The 5 REAL 'L' Words of a Writer's Retreat

by - June 2, 2017

There are moments when everything moves inwards and I feel like I'm doing nothing but treading water. Because to focus on the backstroke means the breaststroke gets neglected. Or so it feels. And so I sit in this puddle of overstimulated TO-DO with no clear direction on which to fix my gaze.

Things get done, but it doesn't feel efficient; and honestly, there are times I sit in my pretty little writing room and scroll through social media, sipping a tea or coffee without actually tasting it, not doing what I sat down to do in the first place.


A refocus is necessary. Whether it's once a year, once a month, or once a week. It's part of maintaining good mental health. And it's important to recognize the sludge in your lungs, climb out of the farm pond, spit in the bucket, and dive into a deliciously clear mountain spring.

For me, that spring was a weekend writer's retreat. And I call it a writer's retreat, but really it was an opportunity to clear my head and get-er-done—to face the projects I'd been dragging my heels on, to refocus on my goals, to set the cross-hairs on my target and take the shots I've been too nervous to take.

And to make a real go of it, I needed these five things:

  1. Inspiring LOCATION
  2. LIKE-MINDED companions
  3. Unapologetic LISTS
  4. Permission to LAZE
  5. Lots of LUNCH (aka food at my fingertips)

Inspiring LOCATION

Because I am basically the luckiest girl in the world, one member of my Writer's Jam group has a family cottage, perched neatly along the shoreline of Lake Huron. With three bedrooms, one bathroom, a full kitchen, a wood stove, gorgeous views of the water, and WiFi, it was designed for a weekend like this.

Upon arrival, after going down to look at the water (Rule #1 of the cottage, I was told), I set myself up at a table in front of a picture window that looked down on the lake. And later, when I needed a break from the screen, I could wander the shoreline, or stumble* along a walking path I discovered, or sit out on the rocks to watch the loons dive or the sun set. (Rule #2 of the cottage: stop everything and go outside to watch the sunset.)

Being so close to so much beauty was exactly the kind of brain-break I needed in the middle of my chaos-break (aka Writer's Retreat)

*I may have landed ankle deep in a little stream that crossed the path because the stepping stones weren't secure. I say 'may have'. I'm not actually admitting anything really happened.


I strongly believe one of the best thing I've ever done for my own creativity was to open my table to a writer's group. For a long time I'd looked at my trajectory as a purely individual pursuit. Part of this was my introverted nature. Couple my natural shyness with that pesky 'I'm just a mom' attitude and you're left with flighty dreams that don't really stand a chance at seeing the light of day. When I started chipping away at that SHYWALL and actually invited others into my creative story, the things that opened up for me...the hope and the was truly beautiful. 

So, to pair a working writing weekend with two of those table-sharing-lovelies? Yes, please!

We are wonderfully different, each at different stages of our journeys, each with different projects on the go, and different goals we're currently reaching for BUT to share a space with people who crave creative living with the same fervour I do...that's just a breath of fresh air.

Had I tackled this weekend with others less inclined to creative projects, it would have fallen flat. We had shared vision. We were not there to have fun, or giggle into the night, or get fat on junk food and steak (though all those things happened!) —we were there because we all had things we wanted to accomplish and we trusted one another enough to know we would be allowed to chase after those things.

Unapologetic LISTS

My first task of the weekend was to create a list of all I hoped to accomplish. The girls and I joked about putting things on our lists just so we could check them off quickly and feel accomplished. Like 'Make List' or 'Boil Kettle'. Lists ground me. They help me focus and give me direction. And darn it, I love checking things off—a big HECK-YES! I'M DOING IT!

My initial list had sixteen major things I aimed to get through. (Of course, those sixteen received about a million sub-points each.) And in the end, I managed to scribble a pretty check beside twelve of those sixteen.

I feel good about that number.

And the amazing thing about lists is: you can bring them home with you! Ah yes...the work never ends...

Permission to LAZE

Focused dedication is HARD WORK and hard work deserves a break now and then. With no set agenda (save dinner plans and the 'stop everything and watch the sunset' rule) and because we were each working on our own projects, there was no expectation to go to bed or to get up or to wear pants. We each followed our own clock and comfort. Pyjamas all day? Why not?! 

With a cottage complete with two tables, two couches, and an easy chair, we found ourselves on an organic rotation—changing positions as bums went numb at the table, or legs fell asleep on the couch. And there was always the open invitation to take a walk, alone or with a partner—no pressure either way. There was only one time when we all actually sat and worked together in the same location, and that was on the first evening, after an incredible steak dinner (thanks Pam!), and after WE MISSED THE SUNSET (can you believe it?!) we all ended up at the table together, digging in until midnight.

Lots of LUNCH

You might have thought we were preparing for the apocalypse with all the food we brought with us. But let me be very clear: productivity depends on calories! Don't argue, I won't have it. We had a wealthy supply of snacks and treats and make-your-own breakfast and lunch spoils. No one went hungry or thirsty. There was a moment when we thought the only tea we had was Earl Grey (gag!) but thankfully—THANKFULLY—that problem was quickly rectified.

Dinners were more intentional. There was the aforementioned steak (which will forever live in our memories as the thing that made us go OOOOOOOOOOOOOO and I'll have what she's having and It will not defeat me!). And there was the trip into the nearby beach town for fish and chips that turned into a Celebrate The Church in the Wildwood Dinner. (You can read more about that here along with some more dorky book-nerd photos.)

celebrating The Church in the Wildwood by Alanna Rusnak

Food is the ultimate key to writing retreat success. You can take that to the bank!

It was a wonderful weekend of PRODUCTIVE GLORY and I'm already trying to figure out how I can make it happen regularly. I'm pretty sure a writer's retreat is my love language.

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  1. OH MY Yes on all those L's! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ Feel the same!!

  2. That steak still holds the world record for tenderness and flavour!

    1. Maybe we need a repeat this year...? 😉


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