A few weeks back I made a humor post about doing a Shitshow Writer’s Retreat. And while that might have been redundant (every retreat I’m at will be a shitshow regardless) the truth is a writer’s retreat is something I’ve actually been wanting to put together. After the popularity of that post and the messages I received, it seems like a topic many folks wanted to know more about. So, today I’m going to discuss what would go into doing an actual retreat, what the potential ways I’ve found to make it happen are, and what challenges are keeping it from becoming a reality. Maybe putting it all down and allowing folks who might know more than me to chime in will be what we need to make it a reality. First things first, though, we should talk about…
The Actual Retreat
Having (admittedly) limited experience with these, the ideal setup for mine would be one that allowed both solitude and community as people required it. The sole retreat I’ve been to, a wonderful, very affordable place I found out about from Rob Kroese called Norma’s Villas, accomplished this by having individual homes/cabins for each person, as well as central places for meals, classes, etc. While I would love to do something similar, maybe a remote spot with loads of cabins, unfortunately in my research I’ve found few locations with such accommodation, so the most likely way to fulfill that would be by renting rooms in a hotel. Sidenote: if you know of or run a lodging that would fit these needs, hit me up, I am certainly willing to take recommendations.
Now, the content itself would be, shockingly, not too far off from what I outlined in the joke version of this blog. Since I’m the one spearheading it, I would take on doing a daily class for all attendees, probably in the mornings. Depending on who I could get to join in, we would also have supplemental lessons where you could learn from other authors on their particular specialty. Afternoons would be sectioned off for workshop groups (assigned randomly upon arrival) and personal writing time. Evenings would be social events, dinners, maybe outings depending on where we were and how close fun stuff was. There would also be on-site events like jeering at bad movies, gaming, and of course at least one Power Hour.
While we could pack more into the schedule, I want to leave a lot of time free so people can work on collaborative projects. You can listen to advice anywhere, and writing is a thing you can do from home, so the real drive of this should be the chance to interact with other authors. Making videos, talking podcasts, maybe even laying out the groundwork for an anthology, however you want to spend your free time is up to you. Personally, I’ll be active and about, especially if I can coax some of the other A&D guys into attending.
That hits most of the conceptual notes for a retreat, more granular issues like meals would be determined based on where we ended up staying, so I can’t really dig in any deeper on those without knowing more. So, with the outline done, let’s touch on…
How It Could Be Done
At current, the only way I’ve found that might be viable to make this happen is something like Kickstarter or IndieGogo. The biggest hurdle is, obviously, ensuring that there’s enough cash to cover the cost of the event. If I could find an ideal location, then I would need to make sure adequate space was booked, which would be tough to do before knowing how much actual interest there was in such a retreat. Going out of pocket on that kind of cost is a little more risk than I can bite off for a fun side-project, so crowd-funding with the lowest tier being a room at the retreat would ensure everyone who wanted to attend would have the chance to buy a ticket. If things went well and more folks were interested after the funding ended, we could talk to the location about opening up more slots, but our early folks would be locked in.
I like this method better than trying to pre-sell tickets for a simple reason: it’s cut and dry. If we make enough to fund the retreat then we hold it, and if we fall short then no one gets charged anything, saving the trouble of having to manually refund everyone for a cancelled event. This also makes things very transparent, so that anyone wanting to attend could watch the numbers tick up and see whether or not it had a chance at happening. That said, this method does present challenges of its own, so if you more internet savvy folks have better ideas for how to gauge interest and collect funds, I am certainly open to hearing more about it.
That feels like as good a place as any to transition to…
Just from the paragraphs overhead, you can already tell that finding a spot is a hurdle that hasn’t been fully cleared, and funding the event itself is more a sketch of a plan than a plan itself. It should also probably be mentioned that my lack of experience also counts as a challenge. Yes, I’m good at figuring shit out on the fly, but I’m also someone who learns by experience and failure, which isn’t necessarily the best person to have heading an event like this. Everyone remember stories about Dash-Con or Fyre Festival? I can’t imagine we’d be quite that bad, but failing to account for the possibility of mishaps would be pure hubris, especially given my experience at this. Now that can be mitigated by inviting and talking to people more knowledgeable about retreats than me, but until those people exist and are on board I still have to count my inexperience as a challenge.
Another issue is that, as mentioned above, running a crowd-funding campaign is in itself a hurdle to clear, as many folks expect a level of polish and showmanship that might be hard something as simple as funding a retreat to match, especially since I wouldn’t be able to spend as much time on the campaign as I might like. Still have to keep writing, after all. This one could be fixed by (again) consulting those who know more than me, so the risk is slightly minimized.
Sidenote: any of you who are noticing that a lot of my solutions to problems are to ask people with more expertise, you have now found one of the main reasons to host and attend these kinds of events. This industry is huge, and making friends with those who have different specialties is one of the best ways to navigate it. Never be embarrassed to lack knowledge or ask for help, on another topic folks might be turning to you for guidance. It’s a core aspect of learning.
Okay, I think that runs down the plan pretty well. I hope this gives more information for the folks who were really excited by the idea of doing a retreat. If you’re one of those folks, and/or you have input on some of the challenges posed in this blog, feel free to comment below or email me (NovelistDrew@gmail.com). While this started as more whim than plan, the more I think about it the more fun I’m sure it would be. Who knows, if enough people feel the same way we might just be able to get something off the ground.