flash, I want to start with some thoughts designed to help focus on writing, no matter what form it takes. Setting up time to write can be more challenging than choosing what form to write in, so I designed a DIY writing retreat to help me develop my writing practice. What I learned was that it takes more than just putting words on the page to keep my writing practice going. I need to nourish my body, my mind, and my soul. 

DIY Writing Retreat Set-Up

I designed my week-long writing retreat to focus on three areas that are important to my personal development: writing, (revising my current WIP or “work in progress,” a horror novel in its sixth draft); learning, (reading and writing exercises from a workbook on writing horror); and reading comparative horror novels. I also included down time, exercise, and breaks for meals in my daily schedule. 

My hubby found an AirBnB we could retreat to and vowed to prepare my meals over the week-long retreat that coincided with my birthday, joining me and supporting what I was trying to do. 

Nourishing the Body 

No matter what writing space or position is most comfortable for your body, it’s important to remember to move around. Get up, stretch in place, change positions. The older I get, the harder it is to recover physically after being in a particular position for long stretches of time. I need to remind myself to sit comfortably and to move!

When I get into a groove while writing, I don’t want to get up and out of my chair to go to the bathroom, let alone prepare a meal. But I know that if I don’t feed and water my body, I won’t be able to work at my peak level of performance no matter what I’m doing. 

I scheduled three meals a day during my retreat, and when I took those breaks, I moved to the dining table. I didn’t panic thinking I was infringing on my writing practice, because those breaks were accounted for in my schedule.  

If you’re lucky to have a significant other who is willing to prepare your meals, I can now say from experience that it’s wonderful. Especially if they’re a good cook. But even if you’re on your own, don’t skip feeding the body! Do some preparation ahead of time. Order in. Bring prepared meals you can microwave. Utilize restaurants or grocery stores nearby. Whatever you decide, just schedule enough time in your day to limit anxiety and maximize the time for your writing practice. 

One other note about setting up your space. It’s nice to get away, but staying at home you know what you’re in for. Our AirBnB was a place we’d never been to before, more rustic than expected, and with some surprises we were well-prepared for. The anxiety that arose from being in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable place was not helpful. Which leads me to the next point. The importance of sleep to nourish the body. 

One of my birthday wishes was to have my cat with me during my retreat. I miss him when I travel. Unfortunately, during this retreat, I learned that he is NOT well suited for travel. He spent nights crying, pacing, and running over the top of me while I was trying to sleep. One of the unwelcome surprises at the retreat location was the serious rodent action that drove our cat crazy. By day two, I was suffering from sleep deprivation. That led to napping during the day, screwing up my schedule. 

Nourishing the Mind 

I’d designed my retreat to get the maximum amount of work done on my writing practice. I operate well within a schedule. I like routine. It was a good lesson that even the best laid plans can go sideways. Some deviations are outside our ability to control. Just as in life, in our writing practice, we must be aware and ready to accept these changes, and not let it mess with our heads, or move us away from our goals. 

The week of my DIY retreat, some of the worst storms in Californian history took place. There was torrential rain. There was flash-flooding. Gale force winds whipped trees out the ground. And there I was, hunkered down in a cabin in the woods, in the mountains, with an anxious cat, but we were fine.

Until the roof started leaking. 

Then the power went out. 

After a day without power, the caretakers provided us with a generator and a camp stove to cook on. I could recharge my laptop, cell phones, and power one lamp. I continued working. But by then, I was sleep deprived from cat and rodent shenanigans at night, dealing with a tarp-covered roof to keep the rain out, and the bricks that held the tarp down kept flying up and landing hard on the already compromised roof . . .

Then the scratching began. 

High up on a wall with a weird little door, too high for even a ladder to reach.

As a horror writer, it was inspirational. As for the retreat, it was not as motivating as I had planned.

I forged on, pivoted and shimmied my way along. I read about writing during the day and did my writing by hand when the laptop ran out of juice. I kept reading horror novels to regain some inspiration and wrote about my cabin experience. I tried to be kind and understanding to myself and took a nap when I needed one. Sure, my schedule went kerflooey, but I adapted and pressed on with my original goals, reminding myself that adversity builds strength for living life to the fullest.   

Nourishing the Soul

The real lesson? This DIY writing retreat was my doing. I planned it, and my experience and take-aways were ultimately up to me and me alone. When things didn’t work out according to the all-mighty schedule, there was no need for blaming or shaming myself, because I’d done the best I could to plan for what I wanted to accomplish. NOT everything that might happen. When one’s DIY retreat schedule goes topsy-turvy (some aspect almost always will), just go with it. Ride it out. Or change it. Or end it altogether if you’re not getting what you want out of the experience. 

On the next to the last day of our rodent-infested, cabin-in-the-woods, in-the-soggy-mountains experience, the sun returned, and the rain and the wind stopped raging. I was looking forward to having a “normal” day, with power for my laptop, and the afternoon walks I’d scheduled and missed because of the inclement weather. My husband looked at me and said, “we could leave today, if you want to.” I blurted out, “yes! Please!” feeling a rush of relief like never before or since.

It hadn’t even occurred to me until that moment that I could leave. I was planning to tough it out until the bitter end, by golly. It was a wonderful feeling knowing it was okay to head home, to end my DIY retreat a day early, get our cat back to his comfort zone and finish my retreat with maybe a day of horror movies on TV and a good night’s sleep. We immediately started packing up the car and the cat and got the heck out of there.

It’s okay to give yourself what you need to nourish your soul. Leave the retreat or take a day off from your writing practice if you need to. Do some yoga, meditate, listen to music to give yourself a break and to wind down from daily living, or just your writing time. It’s all good. Yoga is soul-nurturing for me, but it was hard for me to focus on my yoga practice while I was at the cabin. I was freaked out and on my guard most of the time. I listened to music, meditated, and ultimately departed the cabin completely. I lived well and wrote later.

Putting the Writing Retreat Experience all Together

What did I learn from my retreat experience? I learned a lot about what I want in my regular writing practice. I love putting words on the page. Making time for writing isn’t hard for me. What I discovered was that learning about writing motivates me. I was also inspired by reading books written by authors in my genre. Most of all, I learned to give myself some space. To feel free to fail. To remember to fill my body, my mind, and my soul so that I can keep doing what I love, what I need (I can’t not write, it’s in my blood).

My writing cup is now spilling over, and a full cup has plenty to go around. So, stay tuned!

A.H. Plotts writes and watches horror and dark sci-fi stories. She also likes playing in her garden, catching the waves, and eating delicious food on the California coast. Find her rantings all about it at

You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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