[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]n mid-July, I felt an itch to head north and do something…creative. My vision was simple: a long weekend, the picturesque Oregon coast (so unlike the California coast where I’ve been living), and a few friends gathering to make art, write, and cook huge meals. It took a little planning (read, a LOT of Airbnb-surfing) and 10+ hours of driving each way, but we pulled it off. The three-night retreat was an experiment in community building, writing separately and together, sharing work, and shaking up our day-to-day.
Maybe you’re feeling a similar itch to re-start (or jump-start) your creative life, or maybe the idea of gathering people for a weekend of something more than drinking and sunbathing is appealing to you. Whatever your reason, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s how we did it, along with some tips for how you might adapt your plan based on your needs and desires:
[divider]Creative Retreat Tips[/divider]
Where to go:
Pick a region and then narrow your search for a place to crash. I fell in love with the Oregon coast when I bicycled down the entire length of it (from Seattle to San Francisco) and knew I had to return to the craggy shores and less-populous towns. My friend Peter and I were driving up from Berkeley, and some other friends were driving from Portland, so we converged in a sleepy town called Yachats (motto: Gem of the Oregon Coast).
As Peter put it, “One thing I’ll highlight is how important it was that we were in a small town with nothing to distract us. This was KEY.” There was little reason to wander into “town” because we brought all our groceries (more on this later) and tons of coffee—but we could if we wanted. It’s up to you how isolated you want to be. You might opt for a cabin in the mountains, or a yurt in a redwood grove.
To find a place to stay, reach out to people you know that might have empty houses over a long weekend, and check Airbnb, VRBO, and Craigslist rentals/house swaps. Try not to pick a holiday weekend, when rental rates tend to be higher.
What to bring, creatively:
Whatever will help you make your art! For us (three poets, a poet/essayist/fiction writer, and a designer), it was a lot of books: poetry collections, essays on poetics, a few novels, and some zines. I also brought my typewriter, poster board, collage materials, markers, lots of blank paper, magazines, and sticky notes.
It was inspiring to have different materials to work with, especially if you don’t have a specific project in mind and just want to play. We all brought our laptops, but you might consider making it a device-free weekend (in the spirit of Digital Detox) to really get some space from your regular life.
What to bring, food-wise:
We planned for dinner each night (things like gnocchi and vegetarian tacos) and brought staples like eggs, bread, oatmeal, fruit, and other stuff everyone could throw together for breakfast and lunch on their own. Coming together to cook big dinners each night together helped us unwind and step away from our work.
And don’t forget whatever else you need to be productive: coffee, green tea, coconut water, etc. Not having to search for things at the overpriced grocery in town or the Wal-mart 20 miles away let us get deeper into the retreat experience.
What to do:
Before you go, talk (or email, in our case) with everyone about some ideas and expectations for the retreat. Do you want to have a full-blown writing workshop one night? Want to make a zine together? Work independently and share on the last day? Have people collaborate in pairs?
When you get there, hash out some answers to these questions. You may want the weekend to unfold more organically, or you may want a lot of structure in place. Here are some ideas you could try: take a walk as a group, stopping along the way to photograph, sketch, or write at specific points; do a timed writing on a specific prompt; hold a workshop/critique; start off with a read-aloud, sharing your work or the work of artists/writers you admire; have a performance/reading on the last night, where everyone shares something they made; yoga or meditation; long walks on the beach/trails/wherever you are.
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A creative retreat in an inspiring place can be full of possibility, and it isn’t over when you leave that small town or that cabin in the woods. My three friends who came from Portland decided to form a writing workshop when they returned from the retreat—they meet every Wednesday to write on a prompt and share feedback each other’s work. They’re also talking about coordinating another retreat (and I didn’t even suggest it!).
However you do it, give yourself some big ups for stepping away from the craziness of everyday life and committing time to being creative.
And if you put together or participate in a retreat, I’d love to hear about it. Comment below!
Caroline Kessler is a writer, editor, and facilitator currently living in Berkeley, CA. She holds a BA with honors in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University and her poetry and prose has been published in Superstition Review, Sundog Lit, Anderbo, The Daily Muse, and Treehouse, among others.