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Retreat! How to Get Away to Write
by C. Hope Clark

Return to The Business of Writing · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

Years ago, a television commercial showed a distraught young woman bombarded with kids, house, work and life in general. In frustration, she threw up her hands and yelled, "Calgon, take me away!" The world immediately disappeared leaving her alone with her exotic Calgon bubble bath. Busy-ness tends to stifle muses, and while they may not need bubbles, they do require attention without the delirium we call life. Retreats may be the answer.

Retreats have more diversity than they have commonality. Once you define retreat as a get-away place to focus, you find little in common amongst the wide array of choices. Retreats occur in your hometown or across the ocean. They can offer cost-free accommodations or charge a fee. The facilities may be modern and downtown or rustic a hundred miles from civilization. And like anything you do pertaining to your writing, you need to research your options to choose where you'd like to get away.

The Alliance of Artist Communities specializes in retreats, residencies and communities. The organization is nonprofit and defines the differences in terms of payment. The cost of a retreat is often borne by the artist on a first-come, first-serve basis regardless of talent. Artist communities screen applicants per a qualification process and cover most expenses. Keep in mind, however, that the get-aways label themselves, so like submitting to a publication, do your research and read the requirements of each before applying. For consistency, this article addresses all get-aways as retreats.

Most people have no clue where to find retreats. Retreats function with constraints giving them reason to refrain from blatant commercial advertising:

  • Budget - Retreats are usually nonprofit entities that operate with grants and public donations. Why should they spend the money to advertise in expensive publications when they already receive more than enough applications?

  • Space Capacity - A retreat may house three people or three-dozen depending upon the facilities. Sometimes the space is used for other purposes like college classes or business functions. Retreats have been known to fill in down-time for organizations, when their buildings stand empty.

  • Time Limitations - Some retreats only run in the summer, others in the fall or spring. Others create their own seasons, and a few open for a token couple of weeks each year. Administrative staffs run these facilities, which increase overhead costs. Retreats do not operate continually across the calendar, a fact you need to keep in mind when deciding when to plan your get-away.

  • Purpose not Profit - Most retreats operate to serve a need in the writing community, not to make a fortune collecting rent. While they must conduct themselves as a business, they originate to assist serious artists. They aren't Disney World attracting anyone willing to pay the fee, and they usually define qualifications for artists/writers to be considered.

Your commitment to a retreat varies as well. Some places, especially those that are self-sustaining and more rustic, ask that the participants maintain the property. Others partner with the community or educational entities in the area requiring retreat participants to give readings, mentor students or donate a piece of work to the organization. The well-funded organizations leave you alone and let you write without interruption. Others want your assistance at a conference, an event or a celebration. Universities offer what's called an artist-in-residence where the individual is given a place and time to write in exchange for teaching a class.

So where do you find a retreat? The resources below will get you started, and whenever possible, you need to sign up for their newsletters. Keep in mind that none of these resources covers all retreats, and becoming familiar with all of them improves your chance of acceptance.

Knowing the art and literary entities in your community can help you find other retreats. For example, the Dutchess County Arts Council in New York publishes a wonderful online newsletter with writer possibilities: http://www.artsmidhudson.org

Pay attention to the arts and entertainment section of your local newspaper. Listen to public radio or watch public television, which cater to artistic venues. Know the historical sites in your area which often open their doors to artists and writers during off-season periods; areas such as museums, birthplaces of famous people, parks and even renovated buildings in urban areas.

Retreats rejuvenate a writer. Surrounding yourself with an environment that caters to creativity can jump-start your novel, memoir, chapbook or script. Do your research now, just like you'd plan a vacation for next year. Find the perfect place to get-away and stroke your ever-abused muse.

Finding a Retreat:

Alliance of Artist Communities
Here you find an excellent representation of retreats and artist communities in places from Hawaii to Spain, Montana to Florida. Keep in mind that many listings cover visual and performing as well as literary artists.

Shaw Guides
Noted for current listings of conferences and workshops, Shaw Guides also lists retreats. The search feature on this site not only addresses writers, but also geographic regions and dates. Shaw Guides makes no differentiation in retreats versus writer communities or residencies. Read guidelines for each event for grant or scholarship availability. (Newsletter available.)

National Association of State Arts Agencies
This website lets you find the arts agencies in your state. Arts agencies, or commissions, are endowed to spread news, funds and opportunities to artists including writers. These sites usually list a page or newsletter offering "opportunities for artists." A few still offer paper publications for no charge. Retreats list their vacancies and deadlines in such online and paper publications since they focus on such a well-defined readership. Subscribe not only to those in your state, but also those anywhere in the country. These opportunities do not limit themselves to one region, and you might like to get away to a place you've never seen before. (Newsletter available - depends upon the state)

Poets & Writers
In their listings of deadlines, grants and awards, Poets & Writers Magazine carries retreats and escapes. You'll need to sift through the monthly listings, but you'll find established retreats in the information. The newsstand magazine also lists these opportunities, but you have the ability to look through archives on the website. (Newsletter and magazine available)

University Mailings
Creative writing departments and schools send mailings to staff, students and alumni. Contact your alma mater for information in this direction. Literary magazine departments at these institutions also keep up with retreat opportunities. Don't forget the financial aid departments of universities, as well. (Newsletter, newspaper or magazine available - depends upon the institution.)

Professional Writing Organizations
Whether you specialize in romance, mystery, sci-fi or children's literature, retreats abound, and your respective organization has a newsletter. Health care journalists, business writers, newspaper editors, chick-lit writers, and so on have professional organizations.

C. Hope Clark serves as editor-in-chief of this family of newsletters that advises writers each week about grants, markets, contests and publishing calls. Under grants, you can find retreats and residencies. The website has been recognized by Writer's Digest in its 101 Best Web Sites for Writers every year since 2001. (Newsletter available)

U.S. National Park Service
Major national parks have unique get-aways for artists. NPS calls them residencies. The time frames are well-defined and the accommodations sparse, so apply well in advance.

Find Out More...

Remember Summer Vacation? - Moira Allen

Taking Time Off: Planning a Vacation, by Denene Brox

Copyright © 2006 C. Hope Clark
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

C. Hope Clark is editor of Fundsforwriters, a family of funding newsletters for writers ranging from kids to serious career scribes: http://www.fundsforwriters.com. She is also the author of The Shy Writer: An Introvert's Guide to Writing Success.


Copyright © 2018 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
All materials on this site are the property of their authors and may not be reprinted
without the author's written permission, unless otherwise indicated.
For more information please contact Moira Allen, Editor

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