Notes from a Travel Writer: A DIY Writing Retreat in 6 Steps


Given a choice, I’d write in this cabin at the Lake of the Woods in Southern Oregon. Given no time and money, I’ll take the backyard.

airstreamI work from home, and it’s a nightmare every day. All around me, my house and family beg to be tended. Dishes call to me from the sink. I’m sure I can smell the decay of laundry piling up from a floor away. The dust gets downright sassy. And yet, I’ve found a way to make it work — to ignore what must (eventually) be done in favor of what must be done right now:

The work of my writing life.

But a writing retreat? In the home? Can’t I just go to the San Juans or something?

My area of the country is home to a ton of writing retreat areas, but it’s not in the cards for me right now. So I thought I’d try to do one at home to see if there is something to be learned from retreating from your daily life while you’re still in it.

The Problem

Information abounds about how to make the most of an at-home writing retreat. The number one approach is to make a solid commitment to yourself and your writing for a specific space of time. Some recommend doing it with a friend. Most everyone says that setting goals for your writing retreat should be the number one priority.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any problem  setting goals. I am a goal-setting monster, which is why you could line a marathon route with my list of to-do’s. What I do far less is free-write — simply write in the old-school hand-to-paper method and see what comes up, take these handshakes and mental high-fives happening constantly in my mind and just get them down, see what happens.

For me, this is the goal of a writing retreat. It’s a mind dump of the best sort — a space for free-flowing activity that exists wholly within the structure of a place and a time. The challenge is to come up with that SPACE.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer my tips for an at-home, DIY Writing Retreat.

1.Prepare Your Retreat Kit


You can have your writing retreat packet ready to go, and because the barrier to entry for writing is so minimal, you don’t need much. But a word about coffee cups. You know how when you arrive at an amazing destination you often find they have the WRONG COFFEE CUPS. Like giant thick-lipped ones, or dainty saucered ones? Pick one of your cups that you don’t like. Remember: You’re on vacation! The goal is to feel different from routine.

2. Disrupt Your Routine


Here’s my normal routine. Not bad, right? But if the goal is to get away…

You really have to be somewhere other than where you normally are for a writing retreat. Otherwise it’s not a retreat, is it?

  • If you write at a desk, try on your lap
  • If you write at a laptop, try by hand
  • If you always write in the same chair, choose a different chair
  • If you write inside, write outside
  • If you write alone, consider inviting a friend

3. Add Sensual Details

No surprise here, I find scent particularly transporting. If I can’t travel by foot I can always travel by nose. Here is how.

  • Light a Modern Mint aromatherapy candle.
  • Smell a favorite perfume before you begin.
  • If you have a place you wish you could go (say, Bend, OR), smell something associated with the place (like Pure Organic Ponderosa Pine Essential Oil)
  • If you are working with memory, get an object to smell or touch that evokes the memory

4. Read a Travel Passage (or four)


A few of my favorite transporting writing, a style for every mood.

If the goal of getting yourself in a different space feels impossible, find some great passages of travel literature that will transport you from your NOW, something from Paul Theroux (The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific), or Pico Iyer (The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere), or Alain de Botton (The Art of Travel), or Kaui Hart Hemmings (The Descendants: A Novel), whatever transporting work can take you somewhere else. Basically you need words that feel like a plane ride (or a surf board, or a train trip, whatev).

5. Find Your Blinders

Just try feeling the same with this guy on your hand...

Just try feeling the same with this guy on your hand…

What do I mean by blinders? I mean, some kind of token item you can wear that you wouldn’t wear otherwise, something that would help you feel a little different, more on vacation, more playful. Anything at all that’s different from routine.

Some ideas:

  • A feather boa. Okay, not for me, but maybe for you, or just a killer scarf
  • A cool hat. I’m thinking a sun hat for me since I ended up outside
  • Flip-flops — especially if you don’t wear them normally
  • A puppet — to act out your dialogues that come out
  • A pair of shades

Does this sound silly? It is. But it might work for you. Best to leave judgment at home and see what you like.

6. Work Those Prompts

NatalieI have always loved Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within and was deeply happy when her book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoircame out a few years ago. It has some truly excellent writing prompts for writers of memoir. Not all will yield something of value for your work, but that’s not the point. It’s about getting in the work flow and seeing what emerges.

Or not. You don’t need writing prompts, but they are there if you do. If you have no time to go to the library, you could always just print out this list.

Best wishes for a happy, productive, or just plain awesome brain dump! If you have any ideas on how to create space for creativity in your own space, I’d love to hear them!

5 thoughts on “Notes from a Travel Writer: A DIY Writing Retreat in 6 Steps

  1. brockadcock says:

    I’m currently trying to write song lyrics while in my office at work. It’s not easy with all the distraction and noise. In a few weeks I’m going to take a retreat to write in the desert. Im so excited.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Grosvenor says:

      See, for me I think a desert might dry me up. I wonder if I’d do best with some kind of full body mind and heart purge involving Scandinavian ice baths or something. Good luck on your retreat!


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