On Writing Retreats

I just got back from doing a writing residency in France. I was at the Chataue . . . Chatuea . . . hang on I have to look this up, I can never spell that word right!


I was at the Chateau du Monthelon in Burgundy, doing a writing residency. It’s a beautiful place and I felt very lucky to be invited there to get some work done. The Chateau is an ancient castle out in the country side. It is surrounded by pastureland with grazing cows, so there is very little distraction from the peace and quiet that is conducive to getting focused and getting writing done. It also had some of the most beautiful skies I’ve seen anywhere.


Of course one of the main reasons a residency is helpful creatively is that it gives you a chance to meet and talk to other people who are in residence, who are creating and working on something, and this can be inspiring.


Actually if you are a writer or a theater performer or film maker, you might be interested in considering a residency at the Chateau du Monthelon. If so a few things to consider: they are specifically a residency that is for starting new projects. If you go, you really should know a decent amount of French or else it will be difficult for you to be connect with people as French is what is dominantly spoken there.


Most of the other residents are there working on circus inflected theater performance peices, but they are open to pretty much anything, I gather. It is free to stay there, and it is peaceful, and beautiful.


I have written about the benefits of taking a retreat or a residency before, and I want to point out you don’t have to go all the way to France to do one. You can take a retreat to focus on your creativity just for a weekend or an overnight stay somewhere. I think it does help to go outside of your normal routine, to be in an unfamiliar enviroment. One because a new environment stimulates new perspectives. Two because when you are away from home you are automatically away from a whole lot of distractions and chores and are left with nothing else but to focus on the creative woprk that you are trying to get done. One of my favorite mini-retreats is to drive to the coast, which is a few hours from where I live, and stay in an affordable trailer park for a day or two. Taking long walks in nature or on the beach is one of the best ways ever invented for getting clarity and creative ideas. My point is if you are interested in taking a writing retreat, or a creativity retreat don’t limit yourself to thinking you have to go live abroad for a month, you can jump start whatever you are working on with a much smaller, easier (and cheaper) residency that you design yourself.


That said, if you can afford the time to go somewhere for a protracted residency there are options all over the world. Think about what you are going to get out of the place you are staying. For example depending on your personality you might need a place that is peaceful and quiet to get work down, in which case you should consider somewhere rural. Or you might be the kind of person who needs stimulation, a bit of background noise and hubbub, in which case you should consider somewhere in a city. Also consider the length of the project you are working on, are you trying to finish a project, or start something new, are you looking for outside ideas or a just a way to be with your own thoughts. Design the ideal retreat experience in your head and then go looking for it.

One of the simplest writing retreats I’ve ever heard of is that of Maya Angelou, who would simply rent a room in a cheap hotel to get away from the distractions of home and write.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

I have kept a hotel room in every town I’ve ever lived in. I rent a hotel room for a few months, leave my home at six, and try to be at work by six-thirty. To write, I lie across the bed, so that this elbow is absolutely encrusted at the end, just so rough with callouses. I never allow the hotel people to change the bed, because I never sleep there. I stay until twelve-thirty or one-thirty in the afternoon, and then I go home and try to breathe; I look at the work around five; I have an orderly dinner—proper, quiet, lovely dinner; and then I go back to work the next morning. Sometimes in hotels I’ll go into the room and there’ll be a note on the floor which says, Dear Miss Angelou, let us change the sheets. We think they are moldy. But I only allow them to come in and empty wastebaskets. I insist that all things are taken off the walls. I don’t want anything in there. I go into the room and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. Nothing holds me to anything.

— Maya Angelou

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