I went on what I called a “DIY writing retreat” in November 2023. As a 50th birthday gift to myself, I chose a transatlantic crossing on a cruise ship.
My goal was to spend time writing and thinking about writing, without having to do any of the real-life responsibilities that fill my regular schedule, such as working, meal planning, food shopping, meal preparation, cat husbandry, husband husbandry, and the like.
By freeing myself from responsibility and taking myself out of my own space, I thought I’d be able to get more done. My regular workweek routine consists of hours time-blocked for tasks, meetings, events, or other to-dos. It keeps me organized, on track, and productive. I assumed I would bring the same orderly and highly-scheduled approach to my writing retreat.
I think many people who want to go on a retreat are nervous about the “return on investment,” that is, will they get enough done to “justify” the expense, time, and effort of going on one?
I certainly understand the urgency to make it worthwhile. I went with a plan to revise an old project and start a new one; I needed to write a newsletter/blog post, and I wanted to draft two essays, create some new marketing materials, and so on.
I also optimistically brought an unrealistic number of physical books (15!). Even if I adhered to a strict schedule, there was no way I would get everything I set out to do done on this retreat.
The value of unstructured time
So I decided that rather than trying to cross tasks off a to-do list, I would instead unstructure my time and work on things thematically, according to how I felt at the moment. I would give myself time for naps and walks on deck, and I certainly wouldn’t miss a meal, but I wouldn’t schedule anything.
When I woke up on the first morning of the cruise, I felt such joy at not having to be somewhere or doing some thing. There were so many possibilities! I could do this, I could do that… or I could have a cup of coffee in bed and capture some thoughts in a notebook. Or, I could run up to the cafe for breakfast before settling in to work at the desk in my cabin. So many options!
By taking pressure off myself to produce, I learned I could trust myself to get stuff done. I could move priorities around. I could let my mood dictate what I did.
I think, in the end, I got about as much work done as I would have at home. And felt like I was on vacation at the same time. I ended up sleeping and reading a lot. I took my time in the mornings to get started. I looked out at the endless ocean a lot.
It was all wonderful. I came back to my regular life refreshed.
The trick is now to bring a little bit of unstructure to my regular life, which is highly regimented most of the time. Now I know that deliciously unstructured time can also be productive.
Isn't it time you put your writing first?
Does my experience convince you to treat yourself to a writing retreat on a cruise ship?
If you want to develop the foundations to write your book, your proposal, or query agents and publishers, I'll be part of a writing retreat April 28-May 5, 2024 on Cunard’s luxurious Queen Mary 2.
It’s a week-long adventure with panels, workshops,and social time with 25 other writers, editors, and coaches, and plenty of writing time.
To get a special offer, contact me for your personal code and use it when registering for the cruise retreat to get written feedback on your work and an individual coaching session with me.
Oh yeah, you’ll also get time with literary luminaries Jane Friedman, Allison K Williams, and Dinty W. Moore on his first ever cruise.
Amy Goldmacher is a writer and a book coach. An excerpt from her mostly micro memoir in the form of a glossary won the 2022 AWP Kurt Brown Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She can be found on social media @solidgoldmacher and at her website.