Retreat with Your Writing


Dear friends,

I’m writing from the study where Brenda and I worked together a few winters ago on The Pen & the Bell. From where I sit, I can see out the sliding glass doors to a stand of madronas, their curved trunks glinting in the fleeting spring sunlight. Beyond them, the waters of Puget Sound ripple, a ferry marking the passage of the day.

Hanging on the wall are three photographs of owls, and they seem to bless my words as they come in fits and starts—more fits than starts today. Some days are like that, and today, I’m letting that be OK, knowing that the perspective I’ve gained by spending a few days in retreat will serve me well in the busy weeks ahead. I may not have written as much as I’d hoped, but I’m able to see my projects with fresh eyes—and to see better what’s needed.

This room holds good memories, good writing energy. I remember when all the letters Brenda and I wrote to each other were laid out in piles on the heavy oak tables, and we walked among them with Sticky Notes, mulling on all the possibilities for order. So it’s no surprise that I hear Brenda’s encouraging voice, laugh when I remember the day we wrote letters to each other even though we were working in the same room!


While we all know it’s often not possible to get away—that’s why we wrote The Pen & the Bellthere are times when just a few days in solitude can give you valuable perspective on your work, your life, your relationships. 

Consider if you might be able to design such a retreat in the months ahead.  You can apply for a residency at one of the many artist/writer residencies throughout the country—or even the world!  (Remember, a girl can dream, right?) Or find a house or cabin to rent in the off-season and create your own writing retreat, alone or with friends (the website VRBO is wonderful for finding low-cost options). We hope you’ll tell us about the writing retreats you create!

With gratitude for this time and place—and for you, dear readers, for being here with me.



9 thoughts on “Retreat with Your Writing

  1. Last year, as my sabbatical was quickly coming to an end, I desperately needed a place to go to make sense of the stacks and stacks of books I had read (and to write an article summarizing all of them). I found that place at “Cozy Cabin” on Lopez Island. Just a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Perfect! Three days later, I came out with a (mostly) finished article (that was recently published!). I would highly recommend Cozy Cabin to anyone who needs time to focus (no wi-fi, which was a huge plus!).

  2. I’ve never gone away to a writer’s retreat. Several in my writers group are regulars at it, and recommend them every time they return. I’ve always thought, why spend that money when you can write at home? (Because my dad was cheap, I learned to see the world in dollar signs.) I’m married, but have no pets or children around, so I can write whenever I want to. But I do find that when my husband, retired, has appointments scheduled, I really look forward to his being gone for a few hours. I really plan to write, write, write. But a funny thing’s been happening. Even when I’m by myself, the plants look like they need water and then the kitchen really needs attention and geez, where did that giant cobweb come from. I think this post might have finally convinced me that the money for a retreat would be an investment, not an expense. Thanks, Holly.

    • Thanks Dawn! Yes, even though we create good writing spaces at home, sometimes just a change of scene can lead to new and unexpected work. Great to think of it as an investment as well!

    • I’m so glad to hear that these words fell on fertile ground for you, Dawn. I encourage you to try out a retreat when you can–and see for yourself. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  3. I have just returned from a couple nights at St. Placid’s Priory in Lacey near Olympia, a welcoming monastery of Benedictine Sisters who offer quiet rooms for retreat. I’ve stayed there on two different occasions when I’ve felt panicked about writing deadlines and needed to hole up. In a way, that sounds more like “advance” than retreat, but the good paradox is that as I was researching a couple years back on the wisdom of the body to prepare for a retreat I was to lead and this time immersed in Celtic spirituality for a workshop, the graciousness of the place infused me with simultaneous rest and productivity.

    You decide how much you want to pay though the suggested fee to cover costs of room and board is $45.00-$65.00 You can join the nuns for the liturgies of the hours or not and you can join them for meals or not. Not being Catholic, I particularly liked that Sister Mary shattered my stereotype of nuns as I listened to her describe how she handles Irish Wolfhounds for a friend in dog shows.

    Perspective and insight did arise. I used some of the marvelous Celtic myths around salmon to finish a poem I had started at the Fisher Poets Gathering and I wrote an essay reflecting on parallels between the less developed stages of the Psalmist in some of the Psalms and the narrator in a haunting essay I heard at the Fisher Poets about a man trying to make sense of killing for food, for sport, and in war as he reflected on a senseless slaughter of sea lions he had taken part in as a young man.

    Here is contact information…
    > Lucy Wynkoop, OSB
    > The Priory Spirituality Center
    > 500 College Street NE
    > Lacey, WA 98516
    > 360-438-2595
    > Facebook: The Priory Spirituality Center
    > Twitter: **

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this, Sue. Good to hear more about your restful AND productive time there–glad you were able to work on some of the poems you started at FPG–and thanks for passing on the contact info, too. I suspect others in the NW might want to check out this great resource.