Having been rejected by several residencies for this summer, I was resigned to writing at home before going back to teaching middle school in mid-August. But there is something about being in a different setting, among people who think about writing and words with a similar passion, that seems magical. So, with the help of a few friends who also write, we decided to make our own writing retreat.
Luckily, my friends and extraordinary writers Rachel Bunting and Donna Huneke knew of a house for rent in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. So, along with Rachel, Donna and two other writers (fiction and poetry alike), we set off for a week in a large log home with plenty of space to spread out and write. It was very affordable to share the cost of the house and groceries over five people, and we could explore and do tourist things OR just stay at the house and write without any fear of offending anyone else. Our week was relaxing, fun, rejuvenating, fruitful, and all-around AMAZING.
So here are some quick tips for creating your own DIY residency:
1. Find like-minded people with similar goals for the time frame. All of us had specific things we wanted to do – finish a novel, organize a poetry manuscript, create new drafts, get our writing mojo back. We all agreed that we didn’t necessarily want/need structured workshopping or craft talk (although we were available to each other for questions as they arose). And we also wanted it to be a vacation and give ourselves time to explore an area of the country that none of us had visited before.
2. Find a location that is accessible to all without extraordinary hardship. I flew to Rachel & Donna’s home in the Philly/South Jersey area. (The other writers were also from that area.) We drove together to the house, making me the only one that had to fly, which was fine with me. If every person has to get to a location that is geographically difficult, then the retreat will never work. Next year, we are hoping to do a “reverse” where Rachel & Donna fly to the Midwest and we drive from here.
3. Find a place with adequate space/amenities for all writers to feel comfortable. Do you need internet access to research your Victorian persona poems? Be sure your place has it. A table to spread out your manuscript pages? Ask if there is one. Do you need quiet? Make sure that your housemates have either similar needs or places to go where everyone can have the setting he/she needs to be productive. Does someone in your group have medical needs or dietary restrictions? Be sure that the surrounding area has access to necessities, whether that be a pharmacy or a grocery that carries soy products.
4. Take time to enjoy the surroundings. If you want to be holed up in a room writing all day at a retreat, that is understandable. But if you are like me, and you need to move and take in your surroundings, and have time to roll ideas around in your head while having some new experiences, then make sure you do so!
During this week, we didn’t all do the same things and didn’t always do things together. Some of us took solitary walks/runs on the mountain roads around the house. Some of us went out to swim in the local eddy under a covered bridge, to hike in a gorgeous state park, to visit a small town that boasts the world’s longest candy counter, to take a late-night moose -spotting tour. (Yes, we spotted three!)
We also found inspiration in the things around us: huge moths, the rush of wind in the trees, the smoked cheddar, the visible swath of stars.
Don’t pressure those who don’t want to explore, but be open to what might happen. (like finding a delicious, home-based bakery, luckily only a day or two before we left…)
5. Take time to enjoy each other! We cooked almost every night together, taking turns meal-planning. We had great conversations before/after dinner. Some nights we played board games. Some we all read or talked about roadblocks and successes in our writing that day. But we took time to be with one another and NOT just in our own heads every day. This is one of the biggest benefits of creating a residency with friends – social time will happen organically, and it will be refreshing.
After this experience, I’m not sure I will feel the need to spend money to apply for residencies in the future. Planning a retreat like this – whether with friends or alone – is certainly easy enough to do in this age of Air BnB and credit cards that provide airline miles. And whether your chosen place is a goldmine or a bust, being with friends will make it an adventure worthy of a new piece of writing, at the very least.