Writer’s retreats pique my interest, but a Solo Writer’s Retreat has always appealed more. See, I’m easily distracted, shy and awkward around strangers, and deeply uncomfortable in unfamiliar spaces.
But staying in a hotel for a week by myself to work on writing projects sounded sublime. So, that’s what I decided to do. I did it for only a couple of days to save money and to test the experience.
Here’s what it was like for me!
Lessons I Learned from Under-planning My Solo Writer’s Retreat
Lesson one: Consider noise levels, and do not book a hotel near a mall.
To keep costs down, I booked a hotel room in the suburbs of my home city from Sunday afternoon through Tuesday morning. It was just me, the room, the 1 a.m. Canadian Geese (or vermin, as in the only bird I somewhat dislike), the people having whole conversations outside my window, and delivery trucks rumbling through the parking lot.
If I were to do it again, I’d book near an interstate. That might seem just as noisy, but I’ve lived near an interstate most of my life, and that’s exactly the white noise I need.
To generalize this tip, know your noise preferences and book where any external noise will blend in for you or can be drowned out. My headphones were my saviors.
The noise within the hotel is a huge consideration too. I highly recommend an extended-stay hotel. People are either working quietly themselves, or they aren’t there. The hotel halls were the quietest I’ve encountered in a long time, and I stay in a lot of hotels.
Lesson two: Take your own food, but never go without your favorite snacks (a.k.a. I forgot chocolate).
A room with a kitchen is huge. This reduces both costs and distractions at the door. If you can, bring your food with you. I brought a bunch of stuff from my freezer that I’d overlooked for meals the last couple of weeks. Bonus on avoiding food waste. Being able to quickly nuke something or heat up leftovers on the stove gave me the breaks I needed while not being massive distractions.
What I failed to do was bring chocolate. From the DoorDash Mart on my first night, I ordered hot chocolate, Fritos, mini M&Ms, and oat milk. Had I remembered chocolate, I probably wouldn’t have ordered at all let alone had an expensive, binge-fueled snack fit.
Do not snack shame me.
Certainly, I made it a point to check out the hotel’s pantry offerings when I checked in, but if I’m going to pay hotel prices, I might as well pay delivery charges and get exactly what I want.
That said, I’d ideally have remembered that stuff prior, so make lists before you go. When the writing project gets tough, you’re going to want your comfort food. A Solo Writer’s Retreat is not the time to listen to diet culture.
Lesson three: Limit leaving by actually having everything you need for your Solo Writer’s Retreat.
When I leave the house, I tend to stay out even if my plan didn’t involve staying out for a long time. So, if I left the room or the hotel, I knew it’d become a distraction.
In this case, even the need to leave the room became a problem.
When I realized one of my book chapters didn’t print properly, I had to use the “business center” at the hotel. I put that in quotation marks because it was literally a PC and a printer in the lobby that didn’t even have a chair or stool. I was fine with that though because it reduced any chances of me getting comfortable.
The problem was knowing my own procrastination habits. I knew I’d never go downstairs to the so-called business center without showering, which I always put off as long as I can stand it. I was raised to shower every day before I leave the house. I actually love showering; I just don’t like the spoons (energy) it takes to shower, thanks to a chronic pain disorder.
So, I stalled. Four hours later, I realized I’d not done anything for way too long.
What a mess a simple thing like checking my tools beforehand could’ve solved.
Making a Flexible Writing Plan for Solo Writer’s Retreat
I had a writing plan for this retreat, but I’ll admit it did not go as I thought it would. Apparently, that was my theme for this first effort.
My plan was to:
- edit and ready several short stories for publication
- reread several more chapters in my book for developmental editing
- research publishers
I didn’t touch a single short story nor did I do any market research. That would’ve felt like a failure if what I did instead wasn’t a huge accomplishment.
I wrote the first draft of my book ten years ago. Since then, I’ve rewritten major portions of it, written other manuscripts, and got distracted by everything possible. Whenever I’ve tried to fix plot holes and get it to a place where I’m comfortable sending it to an editor, I’ve gotten stuck. What I was struggling with is called developmental editing, and I was going about it all wrong (for me).
After reading up on developmental editing, I figured out what I needed. This past spring, I printed my entire book and started rereading the whole thing chapter by chapter without making changes but taking notes on what I wanted to change. That was working way better. But I still got stuck.
I’d gotten to chapter 16 out of about 30 chapters, then didn’t pick it up again for two months. I figured I’d restart my momentum during the retreat, which you can see in my plan above.
Instead of only a few chapters, I finished my reread. After that, I admit, I didn’t do much more because that was such a huge thing for me.
Now, is my book a mess? Absolutely? But do I finally have clarity on what I need to do to get it where I want it? A resounding, happy, and satisfied YES!
That made the whole retreat worth the price. Speaking of which . . .
How Much Did My Solo Writer’s Retreat Cost?
Here’s my total:
- Lodging: $293.44 (two nights)
- Food: $24.59 (one delivery)
- Gas: $0 (my husband gave me a ride)
- Parking: $0
- TOTAL: $318.03
I don’t think I got as good as a deal on the hotel as I could get. But it was the best deal for what I wanted at that moment:
- I made it a point to have flexible dates. Early September was $100-plus a night cheaper than early November.
- I checked in on a Sunday and checked out on a Tuesday, ensuring lower rates.
- I’ll always spring for a place with a kitchen.
- I’d still go with a popular hotel brand thanks to our loyalty credit card and safety. (Our cheaper hotels are sketchy as fuck.)
You might be asking why I didn’t consider an AirBnB. First, I’m not keen on AirBnBs. I’ve been traveling my entire life, and I’m quite comfortable with hotels. Second, very few of the options in our area are cheaper with as many amenities. I can find literally one, and it’s in the middle of our downtown, so noise is a guarantee. Believe it or not, a brand-name hotel is a better deal.
I’ve already mentioned food, but gas was an interesting change from what I expected. It was never going to be a huge expense anyway. That’s part of why I decided to book in town. But my car was stuck at the mechanic’s, so it ended up costing me nothing.
As for parking, the hotel claimed to charge $10 a night for parking, which was a shock to me. I’ve never known a suburb hotel to charge for parking, and there is not limited parking around them. But I ensured that I was not charged, as I didn’t even have a car.
Knowing what to bring next time, I can definitely keep it under $300. But it’s all about timing and location.
I wish I could do a Solo Writer’s Retreat for everything in my life. I LOVED the limited distraction. Not being surrounded by my own clutter and long list of house projects was such a load off my brain. Honestly, I’d take any project–not just writing–reserve a hotel room for two days, do nothing but work on that project for those two days. It’s one of the best things I’ve felt in a bit, and I can’t believe I waited this long. Knowing I could accomplish so much in only two days was also a big win.
For my next Solo Writer’s Retreat, I’ll plan better, make lists, and be even more vigilant about lower rates. But I might also plan digital decluttering retreats, reading retreats, and who knows what else!
And yes, I’ll take my stuffed animals with me every time.