How to Prepare for a Solo Writing Retreat

May 9, 2016

How to Prepare for a Solo Writing Retreat

Before I tell you what my plans are this week, I want to congratulate the two winners of The More of Less by Joshua Becker whose names were chosen at random via Rafflecopter. Congrats, Lisa and Michael! I’ve notified you both via email and your books will be in the mail this week.

I’ve always loved the idea of going on a solo writing retreat. Getting out of the city, unplugging and going offline, writing all day and breaking up the work by spending some time outside; it sounds like a dream getaway. So when the opportunity to spend a week in Squamish presented itself, I took it – and (in between some public speaking I’m doing) that’s where I’m hiding out this week!

There’s only one thing I have to accomplish while I’m in Squamish: I need to write the sample chapter for my book proposal. The chapter is the last big piece of this project, and I need to finish it – ASAP. Lately, it has felt impossible to focus on much of anything in Victoria, so it is literally the perfect time for me to spend some time alone and get down to work.

There’s always a lot to wrap up, in the days before any vacation, but this has been especially true of the days leading up to this trip. On top of finishing my regular assignments, I’ve been doing a lot to prepare for this little retreat of mine. In case any of you have thought of taking time off to work on a creative project, here are some of my tips for what to plan, prepare for and pack.

1. Get out of town.

First, if you’re like me and have trouble saying “no” when friends invite you to do something, you need to get out of town – far enough away from your loved ones that you won’t be tempted to get in your car and drive to meet them for coffee/food/hike, etc. Squamish is one of my favourite places to visit, and all my friends are at least an hour away, so I won’t be easily persuaded to ditch the work and socialize.

2. Book a room.

Whether you want to spend 12 hours, 1 day, 2 days or a whole week away working on your project, book a room somewhere you can get the peace and quiet you need. You can get something cheap, but not bed bug cheap if you’re staying overnight! (Not just because the room could be gross, but because the cheaper the place is, the louder the parties in other rooms are – and you need to rest!)

3. Tell people you’re going offline (and setup a vacation responder).

Start by telling family and friends you plan to stay offline (including having your phone turned off, at least during the day). If you have clients, let them know you’re taking time off but will be available to work again as of a specific date. I also setup a vacation responder in Gmail that tells people I’ll check email once/day but am only going to reply to clients when necessary.

4. Set a goal for your work.

Now that you have a place to go and everyone knows you’ll be unavailable, you need to set a goal for what you want to accomplish during your time away. Mine is simple: I need to write a chapter of a book. It will likely end up being between 5,000 and 6,000 words, and I only have 5 days to write it; that means I need to write 1,000-1,200 words/day (probably more and then give myself time to edit).

5. Prepare your work.

Before you leave for your retreat, prepare whatever amount of work you can, so you don’t waste the first day getting organized. For my chapter, I opened up a blank Word doc, copy/pasted the summary and wrote a bunch of bullet points for things I know I want to touch on. Tomorrow morning, I can open that document and start writing without any hesitation.

6. Manage your energy and take breaks.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned since working remotely/working for myself is that you have to pay attention to your energy levels and take breaks when you need them. If you try to work for 6 hours straight, I can guarantee you’ll spend a good chunk of that time staring at your project. You’ll be more productive if you listen to your body and give it what it needs (movement, food, water, etc.).

7. Get outside.

Some of the other posts I’ve read about solo retreats suggest that you go to a crappy location where you’re not tempted to explore and I wholeheartedly disagree. Coupled with spending time alone, getting outside is proven to lower your stress, increase your focus and boost your creativity. I’m not going to exhaust myself by hiking 20km/day, but I am going to spend a couple hours outside every day.

8. Eat healthy!

Do you ever notice that you tend to eat more junk food when you’re on vacation? Or just more food in general? Don’t do that on your retreat! Heavy, fatty and sweet foods will do nothing but make you tired and lethargic. You need to stay alert and keep your energy! Keep it simple and stick to things like veggies, greens, protein and some fruit. Your brain – and your work – will thank you.

9. Bring a few of your favourite things from home.

While I would normally always say that you should pack light, this retreat will be the first trip where I’m actually bringing more than I would ever normally travel with. For example: I’m bringing my French press, so I don’t have to buy coffee every day, and my mini blender, so I can make the same green smoothies I drink every afternoon. My travel size foam roller has also made the cut.

Because of how many different activities I’ll be doing (working, hiking, public speaking, etc.) I’ll also be bringing about half of my tiny wardrobe and multiple pairs of shoes/sandals. And, of course, I need my laptop, chargers, notebook, paper, pens, and a couple books to unwind with at the end of each day. It’ll all fit into two bags, still! But it’s definitely not a minimalist packing job. ;)

10. Check-in at night (only if you must).

You can only be productive for so many hours in a day. In my opinion, after you’ve put your work away, it’s ok to check-in with a few people. Turn your phone on, reply to text messages and even call a friend. Don’t get sucked into social media, and don’t reply to lots of emails or start doing other work. Just say hi to a few people! It’ll help you decompress (especially if they can make you laugh).

Finally, I’m leaving for my first solo writing retreat with zero expectations of how it’s going to go. Of course, I hope to finish the chapter and love it… but spending an entire week alone might not be as glamorous as it sounds. It could feel isolating and lonely. Or, I could flourish in the new environment. Either way, I’m excited to pack up my car and go this morning. It’ll be good practice for my road trip!

I’m going to stay OFF social media all week, with the exception of sharing a few pictures of my surroundings (Squamish is too beautiful not to). If you want to see them, you can find me on Instagram.

I’ll be back next week with an update on how the trip went. Until then, I’d love to hear about your solo adventures! Where did you go? What did you do? And how did you like travelling alone?


  • Reply Lindsay @ The Notorious D.E.B.T. May 9, 2016 at 4:31 am

    I really like this idea, but it’ll be awhile before I get to do something like this. I share a truck with my husband, and he needs it for work almost every day. :(

  • Reply Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor May 9, 2016 at 4:57 am

    I have never gone on a writing retreat, but my friend’s mother is a poet and I know she regularly takes writing retreats and loves them. I’m kind of a loner by nature, but come from a large family, have little kids who are almost always with me, and have a large social network. So I am almost never alone. It sounds lovely, but it might be strange as well. Anyway, I hope yours is very enjoyable and productive.

  • Reply Leanne May 9, 2016 at 7:05 am

    I would love to do something like this, have the BEST time xo

  • Reply Shelly May 9, 2016 at 7:06 am

    How exciting for you! I hope the week is very productive and enjoyable. I agree with all the points you listed. I look forward to hearing how your week went and seeing the Instagram pictures. I love pictures!!
    No solo adventures for me. Married with two kids and a job doesn’t really allow for that. But the couple of hours in between when my husband goes to work and the kids are off too school, and when I go to work; I can accomplish a lot. I really enjoy the quiet. :)

  • Reply Nathan May 9, 2016 at 7:17 am

    This is awesome! I hope you achieve what you wanted. I’m totally going to do this this summer. I’m going on a writing retreat in 2 weeks for a creative writing class to Capitol Reef and I’m stoked! I will definitely take some of these ideas for that retreat and future ones. Thanks Cait!

    • Reply Cait Flanders May 15, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      Whoa, that sounds awesome, Nathan! After this project, I’d love to do a writing retreat with other people. Solo was great for the proposal, but it’d be neat to hangout and meet new people too! Tell me more about this retreat you’re doing :)

  • Reply giulia May 9, 2016 at 8:25 am

    absolutely agree, I hope you achieve what you wanted and planned:D

  • Reply Kara May 9, 2016 at 9:10 am

    The dream! Good luck out there. I’d love to do a retreat one day soon. I think this sounds right up your alley and you’ll get that chapter done!

  • Reply Mackenzie May 9, 2016 at 9:34 am

    This sounds like it will be awesome Cait :)

  • Reply priyanka May 9, 2016 at 9:41 am

    Hi Cait.. I found your blog 2 weeks ago rather accidentally. And I am hooked. I live in India. The problem with your country (developed) is of excess,whereas problem with India (developing) is of scarcity! and hence, both of us need to embrace minimalism :) I was thinking of a shopping ban for a long time, but I didnt know if it was possible. Your blog gave me the confidence. So, I have de-cluttered my house.. and I love it. I am not eating out but learning to cook simple, nutritious dishes. I sewed several clothes which otherwise would have just remained in my closet and am so much more organized now. I plan my week – what to wear, what to eat and how much to spend. I had created my own excel tracker for expenses in Jan itself and then I found you! It all fell in place.. like The Secret. I just want to say Thank You :)

    • Reply Cait Flanders May 16, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      Wow, I’m so glad you found my blog at the exact right moment for you, Priyanka! I love when stuff like that happens. I’m sure there’s lots we can both learn from each other :)

  • Reply Eric Bowlin May 9, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Interesting idea. It’s almost like a work-ation… A vacation for the sole purpose of accomplishing a goal, in this case writing. It is probably pretty relaxing though.

    • Reply Cait Flanders May 16, 2016 at 8:29 pm

      It’s been really nice, Eric!

  • Reply Linda Sand May 9, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    Sounds to me like an excellent plan!

    My solo adventures were to go south for the winter while living in a conversion van. While I enjoyed the warm weather, living in such a small space, and meeting up with friends, I missed my husband so much I could hardly wait for the weather to clear enough for me to head home. Now, I know if I ever head south alone again, I need to not try to be gone so long.

  • Reply Tyler May 9, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Cait that sounds amazing, I hope you get everything done you want to. I have thought about doing something like this to get some work done, it has become such a burden to get my side hustle ework done on top of my 9 to 5, I think it will be easier if I just have the side hustle work to do. But, it may be a grass greener on the other side type thing. Regardless I hope your trip goes well and can’t wait to read your book.

  • Reply Kim @ Extra Organised May 9, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Your writing retreat sounds fantastic. I think the best way to enjoy solitude is to have a plan (even a rough one) for how you want to spend it. As an introvert, I revel in solitude and I really enjoy the anticipation of an upcoming period of solitude and thinking about how I’ll spend it!

    A while ago, I took a week-long trip to Sydney (Australia) for a sub-editing course I was doing for work. I’ve posted the link below. As well as going to the course each day, I also took time to eat out by myself, and to explore lots of lovely local attractions most of which I’d never been to before. As much downtime as I could manage too. I felt a little lonely and out-of-place for the first day but for the rest of the week I simply revelled in my solo adventures :)

    • Reply Cait Flanders May 16, 2016 at 8:32 pm

      I love seeing friends, but I really value my alone time too – and this week ended up being a perfect mix of both! I saw one friend on Thursday, another Saturday and had a speaking event on Sunday. Extended my trip until Wednesday, so I can get more done, but it’s been GREAT. Thanks for sharing your latest adventure!

  • Reply Sarah @ Couple of Sense May 9, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    I think this is an incredible idea – good luck with the chapter and enjoy beautiful Squamish. These are some pretty solid tips that I would also probably employ the next time I take a stay-cation. I think the same rules apply about eating well and disconnecting.

  • Reply Francesca - From Pennies to Pounds May 10, 2016 at 1:07 am

    This is a good idea and good luck with your chapter! I would say also be aware in which part of the day you do your best work e.g. first thing in the morning :-)

  • Reply Ramona @ Personal Finance Today May 10, 2016 at 3:45 am

    Sounds great to just go and focus on your work. Right now I try to work during evenings (after our 2 year old falls asleep), but it’s still OK. Looking forward to the day I can just ‘block’ some serious hours for my work.

  • Reply Rue May 10, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    Good luck with your chapter! People always say working outside is too distracting, but I love it. Especially because the weather this week should be so good to you, enjoy Squamish!

  • Reply Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless May 10, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Hope you’re having a wonderful time, Cait! I actually have to admit that as much as I like the idea of taking a solo trip, I haven’t done it in a while because the last time I did it, I was SUPER lonely, to the point that it was kind of scary and depressing. That was quite a while ago though — I was 21 and traveling through Germany for about a week on my own — so maybe it’s worth trying again. :)

    • Reply Cait Flanders May 16, 2016 at 8:37 pm

      I wonder if some of that has to do with the fact that you were in Germany – a foreign country where you didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language, etc.? Just a thought! I lucked out and found that everyone I saw on trails, at stores, etc. were really friendly, and even those short interactions go a long way.

  • Reply Our Next Life May 12, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    I’m so inspired by this. Can’t wait to hear your report from the week. Retreats like this are definitely something I dream about, and have for a while. When we moved to the mountains, actually, I thought life would be a lot more like a wilderness retreat, not fully recognizing that real life would take over and make mountain living a lot more like living anywhere! Haha. But taking shorter bursts of time to disconnect really seems so beneficial and good for inspiration — I hope it’s working out that way for you!

    • Reply Cait Flanders May 16, 2016 at 8:38 pm

      Haha, well that gives me something to think about too, because I’ve been thinking about temporarily relocating here for a few months. But it probably would just start to feel like real life, wouldn’t it? ;)

  • Reply Tawcan May 13, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Have fun in Squamish. If you have the time, it would be wise to take a hike up the Chief. Not only you get a fabulous view, you also get some exercise. Exercise is great for generating ideas. :D

    • Reply Cait Flanders May 16, 2016 at 8:38 pm

      Yep, I’ve been to the Chief and numerous other trails since getting here. :)

  • Reply Jamie May 13, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    I just wanted to drop by to say that I’m about to become a full time remote worker; I moved to be with my fiance, and to my great surprise my company offered to let me keep working for them remotely. I’m thrilled, since I absolutely love my job and my team, but I’m a little nervous. Your “how to work remotely and still be a boss” was super helpful!

    I’ve also decided that this is the perfect time to start a SHOPPING BAN. I will not be purchasing new clothing through December 31, 2016, with the following exceptions:
    -one pair black leggings, to replace the one that just got a gaping hole in the knee (if my jean leggings rip, I’ll allow myself to replace those as well)
    -one nice dress to wear to my rehearsal dinner (I’m getting married in September!)
    -one winter sweater
    -new exercise sneakers

    Thanks for being so inspiring!!

    • Reply Cait Flanders May 16, 2016 at 8:42 pm

      Hey Jamie! Congrats on the “new” gig, so to speak! If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to make sure you stay connected with people at work – not just via email but phone calls too. It helps relieve any loneliness you might feel when you work from home, as well as helps you feel connected to the office and the work itself. Good luck with the shopping ban! Keep me posted on how it goes :)

  • Reply chelsea jacobs May 16, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    This sounds amazing! Enjoy, then tell us all about it!

  • Reply Jaymee June 9, 2016 at 3:46 am

    This is a great idea Cait!

    I’ve been struggling with trying to juggle all my responsibilities while living in the city that sometimes (or more often than I’d like to admit >.<), my mental health and productivity suffers.

    I think going away on solo trips – whether to write, reflect or just recharge my batteries outside of my bedroom/home will be an effective and healthy fix (especially for an introvert like myself)! Living in Alberta, it doesn't take much of a drive outside Calgary to visit the mountains either :D so really, I have no excuses not to go when I feel I need it ^.^

    My brain is buzzing with ideas now! Thanks for sharing and I hope you enjoyed your retreat and accomplished that goal!!

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